Side Note

Death to library fines

This week, Baltimore became the first major city on the east coast to do away with fines for overdue books. The decision, which was announced this week in The Baltimore Sun, means that 13,000 residents whose cards have been blocked for accumulated fines — in Baltimore, that translates to more than $10 owed — can now check out books again.

Cities like New York and Los Angeles abandoned fines for children in recent years — and librarians across the country are joining the cause to do away with fines entirely, arguing that they’re discriminatory to low-income residents and a barrier to engagement. While circulation is on a downward trajectory nationwide — decreasing 3 percent across American libraries over the last five years, according to a survey from Public Libraries Online, in part because of the internet — library systems that have cut out fines entirely have in fact seen usership increase. In Salt Lake City, which ended its late fees last May, checkouts have risen by over 10 percent. Other cities, including Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tennessee, report similar spikes in circulation after abolishing fines.

And while it’s easy to imagine $10 in late fees being a burden for some families, doing away with fines doesn't seem to make a dent in the overall budget of library systems. In Baltimore, for instance, fines accounted for only .25 percent of its $40 million budget, according to The Baltimore Sun. That’s a small price for the city to pay in order to keep libraries open and accessible to those who need them most.