Chicago is largest city to eliminates library late fees

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot on Monday, September 30 announced a new policy to eliminate library late fees and remove outstanding debt for library patrons. Now in effect, the new policy eliminates overdue fines on all CPL-owned items currently in circulation, removing unfair barriers to basic library access, especially for youth and low-income patrons. These new policies are the latest in a series of efforts by Mayor Lightfoot to eliminate regressive fine and fee policies that have historically prevented too many Chicagoans from contributing to the local economy, and replace them with new policies to promote economic inclusion for all of Chicago’s communities.

With the announcement, Chicago becomes the largest city, and largest public library system in the U.S., to join the growing movement of eliminating overdue fines. 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 do not return their books will still need to either replace, or pay for the value of, any materials not returned.

“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,” said Lightfoot. “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.”

CPL data indicates the disproportionate impact late fines have on different communities in the city, with 1 in 3 patrons in CPL’s South District (below 59th Street) currently unable to check out items because they owe ten dollars or more in fines and fees. In CPL’s North District, from North Avenue to Howard Street, this number drops to 1 in 6. Furthermore, many of the blocked users are those who can benefit most from the resources at Chicago Public Libraries – 1 in 5 suspended library cards citywide belong to children under 14.

“I’m thrilled that CPL has taken this important step towards ensuring that the library is accessible for all,” said CPL Commissioner Andrea Telli. “CPL welcomes home the thousands of Chicagoans who have become disconnected from their local branch due to fines. We are excited to see what we can build together with equitable access to information and learning.”

By October 1, all patrons will have any outstanding overdue fines from CPL materials cleared from their accounts. Materials checked out by CPL patrons will now automatically renew up to fifteen times if there are no holds on the item. Items will be marked as “lost” and accounts will be charged replacement costs one week after the last due date, but the charge will be cleared if the item is returned. Inter-library loan items and Museum Passports (which allow free admission to Chicago museums) will still be subject to overdue fines.

“This is honestly the most exciting thing to happen at CPL since I’ve been here,” said CPL Branch Manager Lisa Roe. “It’s amazing to ‘walk the walk’ with regard to free and open access for all patrons.”

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