Just like that, library fines for more than 130,000 San Diego residents were wiped clean Tuesday in a push by the city to launch a new chapter in the way locals access public libraries.
Amid National Library Week, the San Diego Public Library Foundation and city leaders – including San Diego City Councilmember Chris Cate – announced the forgiveness of library fines totaling a “couple million dollars,” according to Library Director Misty Jones.
Of the 130,000 people with fines, nearly 74,000 of them were barred from using their local public libraries because their overdue fines exceeded the $10 limit.
In San Diego’s low-income communities alone, roughly 40 percent of library cardholders were not allowed to check out materials from local branches due to outstanding fines, according to the San Diego Public Library Foundation.
“We don’t want to penalize people. We want them to bring the materials back, but we’re saying, ‘It’s OK. We understand if you’re a little bit late,’” Jones said.
The Library Foundation expects the pardon of those fines to improve library access to locals in those communities.
“Libraries are known as the 'great equalizers' because we provide equal access for all patrons, regardless of their socio-economic status,” said Jones. “Wiping the slate clean of outstanding fines means welcoming back many of the underserved patrons who most need our services.”
Cate said libraries play a critical role in transforming communities. He, too, was happy to announce the fine forgiveness efforts across the city.
“I feel that banning a child from our public libraries due to an overdue book fine is unreasonable and contradictory to the mission of our libraries,” said Cate at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.
This process comes just nine months after the San Diego Public Library eliminated late fees for overdue books and resources. Materials and books checked out before July 1, 2018, were subject to a daily overdue fine ranging between 10 cents to $1, with maximum fines ranging from $5 to $100. If a fine surpassed $10, the library cardholder would be barred.
While the forgiven fines allowed those barred to return to their local libraries, people who don’t return items will still be charged the price to replace them.
“Now, moving forward, we don’t charge overdue fines. We want you to bring the item back. If you don’t bring it back, you have to pay for it. But we don’t charge you that late fee every day,” Jones said.
The public libraries have automatic renewals where books may be renewed up to five times. If the book isn’t returned by then, Jones said the cardholder won’t be able to check out new books in the meantime.
“But you actually have another 30 days to bring it back before you’re going to have to pay for it,” Jones said.
According to the city, a deep-dive into the process of collecting library fines showed that it costs the city more in staff time to collect those overdue library fees than the fees collected. The library collected $675,000 in fees each year, but spent nearly $1 million to collect those fees.
Cate said having library staffers dedicate their time to “chasing minuscule library fines with little to show for it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The city’s analysis also showed overdue fees were preventing locals from using library services, a press release from the city said.
“We knew we needed to do something about that,” Jones added. “Officially, today, I can say that no one has a library fine, anymore, which is very exciting.”