Queens Public Library turns the page on late fines at all branches

Queens Public Library is no longer charging late fines on books and other materials at its branches across the borough. (Photo courtesy of QPL)

Queens Public Library has closed the book on late fees.

QPL joined Brooklyn Public Library and The New York Public Library to announce that it will no longer charge late fines on books and other circulating materials, eliminating a barrier to access and ensuring that all New Yorkers have free and open access to knowledge and opportunity.

“For far too long, late fines have generated fear and anxiety among those who can least afford to pay, preventing them from opening library accounts, checking out books or even coming through our doors,” Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said. “Until today, countless New Yorkers have been denied the opportunity to share in the great promise of public libraries — that anyone, no matter their circumstances, can have free access to sources of learning and ideas that will help them find success and joy in their lives.”

New York City’s three public library systems have also cleared all prior late fines from patron accounts, allowing New Yorkers to enter a new chapter of recovery and renewal with clean slates.

“Late fines tell people they don’t belong, and that shutting them out is simply the cost of doing business,” Walcott said. “This is not only unacceptable but also totally inconsistent with our mission. We are thrilled to be able to make it possible for even more people to take part in everything we have to offer.”

In Queens, the communities with the highest number of blocked cards — Corona, Jamaica, Far Rockaway and Elmhurst — all have median incomes well below the borough average.

“Late fines have prevented far too many New Yorkers from accessing books, resources and materials they need to learn and thrive,” Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said. “Eliminating these fines and clearing existing charges will go a long way toward making our libraries more equitable for all communities.”

The goal of this major policy shift includes encouraging increased usage of the library systems, as well as creating a more equitable system that does not disproportionately impact high-need communities.

Fines had been in place since the library systems were created at the turn of the 20th century. Under the previous model with late fines, patrons would have their cards blocked if they accrued more than $15 in fines. At the time of Monday’s announcement, about 400,000 New Yorkers would fit into this category, more than half in high-need neighborhoods, according to QPL.

“Exciting day for Queens and New York City; goodbye late fines!” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “Our libraries historically enriched the minds of the young and the young at heart, and eliminating late fines gives us more opportunities for knowledge and enjoyment. The late fine elimination is the good news we needed during these trying times, and I thank all the library systems for making this happen.”

The New York library systems collected about $3.4 million in late fines revenue in 2019, the last non-pandemic year. Since March 2020, the systems have suspended fines to accommodate patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As they have not collected late fines in over a year, they have found ways to absorb the lost revenue from fines.

“As the chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, I fully support New York City’s three public library systems eliminating late fees,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “Access to knowledge is one of the great opportunity equalizers in our society, and late fees were a barrier to that access — certainly to check out books, and in many instances, it kept people from even visiting their local library. This change will impact roughly 400,000 New Yorkers and I’m excited for what this new chapter of equity brings to our public libraries.”

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