Chicago Public Library Forgives All Fees & Fines for Overdue Books
The City of Chicago is poised to eliminate overdue fees and fines for library books and other items in an attempt to encourage reading among youth and low-income library users.
Chicago’s rookie Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the announcement this past Monday. The Chicago Public Library system is the second largest in the country. With the click of a few keyboard keys, it will erase all outstanding overdue fees. Currently, the library system blocks anyone from borrowing books whenever their fines/fees reach $10.00. This policy has, in effect, dis-incentivized users from accessing the library altogether.
The Mayor says that the new policy will reverse that trend and instead aid those who have traditionally had the most difficulty paying fees and fines in the past. Money is not the issue, she says. The Chicago Public Library is neither a profit-making organization nor a collection agency. “This is about educating folks, giving them access to learning, having a safe space where people can come and learn,” she declared.
According to Library officials, a full one-third of library card holders on the city’s predominantly black South and West Sides are banned from borrowing items from the library because of fees and fines. On the North Side, however, where most of the city’s white population holds forth, only one-sixth of card holders are locked out. This is a dynamic which, since Chicago’s founding, has been prevalent in the distribution of city largess and, by contrast, in the city’s penalties and punishments.
Even more damning is this number: Throughout the city, one in five of those blocked library cards belongs to a child under the age of 14 — again, mainly in the city’s black and brown areas.
According to a Chicago Public Library news release, under the new system, items that are checked out will automatically be renewed up to 15 times, unless a hold is placed on them. Misplaced items will be tagged as “lost” in the system and only then will accounts be charged for replacement costs, if items are not turned in a week after due date. And even that charge will be cleared when the items are returned.
The elimination of library fines follows in the wake of similar eliminations of fines and fees related to minor traffic tickets and city vehicle stickers.
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, Lightfoot said in a news release.
This is a long overdue (pun very much intended) and welcome, if minor, change in the way and means “taxes” in the form of onerous fees and fines are levied against Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. It should, however, be regarded as only a first step down a road which will end in equitably sharing the costs of city governance.
And, of course, as the mayor says, this simple gesture allows and grants all Chicagoans an equal stake in and access to city services and resources — especially its vast repositories of information, data, knowledge and, yes, wisdom.