Westfield Memorial Library’s core mission is to provide equitable access to information, and it has been demonstrated that even small monetary fines present a very real economic barrier to access library materials and services, especially for already vulnerable populations including children, seniors, and economically disadvantaged families.
These kinds of financial barriers can discourage many people who rely on the library, which means they can’t access books required for schoolwork, use public computers or job resources, or simply have a safe, open, welcoming space to visit.
Studies have shown that late fees have very little impact on the percentage of library materials that are returned on time, and the elimination of late fees leads to greater usage of library information, services, and resources.
Effective immediately, Westfield Memorial Library will not charge overdue fees on Westfield library materials, with the exception of museum passes and WIFI hotspots.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the library eliminating overdue fines?
It’s good for Westfield! Our community is stronger and healthier when all people have access to programs, services, and materials they need to pursue their educational, career, family, and life goals. We hope this will encourage prior users to come back to the library and attract new users to experience all that the library has to offer.
Have other libraries eliminated overdue fines?
Yes. Hundreds of libraries throughout the United States have eliminated overdue fines, including the New Jersey towns of Livingston, Maplewood, Millburn, Montclair, Scotch Plains, Union, and more. Major metropolitan libraries throughout the country have also eliminated overdue fines, including libraries in large cities like Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle. And recently, all three library systems in New York City (Brooklyn, Queens, and New York Public Libraries) all went fine free.
But don’t overdue fines ensure that people return library materials on time?
Actually, no. Overdue fines are not effective. Studies have shown that small fines have virtually no impact on return rates. Once someone incurs a late fee, they are less likely to visit the library again. Libraries who have removed late fees report few adverse effects on material return rates. The public library model is based upon a trusting relationship between borrowers and a valued community resource. Library staff trust that borrowers will return items on time, so others may use them. Other libraries have experienced an increase in return rates after the adoption of fine free policies, as previous users who had stopped using the library return.
Will there still be due dates?
Yes. The library still has a set time limit for materials to be borrowed and we expect items to be returned on time. If an item is not returned on time, automated reminders will continue to be sent out at 7, 14, and 21 days after the due date. After 35 days, the item will become lost and the patron will be billed for the replacement cost. A patron’s library card will be automatically blocked if an account balance reaches $10.00.
What happens if I have outstanding fines on my account?
Any existing overdue fines on your account will be waived. However, existing fees for lost items will remain and should be paid at your earliest convenience.
What if I borrow items through ILL or from a MURAL library? (i.e. Cranford, Fanwood, Scotch Plains, etc.)
Items that are borrowed from the Westfield Memorial Library location will be fine free. Fines are set by the location where materials are borrowed. Items borrowed by a Westfield resident from MURAL libraries (Cranford, Fanwood, Scotch Plains, etc.) will be subject to the policies of that library.
Do any Westfield items still have late fees?
Yes, a few. Museum passes and WIFI hotspots still have applicable late fees.
How will this affect the Library’s budget?
While the Library is always carefully watching its bottom line, any loss of overdue fine revenue is tiny compared with the good this new policy will do for the community. Overdue fines account for less than 0.5% of the library’s overall income and going fine free will not significantly impact the budget moving forward. In addition, due to the rise in electronic materials (which do not accrue late fines) and other factors, fines are not a sustainable form of revenue for the Library. Above all, it’s worth it to us to forgo potential funds from fines to remove barriers to Library use.