Late fees at OC Public Libraries check out

Julie Davey shows the aisles of the children's corner of the Laguna Niguel Library.
Julie Davey shows the aisles of the children’s corner of the Laguna Niguel Library.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Beginning on Nov. 23, late fees at OC Public Libraries will officially check out.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved indefinitely eliminating library late fines on Nov. 16, asserting the removal of the fines will further provide free and equal access to library services.

“Public libraries play an essential role in providing safe, accessible and free educational resources for every member in our community,” said board Chairman Andrew Do, first district supervisor. “Eliminating late fines will incentivize residents to take advantage of county library resources once again and not be hesitant to take a book home during their next visit.”

The stated vision of OC Public Libraries is “Open Doors, Free Access and Community,” and the hope is the new policy will better reflect that sentiment.

The FAQ page for the elimination of overdue fines on the library system’s website states patrons are still expected to return their materials on time so others can use them.

In the past, OC Public Libraries has offered systemwide special fine-free events to encourage patrons to return to the library. Most recently, fines were suspended during the pandemic.

The Orange County Library, Mesa Verde Branch Library in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, OC Public Libraries implemented the longest removal of late fines to lessen financial disparities experienced by the Orange County community with no negative impact on the library budget,” said Second District Supervisor Katrina Foley. “In reality, the fine system costs more to implement than the fines recovered, and it deters residents from using the libraries. It’s time for change.”

The website states overdue fines are only a small portion of the library system’s budget and not considered a reliable source of revenue.

All overdue fines will be waived for all library cardholders on Nov. 23, and those with outstanding items are invited back for a fresh start. Library items will still have due dates and will continue to be auto-renewed, if eligible.

Although late fees are gone, the library will still collect fines for lost or damaged items.

A courtesy reminder will be sent two days before an item is due, and an overdue notice will be sent one day after the due date if the item is not returned. Overdue notices will be sent four days, then eight days and 21 days after the due date. If the item does not make its way back to the library by the 30th day, the patron will receive a bill for lost material. If a patron is able to return an item that has been declared lost, all fines will be cancelled.

The American Library Assn. passed a resolution in 2019 asserting that library fines create an economic barrier to access library materials and services. Public libraries in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles County have already eliminated late fines. Most recently, one of the largest library systems in the United States, the New York Public Library, did away with late fines in October.

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