Read More, Pay Less: Some Libraries Are Eliminating Fines for Overdue Books

A woman looks through books at a library.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

I love the library. It’s a frugal person’s paradise.

You can get free access to your favorite books, magazines and movies. You can browse the internet, use the printer and participate in programs that are educational and fun. Depending on your library, you can even check out some unique materials like museum passes, cake pans, telescopes and American Girl dolls.

The only downside is if you fail to return your borrowed items in time, you can get dinged with overdue fines.

While these late fees are generally pretty nominal per day, some library systems are deciding to get rid of them altogether.

This week, the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, began waiving all overdue fines on all library-owned materials, The Baltimore Sun reported. Items checked out from other libraries via the interlibrary loan system are still subject to overdue fees.

According to the library’s website, this decision was made so those with late materials would still be able to access the library’s resources.

Now, this doesn’t mean library patrons can check out books and keep them forever.

According to the library, some materials may be automatically renewed several times. After that, library-card holders will be billed for lost materials as of 14 days past the final due date. They won’t be able to check out additional items if their balance is $25 or more.

The debt goes to a collection agency if it isn’t repaid or if the material isn’t returned by 45 days after the final due date.

Overdue fines account for less than one quarter of 1 percent of the library’s annual budget, according to its website.

The Baltimore library isn’t the only one to change its policy on overdue fines. Libraries in Salt Lake City, Nashville and Tampa are among others doing the same.

Similarly, some libraries have come up with different ways to handle late returns rather than charging money. For example, Los Angeles County Library patrons under 21 years old can log in hours reading books to eliminate their overdue fines. Some library systems let borrowers donate canned food in lieu of paying late fees.

If your library doesn’t follow this trend of ditching overdue fines, a good way to avoid them is to set calendar alerts to remind yourself when your items are due. Set one reminder a couple of days before the due date and another on the date itself — and hopefully you won’t forget to make your return or renewal.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.