Posted on September 30, 2019

Chicago to Become Largest U.S. Public Library System to Go Fine-Free for Overdue Materials That Get Returned

John Byrne and Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Chicago Tribune, September 30, 2019

Chicago public libraries will stop fining people for overdue books and wipe away patrons’ outstanding debt, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday, saying she wants to help low-income people who have been locked out of borrowing from their neighborhood libraries regain access to the system.

Starting Tuesday, books people check out automatically will renew up to 15 times if nobody else places a hold on them, according to a release from the Chicago Public Library. Items will be marked as “lost” and accounts will be charged replacement costs one week after the last due date, but the charge will be cleared if the item is returned.

Lightfoot framed the change as her latest attempt to fix a long-standing policy that burdens those who have the hardest time coming up with the money to pay. The elimination of library fines follows the mayor’s similar changes to fees and fines tied to tickets and city vehicle stickers, aimed at helping low-income people retain their ability to drive legally.


According to library data, 1 in 3 patrons in the library’s South District — below 59th Street — currently are unable to check out items because they owe $10 or more in fines and fees. In the North District, from North Avenue to Howard Street, this number drops to 1 in 5. One in 5 suspended library cards citywide belong to children younger than 14.

Overdue fines for books have been set at 25 cents per day. Fines for DVDs were $1 per day, and for Wi-Fi hot spot equipment they were $2 per day.

Interlibrary loan items and the museum passport cards that allow free admission to Chicago museums will remain subject to overdue fines, according to the release.