Mayor Kenney Calls for Free Library to Go Fine-Free

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COUNCILMEMBER Cherelle Parker’s initiative to cease collecting fines by the Free Library has been endorsed by Mayor Jim Kenney.

Mayor Kenney has called on the Board of Trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia to completely eliminate the use of fines for overdue books. The Board is scheduled to vote on this action at its upcoming meeting on Dec. 11.

“While we want to ensure that library users return their materials, late fines for overdue materials have not proven to be an effective strategy. In fact, library fines deny access to materials and resources for people who owe as little as five dollars,” said the mayor. “I respectfully ask the Board of Trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia to vote in support of completely eliminating overdue fines for unreturned books and materials and to forgive outstanding overdue fines. Libraries nationwide have been implementing effective fine-free models, and the Free Library of Philadelphia has been studying the impact of a fine-free system for the past year.

“The punitive practice of late fines for overdue books is a century-old practice that not only creates a barrier to use, it also frequently prevents patrons from returning materials that belong to the Library and should be used and enjoyed by more Philadelphians. This policy is counterintuitive to advancing our city’s broader educational and literacy goals, and the time has come for it to end.”

The mayor also acknowledged Councilmember Cherelle Parker (9th District) for raising the profile of this important issue by sponsoring a resolution in October and calling for a hearing of the Legislative Oversight Committee to examine the practice. The hearing is scheduled for Nov. 20.

“I appreciate Councilmember Cherelle Parker for expanding the dialogue on the issue of library fines and how they negatively impact low-income Philadelphians. Her partnership is invaluable as the City aims to remove more barriers that keep marginalized groups from accessing core City services,” Kenney added.

Cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City have already introduced fine-free models, and have seen a significant return in overdue books. Under the proposal before the Board, Free Library of Philadelphia patrons would still be required to return overdue books or pay for lost books in order to check out new materials. Other implementation details, including the start date of a new policy, would still need to be determined by the Free Library.

Support for this measure is just one of many ways the Kenney Administration is looking at government services through an equity lens, and part of that work includes reviewing municipal fees and fines. Philadelphia is joining a growing number of cities that are examining policies, past and present, that may have contributed to racial and income inequalities. Therefore, the City is working toward creating conditions that maximize benefits for those who have often been left behind.

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