San Mateo County Libraries go fine-free

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Starting today, San Mateo County Libraries is saying farewell to fines.

Along with eliminating fines for overdue items, the County Library system is also waiving existing late fines, offering a fresh start for patrons in the New Year.

San Mateo County Libraries (SMCL), which has 12 locations in the county, is an example of the growing trend of library systems to go fine-free with the aim of removing barriers of access for low-income residents, and to attract back thousands of blocked cardholders. San Mateo County Libraries have a total of 165,000 cardholders in our system. Prior to going fine-free, 8% of all San Mateo County Libraries cardholders had their cards blocked due to fines.

Overdue library fines and fees account for less than one percent of SMCL’s revenue while taking up an unjustifiable amount of staff time and resources, officials said.

“The growing research has shown that fines do not actually incentivize patrons to return materials on time,” library officials said.

Moving forward, patrons who borrow materials owned by SMCL, including books, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks and other materials, will not accrue fees if they are returned after the due date. While due dates on materials remain the same, reminders will be sent via email or a phone call.

However, SMCL will charge patrons with replacement fees when an item checked out for three weeks has been overdue for 30 days, or when an item checked out for one week has been overdue for seven days. The Library may also block accounts with excessive charges until items are returned or fees are paid.

Items owned by other libraries in the Peninsula Library System remain subject to fines.

Charles Stone, chair of the SMCL JPA Governing Board, called the fine-free step a “proud moment for all of us…as we continue to look for better ways to serve our community through innovative solutions and progressive policies.”

SMCL has been headed in this direction for some time. In 2016, the library system introduced fine-free library cards to children and teens. Last January, fine-free library cards were given to patrons ages 62 or older.

Also going fine-free this year was the Contra Costa County Library System. Last summer, Berkeley Public Library took that step.