San Francisco’s Public Library officials could soon decide to eliminate fines for overdue materials as part of recommendations from a new report by the library and The City’s Office of Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project.

The Library Commission will discuss the proposal at its regular meeting on Thursday. Acting City Librarian Michael Lambert will present the proposal to the commission, he said in a statement:

“The Library is here for the people of San Francisco and we want everyone to be able to take advantage of our incredible collections and resources. There has never been a better time for us to eliminate overdue fines and reaffirm that all are welcome at the library.”

Mayor London Breed also supports the proposal:

“As a City, we need to make sure that we are not placing unnecessary burdens on people to access our public resources. In this case, the fines and fees are overwhelmingly affecting people in our community from disadvantaged backgrounds, which undermines the goal of the Library and reinforces inequality in our City.”

The report titled “Long Overdue: Eliminating Fees on Overdue Materials to Improve Access to San Francisco Library” said 34.8 percent of active patrons of the The City’s library owe money for overdue materials or billed items fees.

While all libraries in The City have patrons who accumulate fines, the report says libraries serving low-income areas and African-American communities accumulate higher debt amounts and have more patrons blocked from taking out library materials due to not paying those fines.

The library currently blocks accounts that owe more than $10 or has an overdue item that is 60 days or more.

The report also studied other libraries who have already eliminated overdue fines and found that there had not been increase in late returns or a decrease in circulation.

San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros said in a statement that the research conducted by his office and the library convinced him that there is a better way to help library patron return books on time without disproportionately affecting low-income patrons:

“San Francisco should join libraries across the country and eliminate overdue fines that disproportionately burden low-income people and communities of color.”

If the proposal passes, library patrons will still have to replace or pay the value of any materials not returned to the library.

The proposal will need the approval from the Board of Supervisors.

The SFPL collected $333,129 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year and represents 0.2 percent of the library’s budget. The library has had four amnesty periods where library patrons were able to bring back overdue materials without having to pay fines.

San Mateo County libraries began last week to not seek fines from library patrons who return materials late.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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