A Message From the Michigan Library Association
Check out November's edition of our monthly outreach to Michigan Legislators where we continue to educate them on the value of our libraries and the critical role of library staff. Our monthly letters include information on programs and services that libraries provide, education on library funding, the return on investment for our communities, stats and fun facts about library usage and more.
What does it mean to go “fine free”?

For decades, libraries have relied on fines both as a source of revenue and to discourage patrons from returning books late. A small but growing number of public library systems here in Michigan are joining the nationwide trend to eliminate the collection of overdue fees. After finding that penalties affect the people who stand to benefit the most from free library resources, many libraries are opting to go "fine free” to improve equity of access and provide free information without restrictions.

Library fines disproportionately impact lower-income families and individuals. Being unable to pay fines becomes a barrier to using the library. Research shows that instead of enticing someone to return borrowed items, fines actually contribute to late items not being returned at all. Patrons who are financially unable to pay fines often stop visiting altogether once an item is overdue. 

Many public library systems are putting a focus on the return of borrowed items over the small, insignificant revenue stream generated by fines. In their analysis, libraries have shown that the cost of staff time and accounting for the fines were oftentimes higher than the fines collected. They have also reported increased circulation numbers and increased library card applications once fines were eliminated. And when libraries have gone “fine free” and wiped out patrons’ outstanding debt, they have also been inundated with the return of long-overdue materials.

There are still due dates on loaned items and libraries still expect items to be returned on time. However, instead of monetary penalties for late returns, after a certain amount of time, accounts will be blocked from checking out other materials. It should also be noted that libraries that are eliminating fines are typically still charging patrons for lost or damaged materials. 

A library’s fundamental mission is to serve the public with information and knowledge and provide equitable access to diverse populations across all socio-economic backgrounds. At their heart, libraries are community centers - places to read, places to gather and socialize, places to study, and places to learn. Each year, more and more Michigan public libraries are going “fine free,” and measuring their success by the number of residents using library services, not how much they receive in fines. And that is a good thing.
Deborah E. Mikula
Executive Director
Michigan Library Association
Leading the advancement of all Michigan libraries through advocacy, education and engagement