Cleveland Public Library Goes Fine Free Beginning in July

“We want to remove barriers, not block people from accessing the Library,” said Cleveland Public Library Executive Director Felton Thomas, Jr., who announced the elimination of overdue fines at his February 27 State of the Library address at The City Club of Cleveland. “We want to connect people to knowledge and ideas, not stand in the way. This important step will help us do our everyday work of fostering learning experiences—sparking curiosity, making connections, and building skills every day for all Greater Clevelanders.”

Beginning July 27, fines will no longer be assigned to overdue Cleveland Public Library materials. If an item is not returned within a designated timeframe, however, it will be considered lost and will accrue a replacement fee. This system ensures library materials remain in circulation while also releasing patrons from the burden of overdue fines.

More than 3,000 adult patrons are currently unable to use their accounts because they have overdue fines in excess of the $25 limit. Cumulatively, these patrons owe $138,000 in fines, an average of about $40 a person. The fine-free initiative will not only ensure fewer patrons are denied access, but will also eliminate the costs associated with pursuing fines and ensure staff time is spent serving patrons, not collecting fines.

Going fine free is a natural next step in Cleveland Public Library’s efforts to improve access. The Library eliminated overdue fines for seniors in 1977, for children’s materials in 1978, for disabled patrons in 1992, and for young adult materials and homebound patrons in 2001. Furthermore, revenue from overdue fines has decreased sharply in recent years. The Library collected nearly $200,000 in fines in 2009, but by 2018, this figure dropped to just over $55,000. Several factors likely contributed to this reduction in fine revenue, including the institution of automatic renewals for library materials, which went into effect in April 2018.

The Library’s Board of Trustees approved the fine-free resolution on February 21. In the coming months, the Board will refine the parameters of when items are designated “lost” and will consider the possibility of extending amnesty for existing overdue fines. And in April, the Library will hold its annual Food for Fines drive as scheduled. This program allows patrons to reduce their fines by donating non-perishable food items at Library locations to benefit the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

“We’re pleased to offer our community members the opportunity to use Cleveland Public Library materials without fear of incurring late fees,” Thomas said. “Going fine free is just one way we’re committed to leveling opportunities for all patrons—and we’re proud to do so in 2019, our 150th anniversary year.”