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Queens Public Library Eliminates Late Fees

Queens Public Library at Ridgewood (Google Maps)

Oct. 5, 2021 By Allie Griffin

The city’s three public library systems—Queens, Brooklyn and New York—are eliminating late fees and scraping all users’ existing balances.

The libraries have suspended late fees since March 2020 due to the pandemic and announced Tuesday that they will permanently end late charges — which have been in place since the three systems were founded at the turn of the 20th century — on overdue books and other items.

The libraries are also wiping clean all existing balances on users with overdue books. This will allow patrons whose library cards were blocked when they accrued more than $15 in fines to check out materials again.

The goals of the policy change are to encourage more people to use their local libraries and to create a more equitable system.

“For far too long, late fines have generated fear and anxiety among those who can least afford to pay, preventing them from opening library accounts, checking out books, or even coming through our doors,” Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said. “I vividly remember as a child having late fines on my card and hesitating about going to the library when I needed it.”

The late fees and blocked library cards have historically impacted lower-income, high-need communities at greater rates than other neighborhoods. In Queens, Corona, Jamaica, Far Rockaway and Elmhurst have had the highest number of blocked cards and all four neighborhoods have median incomes below the borough average.

“Late fines tell people they do not belong, and that shutting them out is simply the cost of doing business,” Walcott said. “This is not only unacceptable, but also totally inconsistent with our mission.”

The policy change will clear all existing late fines of nearly 350,000 Queens Public Library users — about a quarter of all cardholders. Of the counts, 19 percent belong to customers 18 and younger.

Walcott said the new policy will allow all Queens residents to “share in the great promise of public libraries – that anyone, no matter their circumstances, can have free access to sources of learning and ideas that will help them find success and joy in their lives.”

In addition to eliminating late fees, Queens Public Library is no longer charging collection fees, processing fees and fees on requests not picked up.

Queens Public Library customers, however, will still be subject to fees if they lose a borrowed book or other items. They will need to pay a replacement fee if the item is not returned. Materials are considered lost after they are not returned about a month past their due date.

If a patron accrues $50 in replacement fees or has 20 or more overdue items, their cards will be blocked from borrowing physical materials and books. They can still access computers, e-books and other digital services.

Patrons will also still be subject to fees for lost cards ($2), bounced checks ($25), interlibrary loans and out-of-state card registrations ($50).

The city’s three library systems collected about $3.4 million in late fines during Fiscal Year 2019, before the pandemic. Since suspending late fines in March 2020, the systems have found other ways to absorb the lost revenue, according to library officials.

The three systems are the latest to eliminate fines. Other major cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, Seattle and Dallas have already gone fine-free. However, altogether, the three New York City systems represent the largest municipality to stop the fees.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, applauded the elimination of late fees.

“Access to knowledge is one of the great opportunity equalizers in our society, and late fees were a barrier to that access – certainly to check out books, and in many instances, it kept people from even visiting their local library,” Van Bramer said. “This change will impact roughly 400,000 New Yorkers and I’m excited for what this new chapter of equity brings to our public libraries,”

The three systems are also holding a week of special programs and giveaways at all branch locations, beginning Oct. 18, to welcome back patrons.

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