Read To Your Heart's Content: Palm Beach County Libraries End Overdue Fines Oct. 1

Oct 1, 2019

The Palm Beach County Library System will stop charging overdue fines October 1st.

Now, instead of being dimed each day you fail to return your latest page-turner (no, really – the fee per item per day is $0.10), fees will be assessed only when the book is out seven days past its due date – when  the library marks it lost and charges you to replace it.

If the book is returned after the one-week mark, the library will waive that replacement charge. If it really is lost or damaged, though, the patron is responsible for paying the replacement cost.

Doug Crane, Palm Beach County’s library director, said library systems across the country have been moving to eliminate fines because research shows they’re less an incentive to turn in books on time and more a deterrent for low-income borrowers.

“People who can afford the fines just pay them,” he said, “and people who can’t afford them get a block, or the threat of a fine keeps them from checking out library materials in the first place.”

Patrons are still on the hook for fines accrued before Oct. 1st. But the fine-afflicted will still get some relief. The fine balance amount at which patrons are blocked from checking out new materials will rise, from $5 to $25. Library fines won’t go to a collection agency until they hit $50, up from 25.

Even after fines go to collection, the library retains the debt and doesn’t charge interest – so a patron with a $52 fine that’s been sent to collections can return all their missing books or pay the full amount at their local library and resume checking out books, movies and birding backpacks.

Crane said the collection of overdue fines made up a minimal slice of the library system’s budget – less than half of 1 percent. The amount collected also dropped steeply last year, when the library started automatically renewing materials up to three times, from about $400,000 a year to less than $150,000.

The library system also forgave fines in June of this year for patrons who asked. A total of 13,887 cardholders had $76,222.59 in fees cleared. 

Palm Beach County is just one in a wave of library systems doing away with overdue fines. Miami-Dade and Tampa-Hillsborough County libraries stopped assessing fines in 2018. Chicago announced Monday that its libraries will quit fining late returners. And there are many others – the Urban Libraries Council keeps an interactive map of fine-free libraries on its website.

In Palm Beach County, though, it’s important to note that city-run libraries may still collect overdue fines. Many cities in Palm Beach County have their own municipal libraries separate from the county system, like the Mandel Public Library in West Palm (10 cents a day for late materials) or the Delray Beach Public Library (10 cents to $1 per day, depending on what kinds of materials are late).

For the South Florida library tourist, there is one library card to rule them all – or, well, many of them. The Southeast Florida Library Information Network, or SEFLIN, allows card-carrying patrons in good standing at one of its member libraries to get a SEFLIN One Card Library Card that’s good for borrowing across 23 libraries or library systems in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Martin and Broward Counties. A list of the member libraries and the card eligibility requirements are available here.

Editor's note: This story previously misstated how patrons can clear a fine that's been taken to collections. Patrons must settle the whole account by returning all missing materials or paying the full amount.