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The Seattle Public Library Implements New Fine Free Policy

Seattle Mayor Durkan and Chief Librarian
Turner Announce All Outstanding Fines Clear; 51,000 Patrons Accounts Restored

The Seattle Public
Library’s Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner and Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan
jointly announced the implementation of Seattle’s fine free policy. Starting
today, the Library will no longer charge daily late fines for overdue
materials, a change that was approved by 76% of Seattle voters in August 2019
as part of the 2019 Library Levy Renewal. In addition, Mayor Durkan and Chief
Librarian Marcellus Turner announced an estimated 51,000 patrons whose Library
accounts were suspended because of overdue fines will be reinstated and will
again be able to check out materials. All outstanding late fines on patron
accounts will also be cleared.

“We are thrilled to celebrate this new chapter at The Seattle Public Library,” Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner said. “We hope thousands of Seattle residents will rediscover their Library this year without the fear of fines that has kept many people away.”

“Every person in Seattle deserves access to opportunity and that starts with making sure our Libraries are open to every resident. Library fines had become a barrier disproportionately affecting our lower income residents,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “51,000 patrons will have their Library accounts reinstated and residents with overdue balances will be wiped to ensure the residents who can most benefit from our Libraries have access to this public treasure.”

By eliminating
overdue fines and clearing past fines, the Library joins scores of library
systems across the country —
including large urban areas such as Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake
City and San Diego — in eliminating
this barrier to access libraries. Libraries across the country that have
eliminated late fines have reported increased library use and little change in
return rates for materials.

“Overdue fines
have no place in the Library of the future,” said Turner. “Rather than
encouraging people to bring back materials, they served as a roadblock to the
people who stand to benefit the most from free Library resources, such as teens
and low-income families.”

Research from The
Seattle Public Library showed that residents in low-opportunity neighborhoods
were more likely to carry unpaid overdue fines on their accounts and to have
suspended accounts because of fines, even though the rate of return was similar
to other neighborhoods.

The Library
continues to urge residents to return their library items. It will send
reminders via email, text and phone. Patrons will receive notices to remind
them when materials are due, as well as when they are past due. Patrons will
still be responsible for paying replacement fees for lost or damaged items.
Outstanding fees for lost and damaged items will not be waived.

“We’re all part of
this great sharing community, but our emphasis is now on returning materials
rather than paying a fine if you’re a little late,” Turner said. “It’s the
Library you love, without the shame, blame and stress.”

As part of the new policy:

  • Patrons will now be able to renew items up to three times if no one else is waiting for them
  • The Library will change its notification schedule to help borrowers remember to return their items, and patrons can now sign up for text-message reminders
  • Patrons who do not return an item within 14 days after it’s due will have their Library account suspended until they’ve returned the item or paid the replacement fee
  • The Library will consider an item lost if it is not returned after 31 days past its due date, and a replacement fee will be added to the account
  • Patrons can find details on the new policies at spl.org/NoLateFines

The Library will soon begin implementing other changes funded by the 2019 Library Levy Renewal. On Sunday, Jan. 5, all branches will be open for an additional hour, opening at noon instead of 1 p.m. Later in the year, additional hours will be added to select branches, and work will begin to retrofit three Carnegie-era branches most susceptible to earthquake damage. The Levy will also fund more support and resources for youth.

Find out more about levy-funded changes to the Library at spl.org/levy. For more information, call the Library at 206-386-4636.