New York Library waived late fees: 100,000 books returned
Since the city’s three major library systems (Queens, Brooklyn, and New York Public Libraries) announced in October 2021 that late fees on borrowed materials would be waived as part of a joint initiative, New Yorkers felt more inclined to play by the rules and return all kinds of books. So far, nearly 100,000 books, many dating back decades, have found their way back to city libraries, The New York Times reports.
Some books are so old and dated that they had to be returned to different addresses. Others came with apology notes. “I’m sorry I lived so long with these books,” read one note. “They have become a family.”
The removal of late fees has lifted a weight off the chests of many New Yorkers, but a sense of embarrassment remains. Billy Parrott, director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown, said The New York Times that most books were returned by mail or by book deposit. But librarians won’t judge anyone. “We just care about the books,” Parrott said.
The toll-free initiative was the libraries’ way of attracting patrons back to the city’s 200 branches after an extended period of limited hours and access due to the pandemic. The initiative has been a success: in addition to thousands of books being returned, New York City libraries have seen a 9-15% increase in returning visitors.
Prior to October 2021, the late fee rate for most borrowed items in New York City was 25 cents per day, except in Brooklyn, where libraries charged 15 cents. Children’s books were instead priced at 10 cents a day, while DVDs cost a few dollars. If a book is not returned within 30 days, it will be marked as lost and the library will charge the patron a replacement fee. Anyone who owed more than $15 to the library would be flagged and no longer able to borrow materials.
Although late fees were cost-effective (public libraries in New York, Brooklyn, and Queens raised over $3 million in 2019), they were unnecessary. After libraries in Nashville, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco decided to waive late fees — and after the pandemic forced New York to suspend library fines — the Big Apple followed suit.
“We learned that we could adjust our budget to do whatever we needed to do and cover lost revenue, because we’re not in a revenue-generating business,” the New York Public Library president said. Tony Marx. The New York Times. “We’re not in the business of collecting fines. We’re in the business of encouraging reading and learning, and embarrassing ourselves in our own way.”
Canceling late penalties also meant taking into account the difficulties faced by low-income communities. “For those who can’t afford the fines — New Yorkers with disproportionate incomes — they become a real barrier to access that we can no longer afford,” Marx said. in an official statement. “It’s a step toward a more equitable society, with more New Yorkers reading and using libraries, and we’re proud to achieve it.”
According toThe Washington Post, 400,000 New York City residents had their library cards blocked before the initiative rolled out because they owed more than $15 in late fees. More than half of those New Yorkers lived in high-needs communities. “As New York grapples with the inequalities laid bare by the pandemic, it is all the more urgent to ensure that the public library is open and freely accessible to all,” Marx said.
Without the fines, citizens definitely feel more encouraged to use city libraries. “I can’t tell you how stressed these fines have been for our customers,” said Tienya Smith, branch librarian in Long Island City, Queens. The New York Times. “Not having that fee erases all of that.”