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In the name of equity, NYC's public library systems ditch late fines for overdue circulating materials

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Patrons of New York City's three public library systems will not get slapped with late fines for overdue circulating items, and any patrons who had preexisting late fines on their account have had those fines dropped.

The moves involve the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library, according to a press release, which also noted that the library systems had already suspended fines since March 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We must work to ensure that we are adhering to our mission of making knowledge and opportunity available to all, and that means addressing late fines. They are an antiquated, ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books; for those who can afford the fines, they are barely an incentive. For those who can't afford the fines— disproportionately low-income New Yorkers—they become a real barrier to access that we can no longer accept. This is a step towards a more equitable society, with more New Yorkers reading and using libraries, and we are proud to make it happen," New York Public Library President Anthony Marx said in a statement.

Patrons will be charged a replacement fee once materials have been deemed lost, which occurs about a month past the due date. However, if an individual returns the items, the replacement fees will be dropped. Material is considered lost at the New York Public Library after it has been overdue for 30 days, while it is deemed lost by the Queens Public Library if they have not been returned within 28 days of the due date.

"The goals of this major policy shift ... include encouraging increased usage of the library systems, as well as creating a more equitable system that does not disproportionately impact high-need communities," according to the press release. "Under the previous model with late fines, patrons would have their cards blocked if they accrued more than $15 in fines. At the time of the announcement, about 400,000 New Yorkers would fit into this category, more than half in high-need communities."

Marx pushed back against the notion that fines help to teach people about accountability.

"Some might say fines teach accountability and ethics. I disagree. We can teach New Yorkers to be responsible and return their items so others can use them without a financial burden. No one can learn responsibility at the Library if they can't use the Library. Considering the size of the three systems, it has taken time, thoughtful discussion, and careful analysis to take this important step towards a more equitable library system," Marx said.

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