Chicago’s public library is becoming the largest public library system in the country to eliminate overdue fines, in an effort that Mayor Lori Lightfoot said would end “regressive practices disproportionately impacting those who can least afford it.”
The city announced Monday that a new policy removing late fees and outstanding debt for library patrons will take effect Oct. 1.
Beginning Tuesday, the Chicago Public Library “will eliminate overdue fines on all CPL-owned items currently in circulation, removing unfair barriers to basic library access, especially for youth and low-income patrons,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.
“Such fines have increasingly been found to be an ineffective tool in encouraging the return of library materials. Library patrons will still be responsible for returning books, and those who that do not return their books will still need to either replace, or pay for the value of, any materials not returned,” the statement read.
Anyone with outstanding overdue fines will have their accounts cleared and materials checked out will automatically renew up to 15 times if there are no holds on an item. Items will be considered “lost” one week after the last due date and accounts will be charged for a replacement cost, however, those fines will be cleared if the item is returned.
"This is honestly the most exciting thing to happen at CPL since I’ve been here,” CPL Branch Manager Lisa Roe said in a statement. “It’s amazing to 'walk the walk' with regard to free and open access for all patrons."
The library said it anticipates thousands of outstanding items will be returned when the policy takes effect. The board authorized the move in a meeting on Sept. 18.
“Like too many Chicagoans, I know what it is like to grow up in financially-challenging circumstances and understand what it is like to be just one bill or one mistake away from crushing debt,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “The bold reforms we’re taking to make the Chicago Public Library system fine-free and forgive City Sticker debt will end the regressive practices disproportionately impacting those who can least afford it, ensure every Chicagoan can utilize our city’s services and resources, and eliminate the cycles of debt and generational poverty because of a few mistakes.”