Library eliminates overdue fines

booksThe Atlantic City Free Public Library is happy to announce that as of this month, it no longer charges fines for overdue library items. Also, overdue fines previously accrued by library members will be waived, regardless of the amount.

The goal of eliminating overdue fines is to improve equity of access — that all people have the information they need, regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers.

Melissa McGeary, the Atlantic City Library’s Adult Services Librarian, spearheaded the change in policy to eliminate all overdue fines. She extensively researched the topic, wrote a proposal and presented her findings to the Board of Trustees, which approved her recommendation in July 2021. The library already had a long-time no overdue fines policy in place for children, and it has not charged overdue fines for anybody during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The library’s mission is to provide free access to information and services for all members of the community regardless of socioeconomic status,” McGeary said. “Overdue fines are a form of social inequity. They present barriers to access and penalize the most vulnerable members of society. We hope that eliminating fines will make the library a more inclusive institution and encourage more people to take advantage of what we have to offer.”

A national survey conducted by Library Journal in January 2017 found that going fine-free was a growing trend nationwide. In 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution declaring overdue fines discriminatory and called for libraries to dismantle the
practice. As of 2021, more than 500 U.S. libraries have gone fine-free.

Research shows that fear of fines keeps low-income families out of libraries. Studies have shown that fines are not an effective tool for preventing late returns. Many libraries that have gone fine-free have reported increases in returned materials.

The library believes that going overdue fine-free is good for the community, which is healthier and stronger when everybody has access to all of the library resources, programming and services they need to pursue their goals.