Eliminating Late Fines at Saint Paul Public Library

Three things to know about the library's proposal to eliminate late fines:

  1. Based on comprehensive research and a formal recommendation from Library staff members and leaders, Mayor Carter included the elimination of library late fines in his 2019 budget proposal.
  2. If City Council adopts this proposal as part of the final budget, the Library will stop charging late fines as of January 2019.
  3. The Library believes information and education should be accessible to everyone via the public library’s books, music, and other materials. This proposal will make these materials more accessible for everyone in Saint Paul.

What do library users say?

As part of the Library’s strategic planning process, we interviewed and received feedback from more than 2,000 people. Many people reported that overdue fines were a barrier to their use and enjoyment of the Library. Here are just a few of the comments we heard:

“I really love the Library, and it makes me sad that I haven’t been able to make use of it because of the policy on fines.”

“[Stop] charging late fees. Institute a system that is more effective and does not drive away people who need libraries the most through shame or inability to pay.”

“You are an important part of our community. Keep up the good work. The City should fund the libraries to keep fines low so all families have access.”

"Transportation and mobility can sometimes become an issue. For our family, fines can add up very quickly because of these mobility issues."


What do staff say?

"Having worked at all library branches, I’ve noticed a stark difference in the number of people unable to check out materials due to fines at different locations. Fines are an equity issue preventing access to the library." - Pang, Community Services Coordinator

"It’s a difficult conversation for us. You can tell the person has a gut-sinking feeling when faced with fines. We are service-oriented. Fines prevent people from wanting to use the Library and create an unfriendly environment." - Jenny, Library Associate

"Many families no longer have access to the library because they all have fines. It can really stack up, especially when you have kids who started accruing fines when they were very young. Some have had fines on their cards since they were five years old." - AJ, Library Associate

"I have worked here for 47 years and overdue fines and fees and things that go with them have been a part of my career. As a librarian in a library system that sees the potential for libraries to be transformational, I have seen overdue fines get in the way...Fines are a problem. Fines are a barrier. And they keep us from doing all that we can with our families. Fines don’t align with our library values." - Karen, Library Manager


Percentages of blocked cards are higher in economically-challenged neighborhoods.

Thirty-four percent of cards registered at Rondo are blocked, while 19% of cards are blocked overall systemwide.


Fine Free Sweeping the Nation

If the proposal passes, SPPL will be one of the first libraries in Minnesota to eliminate late fines. We join a national movement of libraries across the country to make this change. Here are just some of the fine-free libraries in the United States.  

“We’ve shut off access to the library when one of our staunchest principles is trying to provide the widest access possible.” - Patrick Losinski, Columbus Public Library


Find out more about these libraries’ fine-free policies:

Berkeley Public Library

Columbus Public Library

Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore

Nashville Public Library

Salt Lake City Public Library

San Diego Public Library


Learn More

There is a lot of buzz about libraries going fine free. These resources offer additional information and perspective.

"Eliminating Late Fines: Improving Access to Your Library," presentation to the Library Board by Library Director Catherine Penkert (2018)

“More libraries are going fine-free. That’s good for everyone,” Washington Post (2018)

“Library that Eliminated Late Fines Says Borrowers Return More,” U.S. News and World Report (2018)

“Imagining a Fine-Free Future,” American Public Libraries Magazine (2018)

“Doing Fine(s)?,” Library Journal (2018)

“Baltimore’s Pratt Library goes fine free for overdue books,” Baltimore Sun (2018)

“Long Overdue: Why public libraries are finally eliminating the late-return fine,” Slate (2017)

“Salt Lake City Library moves to make reading really free,” Salt Lake City Tribune (2017)

“Eliminating late fines simply makes sense,” Deseret News (2017)

“Removing Barriers to Access,” Colorado Department of Education (2016)   

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