King County libraries to get rid of late fees starting May 9

KCLS says late fines generate little revenue, with fines making up less than 1% of KCLS’ budget.

The King County Library System (KCLS) has announced that beginning May 9, it will stop charging late fines for library items that are overdue. They will also clear all late fine accruals from patron accounts.

The KCLS’ Board of Trustees approved these changes on April 26. Last year, the KCLS’ Board of Trustees asked staff to analyze the impact of late fines. KCLS staff gathered and reviewed relevant data for six months, and presented their findings to the board on March 29.

The presentation included the pointed out the following findings:

– Late fines worsen inequality and discourage library use. Individuals with low-income and limited access to transportation and technology are most impacted.

– Late fines generate little revenue. In recent years, fines made up less than 1% of KCLS’ operating budget.

– Late fine revenue continues to decrease over time. This trend correlates with patrons’ interest in more digital and fewer physical items. Digital titles return automatically and do not accrue late fines.

– Collecting fines from patrons also has costs. Associated expenses include staff time, payment processing fees, printing notices and more.

– A majority of peer libraries have eliminated late fines.

“Those most impacted by late fines already face the greatest challenges in accessing the library,” said KCLS Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum. “When fines become a thing of the past, libraries can become a bigger part of everyone’s future.”

Replacement fees are different from late fines. If library materials are more than 60 days overdue, they are considered lost. KCLS must still charge replacement fees for lost, damaged and missing items, as required by state law.