Fees and fines are very common in public libraries in the United States. Here at the Millvale (PA) Community Library (MCL), we have always been fine-free. MCL’s goal is to eliminate barriers (including financial) that might prevent people from accessing the library’s materials and services. Many libraries across the United States have demonstrated that imposing late fees on patrons is not an effective deterrent to the return of late materials. Charging late fees is a barrier to use for many, particularly those with low incomes. At MCL, we strive to overcome all barriers to using the libraries and actively work to increase access for our patrons, trusting that our show of good faith will encourage patrons to return materials in a timely manner. Forgoing fines does not have a large impact on our library budget but it does offer many benefits including freeing up staff time and creating goodwill with patrons and the community.
In Millvale, over 23.75 percent of adults live below the poverty level according to the 2018 World Population Review. (According to the 2017 U.S. Census, the average national poverty rate is 12.3 percent). Studies have found that fines affect low-income families and children disproportionately, when compared with middle-class families. Eliminating fines is a “win-win” as it promotes good will, trust, accountability, and can also lead to more participation in library programs. As community driven institutions, libraries should focus on removing all possible barriers to achieve equality of access for every member of our communities.