The Seattle Public Library will join scores of library systems across the country in eliminating overdue fines for books and materials beginning Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. The Library Board unanimously approved the new policy Dec. 12.

To give everyone a fresh start in the new year, patrons with outstanding fines will have them cleared. Patrons who have overdue materials that haven’t been returned can also receive fine forgiveness if they bring them back.

"We want everyone to have easy and equitable access to Library resources," said Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner. "Fines can be a very real and significant burden for some of the most vulnerable residents in our community. We know this kind of financial barrier can deter people who need us most from using the Library, which means they stop using resources needed for school work, to search for jobs, improve literacy skills and more. By removing this obstacle we are giving every resident in Seattle greater access to education and opportunity."

Turner said libraries across the country that have eliminated overdue fines have reported increased library use and little change in return rates for materials. He noted that patrons who only use the Library’s electronic resources have already been enjoying fine-free Library use. "E-books, e-audiobooks and other e-material do not accrue overdue fines," he said. The Seattle Public Library has one of the highest e-book circulation rates of any public library in the nation. The loss of revenue from fines, which continue to decline due to soaring e-material use, will come from the 2019 Library levy.

Turner emphasized that the Library still wants all materials back and patrons will receive notices to remind them when materials are due, as well as when they are past due.

Text-message reminders are also an option for patrons who sign up for this new service. “Patrons will also be able to renew items a third time if no one else is waiting for them,” Turner added. Previous to the policy, patrons could only renew items twice.

Patrons who do not return materials 14 days after they are due will have their Library accounts suspended until they are returned.

The Library will still charge fees for lost or damaged materials. The Library will consider an item lost if it is not returned after 31 days and a replacement fee is added to the account. A Library account with a balance of $25 or more that is 30 days past due will be referred to a collection agency, which adds a non-refundable $10 processing fee.

Turner said he hopes the new policy of not charging daily fines for overdue materials will encourage prior users to come back to the Library, as well as attract new patrons to explore the Library’s many resources and services.

"Hopefully this ends the stress of owning overdue fines," Turner said. "We know it is sometimes difficult to return materials to the Library – schedules change, a work issue comes up, you don’t have transportation, or you simply forget because you have too much on your plate. In short, life gets in the way. We would rather have you back visiting the Library instead of staying away because you have a few overdue books."

For more information, visit our No More Late Fines page or read Turner's fine elimination statement.