Santa Clara Library Eliminates Overdue Fines

By Robert Haugh

The Santa Clara City Library has abolished overdue fines for both children and adults. 

This move is part of a nationwide effort to address equity issues and remove barriers to library access.

The American Library Association passed a resolution in 2019 in favor of eliminating these fines, and the Santa Clara City Library has followed suit.

Research has shown that fines are ineffective in ensuring materials are returned on time and can discourage library use. 

Those most negatively impacted by overdue fines are often children and families experiencing economic hardship, creating barriers to library services.

While materials must still be returned promptly, there will no longer be overdue fines. 

The library hopes that this change will encourage more people to use their services and enjoy their free resources.


  1. This is a sensible policy and is needed at this time. Library staff should not spend precious hours chasing fines. Data shows fines do not prevent book loss. Thank you to librarians and staff for your hard work during these days of reduced hours.

    • Kathy and Buchser, your compassion is noted, especially with the library staff. But if book need not be returned, why then are there librarians?

      My view is that EVERY book is a source of ‘knowledge.’ Like it or hate it, but nevertheless a book conveys a message–even over time.

      A book NOT returned deprives future generations of that little slice of knowledge.

    • Just as a follow-up. I have a book checked out and the library dutifully emails me reminders, and if the book is “reserved,” I would be required to return it to share with others. The library emails to me never said someone was on the wait list, so I guess that book is mine to keep! Maybe the Central Library ought to be open 24 hours a day and let the houseless enjoy some living space, and burn the books to keep them warm. Yes, this is sarcasm–but not far from the truth.

    • Jo,

      Books are still supposed to be returned and returned on time. If you decided to keep the book you have the fines would not force you to return the book. The library has no way to collect the fines unless you agree to pay them and they do not send reports of failure to pay fines to credit agencies.

      There are still time limits and reminders.

      Ending fines is not about compassion but is a pragmatic measure to maximize the utilization of our libraries.

  2. So many peoples lives have been negatively by library fines. I feel reparations are in order.

    If you can’t teach kids and families to return books, your proposed equity is a new societal low. Thanks to the library coming up with this new ridiculous policy..

  3. Sorry. But dumb. Why would anybody ever return a tax-payer paid-for book? Libraries are not dying–I frequent the Central library and see many peeps there. So, now anybody cab check a book out and not return it? Surely Dewey Decimal System is dead. Sad.

    • Jo,

      Robert explains in his piece that the matter has been studied and it has been determined that fines are not truly effective in doing what they are supposed to. Their net effect can end up deterring use by those who can benefit from libraries most.

      Libraries never sent thugs to collect fines or even referred fines to collection or credit agencies. It has always been the case that if someone wanted to steal a library book there was no way for the library to get it back. They could impose fines and the fines could not be paid. In the end the enforcement was having a library card that was in bad standing and that is still the case if there are no fines.

Leave a Reply