After library systems in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties eliminated fines for overdue returns, San Francisco is proposing to be the latest local jurisdiction to get rid of the fines in an effort to increase access to libraries.
The San Francisco Public Library proposed eliminating fines for overdue returns at the Library Commission meeting on Jan. 17.
The library partnered with the San Francisco Financial Justice Project within the city treasurer’s office to study the elimination of fines and interview libraries around the country that have done away with them.
None of the libraries in the survey saw a decrease in circulation or increase in late returns after eliminating fines.
City officials said library patrons across San Francisco miss return deadlines at similar rates, but people in low-income areas have difficulty in paying the fines.
Roughly 11 percent of the Bayview Library’s cardholders are blocked from accessing library materials because of existing fines, more than three times as many as in most high-income locations, according to the city.
“As a city, we need to make sure that we are not placing unnecessary burdens on people to access our public resources,” Mayor London Breed said in a news release. “In this case, the fines and fees are overwhelmingly affecting people in our community from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
According to the proposal being considered, patrons will still be responsible for returning books on time and will need to replace or pay for the value of any materials not returned.
Library fines create about $330,000 in revenue annually, only 0.2 percent of the library’s budget and a number that is expected to decrease as digital materials like e-books become more common.
Contra Costa County decided to eliminate the fines starting Jan. 1, while San Mateo County made the same move effective Jan. 7.
Story originally published by Bay City News.