Austin joins growing list of cities eliminating late fines from libraries


Tuesday February 22nd, 2022 by Kali Bramble

An ordinance eliminating late fees at the Austin Public Library received unanimous approval from the City Council, making Austin the latest of nearly 400 cities across the country to adopt such a policy.

The ordinance, sponsored by council member Kathie Tovo, follows a recommendation issued last month by the city’s library commission, following a 2019 resolution from the American Library Association stating that late fees are an economic barrier for low-income users.

“We know that fines impact different users disparately…so this is one of the ways we can continue to ensure that our libraries fulfill their mission of providing access to the community, no matter what. either their economic background,” Tovo said.

In 2018, the Board passed a similar ordinance eliminating late fees for children’s materials in an effort to expand library access for Austin’s youth. Since then, the American Library Association’s efforts to institute universal relief policies have spread to cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth.

Once considered common sense, delay policies have been criticized in recent years for their tendency to unequally punish low-income users who benefit most from public resources. In some cases, the consequences can be serious, as fines outsourced to private collection agencies can affect the creditworthiness of users. Furthermore, research demonstrated that fees have minimal impact on reducing late returns.

Library users can safely expect that there will be no more late fees following Council action last Thursday. For those with unpaid fees, however, there are still a few loose ends to iron out.

“A tricky part that’s not fully resolved is what to do about those who have existing late fines, and I’d like to explore some options to remove them and wipe the slate clean,” Tovo said. . “I know our public library foundation stands ready to help where possible, but my hope would be to find a solution for the city and allow (APL) to use its resources in other ways.”

Photo by Heffloaf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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