Check it out! Brooklyn Public Library to stop charging for late returns

A Brooklyn Public Library branch.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

They’re closing the book on late fees! 

The Brooklyn Public Library will officially end the practice of collecting late fees, joining New York City’s other library systems in making the joint announcement on Oct. 5. 

The President of Brooklyn’s library system said the move is intended to bring people back to the library system after many of them have stayed away during the pandemic. 

“We want to make sure that people are coming back to the library,” Linda Johnson told Brooklyn Paper. “We want to make sure the people who need us the most are not intimidated or feel any kind of barrier to coming back.” 

New York’s libraries now join booklenders in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle, and Dallas in eliminating the fines, in an effort to increase usage of the library systems and operate a more equitable library system. New York is the biggest American city so far to adopt the policy. 

Starting this week, any library user with fines on their account will have their fees eliminated, and no users will accrue them moving forward. Over 400,000 library users currently owe late fees, more than half of them in high-need communities, according to the library. 

The Brooklyn Public Library found that most of its users with blocked cards were in more disadvantaged communities. The branches with the highest numbers of blocked cards were in neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line and where most people make less than $50,000 a year on average. 

Late fees have been in place since the library systems were founded in the early 20th century. Under previous policy, users would have their accounts frozen if they accrued more than $15 in fines. 

The library previously suspended fines during their pandemic closure, and kept them suspended until the summer of 2021. Johnson said the initial fine-free period taught them the importance of book-drops — receptacles for returning books outside library branches — and of making it as easy as possible for patrons to use the system. 

“We’re trying to make it easy for them but at the same time letting them know that we really want them back,” Johnson said. 

In order to assure that library users will still return their books on time, Johnson said the library will focus its efforts on communication, just without the threat of any fines — though readers will still be on the hook for any books that become lost or ‘long overdue.’ 

“It’s still due at the end of the fine period, you’re just not going to be receiving a daily fine,” she said. “We’ll still be letting you know when your book is overdue.”