Love your library, but not the late fines? We understand life happens, and that it can be difficult to return items on time to the library. Late fees can add up and visiting the library can start to feel like a burden, especially on your wallet. That’s why we’re excited to announce that San Mateo County Libraries are saying farewell to fines! You’ll also have a fresh start to the new year as your existing late fines will be waived as part of this new policy.
San Mateo County Libraries are always looking for better ways to serve our community and provide equitable access to our services and resources. By no longer charging late fines for San Mateo County Libraries materials, we hope to make our libraries an even more welcoming space for all.
“This is a proud moment for all of us at San Mateo County Libraries as we continue to look for better ways to serve our community through innovative solutions and progressive policies.” said Charles Stone, opens a new window, Library JPA Governing Board Chair.
Eliminating late fines for San Mateo County Libraries builds upon our previous successful initiatives to make the library more accessible to our community. In July 2016, San Mateo County Libraries introduced fine-free library cards for children and teens. And last January, the Libraries implemented fine-free library cards for seniors age 62 and older.
How Fine-Free Works
If you borrow material that is owned by San Mateo County Libraries (books, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, and other materials), it will not accrue fees if it is returned after the due date. However, items owned by other libraries in the Peninsula Library System, opens a new window are subject to fines.
Patrons are still expected to return library materials on time. Checkout periods on materials will remain the same and reminders will still be sent via email or a phone call. To ensure that library materials are returned, San Mateo County Libraries will continue to charge replacement fees. San Mateo County Libraries also offer easy online and mobile options for renewing materials.
The Impact of Going Fine Free
Studies have shown that late fines can be a significant barrier to library access and drive borrowers away, particularly among individuals with low or fixed incomes. Currently, 8% of all San Mateo County Libraries’ 165,000 cardholders currently have their cards blocked due to fines. In our lower-income communities, the number can be as high as 19%. Furthermore, the growing research has shown that fines do not actually incentivize patrons to return materials on time.
Overdue library fines and fees account for less than one percent of the Libraries’ revenue. Research on fine-free libraries shows that the staff time involved in collecting and depositing small amounts of fines often equal or even exceed the cost of the fine itself. In other words, library staff time is more valuable when it’s used toward supporting and helping the community!
Eliminating late fines is becoming a national trend as more and more libraries across the country are looking at the research. Our neighbors across the Bay, Berkeley Public Library, opens a new window, said goodbye to fines last summer and Contra Costa County Library System, opens a new window also went fine-free this year. San Mateo County Libraries are excited to join these libraries in making access to our collections and resources a rewarding, stress-free, and equitable experience for all.
In looking at our experiences with our fine-free senior and youth cards, industry research, and the results of the many libraries that have already eliminated overdue fines, we found that:
- Elimination of fines results in higher library use and increased customer satisfaction.
- Fines do not effectively incentivize on-time returns.
- Overdue fines negatively impact library use, particularly by lower-income people.
- Revenue from fines is less than the cost of staff time to collect fines.
As a result of these findings, the Library JPA Governing Board approved the elimination of fines for the late return of library materials and directed staff to update the Library Material Access and Selection Policy.
Patrons who accrued overdue fines before January 7, 2019 on San Mateo County Libraries materials will have those fines waived automatically. Overdue fines accrued on items owned by City or Community College, opens a new window Libraries in the Peninsula Library System, opens a new window will not be waived. Charges for lost or missing items will not be waived.
In order to ensure that library materials are returned, San Mateo County Libraries will charge patrons replacement fees when an item checked out for 3 weeks has been overdue for 30 days, or when an item checked out for 1 week has been overdue for 7 days. Once an item is returned to the library, the replacement fee will be removed from the patron’s account. The Library may block accounts with excessive charges until items are returned or the charges are paid down.
In order to ensure that library materials are returned, San Mateo County Libraries will charge patrons replacement fees when an item checked out for 3 weeks has been overdue for 30 days, or when an item checked out for 1 week has been overdue for 7 days. Users owing more than $15 in fees will lose borrowing privileges. Once an item is returned to the library, the replacement fee will be removed from the patron’s account and borrowing privileges restored once the balance is under $15.
We recommend that you place free reserves or holds on checked out items you want. Placing a hold will block the item from being renewed and deliver it to the library of your choice within 3-5 days of it being returned. You’ll receive a notification by email or phone when the item arrives at your preferred library, and you will have 10 days to check it out.