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Austin Public Library eliminating late fees after council vote

According to City of Austin officials, studies have shown that fines can be an ineffective way of encouraging returns.

AUSTIN, Texas — After a historic Austin City Council vote, the Austin Public Library on Thursday announced it will soon be eliminating overdue fines.

“The Austin Public Library is committed to providing free and equitable access to all of our resources for the citizens of Austin,” said Roosevelt Weeks, director of the Austin Public Library. “We want to make sure our resources are available to those impacted the most by fines.”

In a press release, Austin leaders said that late fines can create financial barriers for people trying to access library materials. Studies have also shown that fines can be an ineffective way of encouraging returns.

"Studies of libraries in other communities that have eliminated late fines have found that ending late fines actually results in a higher rate of books being returned, as people are less likely to avoid the library if they are not concerned about having to pay money," the release states.

In 2019, the American Library Association passed a resolution encouraging libraries across the U.S. to discontinue fees as a way to encourage library usage and expand access for all populations. More than 400 U.S. libraries have obliged.

Thursday's announcement comes after the Austin Library Commission issued a unanimous recommendation in 2021 to the city council that late fines be eliminated at Austin Public Library. And, in 2018, Austin Public Library already eliminated late fines for children's materials, in addition to exempting children enrolled in Travis County schools from the non-resident user fee in 2021.

“The Library Commission is very excited for what this change means for ensuring more equitable access to our libraries,” said Patricia Dabbert, chair of the Austin Library Commission. “I am grateful for the work my fellow commissioners have done in taking the lead on this issue."

Officials said the move to going fine-free will not be retroactive, but Austin Public Library is investigating equitable ways to help library cardholders with existing fines so that they can continue using their cards.

For more information on the new changes, click here.

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