Fines and Overdues

While most libraries would prefer that the books were returned on time, overdue fines have been part of library practice for generations. The reason is economic: From a 1989 issue of The Bottom Line: A Financial Magazine for Libraries, notes that "Fees such as overdue charges, on the other hand, are based on the economic concept of opportunity cost. When one library client keeps a book beyond the due date, there may be another client who is inconvenienced by waiting longer for it than expected." Also, the cost of replacing a book is high, and it is cheaper in terms of both the costs of the replacement book and the staff time to order, process, etc., to forego fines and simply get the books back, using amnesty programs.


Most public and college libraries do collect fees, which is usually part of their circulation policy toward maintaining the collection. As far as collecting the fees themselves, it depends on the individual library and their own individual resources for collecting the fees. Some libraries have systems that automatically send out e-mail reminders to patrons once a book is late being returned. Some libraries that have extensive problems getting books returned call for the assistance of collection agencies (see below) to get either the book returned or the fees collected. In some of the more extreme cases, the patron's credit score is impacted.

Use the following prepared search link to see a results list of the library fine policies available online at the web sites of public libraries across the country:

Search link for Library Fine Policies

Print resources:

Reed, Kathleen, Jean Blackburn, and Daniel Sifton. "Putting a Sacred Cow out to Pasture: Assessing the Removal of Fines and Reduction of Barriers at a Small Academic Library." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40, no. 3-4 (May 2014): 275-280.

Sung, Jan S., and Bradley P. Tolppanen. "Do Library Fines Work?: Analysis of the Effectiveness of Fines on Patron's Return Behavior at Two Mid-sized Academic Libraries." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39, no. 6 (Nov 2013): 506-511.

McMenemy, David. "On library fines: Ensuring civic responsibility or an easy income stream?" Library Review 59, no. 2 (2010): 78 - 81.

Sifton, Daniel. 'The Last Taboo: Abolishing Library Fines'. Partnership: The Canadian Journal Of Library And Information Practice And Research 4, no. 1 (2009).

Heeger, Paula Brehm. "Better Late Than Never: Late Fines Stop Teens from Coming to the Library." School Library Journal 53, no. 2 (2007): 30.

Martin, Murray S., and Betsy Park. Charging and Collecting Fees and Fines: A Handbook for Libraries. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1998.

"To Fine or Not to Fine: Public Librarians Dusty Gres and Karen Hicklin Debate the Finer Points of Overdues Management." American Libraries 30, no. 8 (1999): 75-78.


Burgin, Robert, and Patsy Hansel. Library Overdues: Analysis, Strategies, and Solutions to the Problem. New York: Haworth Press, 1984.

Hansel, Patsy. Managing Overdues: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998.

Mitchell, W. Bede, and Fred W. Smith. "Using Rewards to Minimize Overdue Book Rates." Journal of Access Services 3, no. 1 (2005):47-52.

Amnesty Programs

Amnesty for Library Fines is a concept that has been around for many years. The purpose of an amnesty period is to promote the return of needed library materials or promoted the increased use of the library. Fines normally encourage the prompt return of materials, but sometimes according to Nancy Martinez, Library Service Director of Lodi Public Library, “library users amass such huge fines that-instead of paying the fines-they simply forfeit their library privileges. We want our books back, and even more we want our borrowers back.”

Often these amnesty programs are set to coincide with National Library Week or the start of a new school year.

Collection Agencies


Hill, Nanci Milonel. "Are Collection Agencies the Answer?," Public Libraries 45, no. 6 (Nov/Dec 2006): 18-23.

See also Stephens, Seth. "Another Perspective on Use of Collection Agencies" in the Readers Respond section of the Jan/Feb 2007 issue, page 9.

Barnard, Anne, and Jo Craven McGinty. "Late Library Books Can Take a Toll on Credit Scores," The New York Times, December 26, 2007.

Spencer, Jane. "A New Threat To Your Credit Rating: Unpaid Parking Tickets, Library Fees Start to Hurt Consumer Credit As Strapped Cities Seek Payment," The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2006.

Sieger, Maggie. "Your Friendly Local Library?" TIME, August 29, 2005.

Delgado, Jennifer. "Faced with math problem, Maine Township schools consider collection agency," Chicago Tribune January 03, 2012.

last edited November 2014