San Mateo County Libraries Go Fine-Free!

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.

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