We believe in providing access to knowledge for all. Eliminating fines for overdue materials means more people in our community have greater access to the Library’s vital materials, resources, and services.
Late fines, no matter how small, are a very real and significant burden for low-income individuals, children, and families. These kinds of financial barriers can discourage many people who rely on the Library from coming back, which means they can’t access books required for schoolwork, use public computers or job resources, or simply have a safe, open, welcoming space to visit.
We want to remove such obstacles so everyone in Kansas City has greater access to information and opportunity. Freedom from Fines frees you to pursue your educational, career, and personal goals at the Library.
What does this mean for KC Library cardholders?
- No daily late fines charged on overdue items. (Fees do apply to lost or damaged materials.)
- No fine-related restrictions on use of public computers or access to digital materials (eBooks, digital audiobooks, online databases and resources), even for people who have extensive fees on their accounts.
Wait, for real? No late fines?
That’s right. Since July 2019, the Kansas City Public Library does not charge late fines on overdue materials. We call this policy Freedom from Fines.
So… what does this mean?
To put it simply: more access to information for everyone. Research and experience from libraries around the country increasingly show that fines are often barriers preventing people from using the Library and its services – especially those who most rely on us. We want to remove those obstacles, end the stress of owing fines, and ensure that all members of our community can use the Library.
Late fines, no matter how small, are a very real and significant burden for low-income individuals, children, and families. What starts as a tiny overdue fine can quickly snowball into a larger amount with each day that an item isn’t returned. Because people fear fines, they avoid coming back to the Library altogether. For many, this means they can’t access books for schoolwork and other vital materials or use essential services such as public computers or job resources.
We would rather have you back visiting the Library instead of staying away because you owe late fines.
Aren’t late fines part of, like, the Library Constitution or something?
Ha! No, not really. While overdue fines are traditionally associated with borrowing materials from libraries, that is changing. Libraries in many communities recognize that overdue fines sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to connecting people with important resources, so they’re reevaluating borrowing policies and making changes to evolve with the times. The Kansas City Public Library has joined over 450 other U.S. libraries in eliminating late fines.
But will people return materials on time without late fines?
Interestingly, libraries that have ditched late fines have found that return rates actually go up. By removing the threat of daily accumulating late fines, people are less likely to avoid returning to the Library and more likely to bring back any overdue items they’ve checked out. No late fines means more people using the Library.
So, I can just hold onto the book I checked out ... INDEFINITELY? (Cue evil laugh.)
Nice try. You still have to bring back what you borrow – and we still ask that you try to do so on time – but the Freedom from Fines policy is much more lenient if you miss a due date.
But seriously, it’s kind of hard to finish a George R.R. Martin book by its due date.
We feel you on that. But remember you can always try to renew your checkouts if you need more time and there isn’t a waiting list. There may be others in line behind you waiting for the item. Think about how much you’d appreciate getting your holds in a timely manner, and extend the same courtesy to others.
Also, Martin knows a little something about missing due dates (cough – The Winds of Winter – cough). Just kidding – we love you, George!
If I’m done with my borrowed materials before the due date, should I return them early?
Absolutely. Your fellow Library patrons will thank you for it. Returning items prior to their due date is very considerate and always appreciated. Early returns benefit other Library users patiently waiting their turn for popular book titles, movies, or music.
Doesn’t the Library need to charge late fines for revenue purposes?
Overdue fines contribute only a very small amount to the Library’s operating budget. While the Library is always carefully watching its bottom line, any loss of overdue fine revenue is tiny compared with the good this new policy will do for the community.
Above all, it’s worth it to us to forgo potential funds from fines to remove barriers to Library use. Freedom from Fines opens our doors wider for the people in Kansas City who need us the most.
What’s really different about the Freedom from Fines policy?
Previously when you checked out an item and didn’t return it by the due date, daily fines started accumulating. For some patrons, the growing amount could become burdensome.
Our current policy? We still have due dates, and we encourage you to try to return your borrowed item on time. We’ll still send you email reminders to bring back your book, CD, or DVD. But we get it. Life gets in the way, and sometimes materials are turned in late.
An item is officially categorized as overdue at 12:01 a.m. the day after its due date. But with Freedom from Fines, you don’t need to worry about a late fine that grows larger each day.
