STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — New York City’s three public library systems — The New York Public Library (NYPL), Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library — will no longer charge late fines on books or other circulating materials in an effort to eliminate barriers and ensure all New Yorkers have free and open access to knowledge and opportunity.
They are the latest and largest public library systems to close the book on late fines, according to a news release. The three systems have also cleared all prior late fines from patron accounts, allowing a clean slate for all New Yorkers.
Fines have been in place since all three were created at the turn of the 20th century.
The goals of this major policy shift include encouraging increased usage of the library systems, as well as creating a more equitable system that doesn’t disproportionately impact high-need communities.
Under the previous model with late fines, patrons would have their library card blocked if they accrued more than $15 in fines. At the time of the recent announcement, about 400,000 New Yorkers would fit into this category — more than half in high-need communities.
“This announcement is another major step toward making our public libraries, the heart of so many communities, accessible to all,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Eliminating fines will let us serve even more New Yorkers, allowing them to enjoy all of the resources and programs that public libraries offer to grow and succeed.”
The library systems collected about $3.2 million in late fines revenue in Fiscal Year 2019, which was the year prior to the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Since March 2020, amid the health crisis, the three library systems eliminated late fines to accommodate patrons. As they haven’t collected late fines in over a year, they have found ways to absorb the lost revenue from fines.
“During the pandemic, it was clearer than ever that we live in a Tale of Two Cities, with our most vulnerable citizens too often left behind,” said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx. “We must work to ensure that we are adhering to our mission of making knowledge and opportunity available to all, and that means addressing late fines. They are an antiquated, ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books; for those who can afford the fines, they are barely an incentive. For those who can’t afford the fines — disproportionately low-income New Yorkers — they become a real barrier to access that we can no longer accept. This is a step toward a more equitable society, with more New Yorkers reading and using libraries, and we are proud to make it happen.”
For many New York City families, even a few additional dollars for an overdue book would prevent them from accessing the opportunities that libraries offer.
The fine policy, the library systems explained, priced out the most vulnerable — scaring families from using a free public library system.
In the New York Public Library system — which serves Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx — branches in high-need communities (median household income below $50,000) account for six times the number of blocked patrons as others. The 10 branches with the highest percentage of blocked cards are all in high-needs communities, and each has one in five cardholders blocked.
Before this announcement, there were 30,000 patrons on Staten Island that had fines, or about 30% of cardholders in the borough. Of those, about 13,000, or 13% of cardholders on Staten Island, were blocked for having more than $15 in fines.
Now, those patrons on Staten Island, and in the other boroughs, are no longer blocked or have any fines.
“As an avid reader, it is encouraging to know that this effort may stop any hesitation Staten Islanders have to borrow books from our great public library system located across the borough,” said Borough President James Oddo. “I want to thank the folks at the NYPL for removing any late fines of existing patrons, as well as prioritizing access to the world of books, especially for our youth. But who is going to break this news to Joe Bookman, Library Cop? [Seinfeld joke for the uninitiated].”
Generally, under the new fine-free policies:
- New Yorkers of all ages will no longer need to pay any late fines on overdue materials.
- In the past, library cards were blocked if they accrued $15 or more in fines; that will no longer be the case.
- New Yorkers will still need to pay replacement fees if they lose material. Materials are considered lost after being overdue for about one month. If materials are returned, however, no fees will apply.
- Cards will be blocked from borrowing additional physical materials if patrons accrue replacement fees (thresholds differ per system); note that even with a block on their cards, patrons can still access computers, e-books and other digital services.
CURRENT LIBRARY SERVICES
All available NYPL branches reopened fully to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic in July.
There are a few exceptions, as some locations remain under construction. Staten Island’s Port Richmond branch will remain closed for a full renovation until 2023. And, the brand-new Charleston branch remains in progress. It is expected to be completed and open by the end of 2021.
Masks are still required inside libraries, but social distancing is not in effect.
The public library system restored most of its pre-pandemic services. That includes:
- Opening all remaining locations (except for those under construction, in need of repairs, or in use by New York City as COVID-19 testing centers or vaccination sites, among other temporary uses).
- Allowing unlimited, untimed browsing.
- Allowing general library use, including — for the first time since March of 2020 — open, untimed seating.
- Returning to pre-pandemic computer use, including laptop loans.
- Reinstating or expanding bookmobile service
- Beginning to offer indoor public programs and classes, as feasible (it will likely take weeks or months to return programming to full capacity). Some locations are offering outdoor programs during the summer.
- Expanding public service hours, as feasible.
- Patrons should check nypl.org before visiting for the most up-to-date hours.
Locations are currently open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Branches are closed on Sunday. Here are the library branches currently open on Staten Island: