On December 6th, the Hoboken Public Library announced that it will be permanently banning overdue fines. The concept had been a temporary approach to making the library more accessible to all residents and after the success of the trial – the board has decided to make the policy indefinite.
“The Library first tried a ‘Fine-Free Summer’ in 2019 and what was learned is that late fees – as a motivator to return materials on time – were not really working. In fact, what it did reveal is that late fines were actually a bar to some people being able to use the Library,” said Library Director Jennie Pu via a press release.
The Hoboken Public Library is following suit of larger local libraries like the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Public Library, and suburban libraries such as those in Union and Maplewood, that have already gone “fine free.”
Fines for overdue materials are increasingly seen as counterproductive and out of line with the core library values of providing equal access to materials and resources, the Library stated.
The American Library Association asserted, in a 2019 policy statement, “that imposition of monetary library fines creates a barrier to the provision of library and information services.”
Previously at the Hoboken Library, if a customer had a fine of $10 or more, that customer could not borrow additional materials until the fine was paid down. Fines accumulated, increasing the burden to the customer, sometimes to an onerous degree. “This was a challenge for the customer who could not borrow, and the Library that did not get the material back. Now as long as the material is returned, everybody wins,” the Libray explained.
Library administrators cautioned that borrowed library material must still be returned.
“We automatically renew items once or twice, depending upon the item and if there is someone else waiting for it,” said Library Assistant Director Rosary Van Ingen. “We send gentle reminders by email if an item is overdue. But if an item is not returned after 90 days, we will bill the customer for the item’s replacement value. Further, our fine-free policy applies just to items owned by the Hoboken Public Library.”