If something hasn’t been returned by two weeks after its due date and we haven’t heard from you, it will be considered lost and the Library will need to charge a fee to cover the cost of replacing the missing item in our collection. A lost item fee will be applied to your account. And if materials are still not returned by 42 days past due and we haven’t heard from you, your account may be turned over to a collection agency and charged a processing fee.
But as long as we get the item back in good shape, you won’t ever be charged overdue fines. And if you eventually find and return the outstanding materials, the lost item fee is erased from your account.
How does having lost or damaged item fees on my account affect my ability to use Library services?
While we have eliminate late fines, the Library will still charge fees for lost or damaged materials. These fees are necessary to buy replacement books, CDs, or DVDs in the Library’s collection so other patrons may use them. However, the Library has changed the maximum fees charged on some lost/damaged items, and you no longer will be blocked from using certain Library resources.
Under our policy, when a user has incurred $45 worth of lost or damaged books, CDs, or DVDs, their account is blocked. That person then cannot borrow any additional physical materials. The account is unblocked when the items are returned or the lost book fees are paid.
Previously, if patrons maxed out on lost/damaged item fees, they were unable to use the Library’s public computers. But that’s no longer the case.
Even if your account has reached the maximum amount of lost/damaged item fees, you can still use public computers at any Library location, and you can still access digital materials available through the Library’s website -- eBooks, digital audiobooks, streaming or downloadable music, online databases, and more.
My children check out materials through their Kansas City public school. How does the Freedom from Fines policy impact their ability to borrow items?
Students in the KCPS system are not charged overdue fines. Since youth are among our patrons most impacted by late fees, Freedom from Fines offers a number of benefits. Students now have greater unrestricted access to the materials and resources they need for schoolwork, and they can visit Library locations without worrying about paying late fines.
You check out an item. Depending on what it is, it’s on loan to you for a period ranging from 7 to 21 days.
If you happen to finish your book, CD, or DVD before its due date, by all means return it early. The next person in line waiting for the latest bestseller will very much appreciate your considerate borrowing habits!
5 DAYS BEFORE AN ITEM IS DUE:
You’ll get a reminder email about returning what you borrowed by its due date.
Time to return the item you borrowed!
1 DAY OVERDUE:
At 12:01 a.m. the morning after an item’s due date, it is officially labeled as overdue. Normally this is when the late fine clock would start ticking ... but no longer! No need to worry about fines here, but we suggest you try to return your materials as soon as possible.
3 DAYS OVERDUE:
You will get a first overdue notice via email.
14 DAYS OVERDUE:
At this stage, you’ll get another email with a second overdue notice. Because it’s two weeks after the due date, the item you checked out is now defined as lost.
There is a fee to replace lost or damaged items because the Library now needs to buy a new copy of the item for our collection. This amount varies depending on the item in question (hardcover book, DVD, music CD, paperback book, etc.). View information on lost and damaged materials fees here.
This lost-item replacement fee will be applied to your account at 14 days past the due date. However, we’ll remove this fee completely if and when you bring back the overdue item.
35 DAYS OVERDUE:
You will receive a third notice with a reminder about your overdue item and the amount of the lost item fee currently applied to your account.
42 DAYS OVERDUE:
At this stage, there are a few possible steps taken depending on the total of your outstanding fees.
- If the total amount of your lost or damaged item fee reaches $45, you will not be able to check out or place holds on physical materials.
- If the total amount of your lost or damaged item fee is $200 or more, your account will be referred to a collection agency. An additional $10 agency processing fee will also be assessed; this fee is required even if materials are returned.
Even with these fees on your account, you are still able to use public Library computers or access digital materials through the Library’s website.
The Library can work with you to find ways to address any outstanding fees.
Options for payment include:
- Pay fees in person at any Library location.
- Mail a check to any Library location; be sure to include your name and Kansas City Public Library card number on the check.
- Map of library systems going fine free across the U.S. (Urban Libraries Council)
- Removing Barriers to Access: Eliminating Library Fines and Fees on Children’s Materials
(white paper prepared for the Colorado State Library)
- More libraries are going fine-free. That’s good for everyone.
(Washington Post editorial, June 17, 2018)