Chicago Public Library To Eliminate Fines, Becomes Largest City To Adopt Trend

Jennifer Keiper
September 30, 2019 - 9:15 am
Chicago Public Library

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The Chicago Public Library is moving to a fine-free system, becoming the largest city in the nation to adopt the growing trend of eliminating library fees.

Starting Tuesday, the Chicago Public Library will eliminate overdue fines on all CPL-owned items currently in circulation and erase all outstanding overdue fees. The library will also set up auto-renewals. Items checked out will be automatically renewed up to 15 times, three weeks per renewal.

Chicago becomes the largest city and the largest public library system in the nation to eliminate fines.

Chicago Public Library Commissioner Andrea Telli and Mayor Lightfoot said the goal is to remove unfair barriers to basic library access, especially for youth and low-income patrons.

These new policies are the latest in a series of efforts by Mayor Lightfoot to eliminate regressive fines and fees policies that have historically prevented too many Chicagoans from contributing to the local economy, and replace them with new policies to promote economic inclusion for all of Chicago’s communities, her office said in a statement.

“Like too many Chicagoans, I know what it is like to grow up in financially-challenging circumstances and understand what it is like to be just one bill or one mistake away from crushing debt,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “The bold reforms we’re taking to make the Chicago Public Library system fine-free and forgive City Sticker debt will end the regressive practices disproportionately impacting those who can least afford it, ensure every Chicagoan can utilize our city’s services and resources, and eliminate the cycles of debt and generational poverty because of a few mistakes.”

Library patrons will still be responsible for returning books, and those who do not return their books will still need to either replace, or pay for the value of, any materials not returned.

Telli and Mayor Lightfoot are also hoping it will bring people back into the branches. Over 300,000 people cannot use the system because of overdue fines. CPL data indicates the disproportionate impact late fines have on different communities in the city, with one in three patrons in CPL’s South District (below 59th Street) currently unable to check out items because they owe ten dollars or more in fines and fees. In CPL’s North District, from North Avenue to Howard Street, this number drops to 1 in 6. Furthermore, many of the blocked users are those who can benefit most from the resources at Chicago Public Libraries – one in five suspended library cards citywide belong to children under 14.

“I’m thrilled that CPL has taken this important step towards ensuring that the library is accessible for all,” CPL Commissioner Andrea Telli said. “CPL welcomes home the thousands of Chicagoans who have become disconnected from their local branch due to fines. We are excited to see what we can build together with equitable access to information and learning.”

Other cities that have eliminated public library fines include San Francisco, Phoenix, and Baltimore. 

According to the Mayor's office, research from other fine-free systems has indicated that fines do not increase return rates, and further that the cost of collecting and maintaining overdue fees often outweighs the revenue generated by them.