Public libraries in STL and STL County stop charging fines

LaTonia Hall signed up for a new library card at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library downtown on Tuesday, January 7. In the background, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page visited with a patron before a press conference announcing that late fees at both the city and county libraries will no longer be collected.

Photo by Wiley Price

Two of the largest library systems in the St. Louis region are axing fines for overdue library materials.

St. Louis County Library and St. Louis Public Library join a trend of major metropolitan library districts across the U.S. — including those of Kansas City, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Chicago — that have eliminated fines for their users in an effort to increase access and equity within the communities they serve.

“We have seen a lot of studies out there that say fines are not the incentive to get people to bring their books back,” said Kristen Sorth, the director of the St. Louis County Library. “And so, we still want the books back. You just don’t have to come back and pay a fine.”

The policy change does not mean library users are off the hook. 

St. Louis County residents will receive reminders about when items are due and notices if they become overdue. After 45 days, an item will be considered lost, and the patron will have to pay for a replacement. However, if the patron does return the item, charges will be removed.

St. Louis city residents also will be notified when items are due and again if they are overdue. Patrons will not be charged until 42 days after a book or item was due.

Waller McGuire, the chief executive officer of the St. Louis Public Library, said the change is good news for staff.

“That was painful for staff working at the desk to look across and say, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t use your card,’” McGuire said. “So, now that won’t happen anymore. They’re absolved of that responsibility.”

Last January, the American Library Association passed a resolution encouraging libraries to go fine-free, referring to the fines as “social inequity.” Last December, the Board of Trustees for the two library systems approved removing the fines. 

McGuire hopes the change will help residents look at libraries differently.

“We’re not about fines,” McGuire said. “We’re not about rules. We’re about helping people learn. Helping people enjoy themselves. Helping people gain access to information, which is vital to their lives.”

The Urban Libraries Council is tracking the number of libraries that are taking part in the effort through an interactive map at https://www.urbanlibraries.org/member-resources/fine-free-map.

To learn more about borrowing at St. Louis County Library visit www.slcl.org. To learn more about borrowing at St. Louis Public Library visit www.slpl.org.

Reprinted with permission from news.stlpublicradio.org.

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