The St. Louis Public Library Is No Longer Charging Daily Overdue Fines


The St. Louis Public Library isn't just gorgeous, it's also generous. - FLICKR/JONATHAN CUTRER
  • The St. Louis Public Library isn't just gorgeous, it's also generous.
Late in returning that library book? No problem! Under a new policy the St. Louis Public Library quietly rolled out last month, it will automatically renew your materials for you — no need even to ask.

The automatic renewals are part of the library's ongoing quest to stay connected with its patrons, says Brenda McDonald, director of central services. Among public libraries, that goal is part of a national conversation.

Fines, the libraries believe, are holding people back.

"We've been talking about the way people accumulate small fines because they forget to bring a book back for a day, or a few days, because it's just not convenient," she says. Yet the financial benefit to the library — especially in St. Louis, where fines are just five cents a day per book — are negligible.

Thinking about that dichotomy led the St. Louis library administrators to do some research. As it turns out, the St. Louis system already had technology in place that would allow it to renew books automatically for customers, and the cost of implementation was low, McDonald says.

After discussions that took place over what McDonald characterizes as a six-month period, the library decided to go for it. As of last month, as long as no one else has put a hold on your book, the library renews it automatically for up to three times. You'll get an email notice showing which books were automatically renewed, as well as any where that wasn't possible. Bring them back during that window, and it's like you were never even late.

In essence, McDonald acknowledges, the library is now out of the overdue fine business. But that doesn't mean you can just keep your books forever: Once your three renewals are up, if you don't act promptly, you'll be charged the full price of the book. And if you end up owing $15 or more, you'll still find yourself with a block on your card until you pay it off. This is a lending library, not a book giveaway.

McDonald says it's too soon to know the impact the policy will have, but so far, the library has been enjoying patrons' delighted reactions.

"People have said, 'This is wonderful — I won't have those little fines on my card anymore,'" she says. "We're going to keep an eye on it, and we'll see then if we need an adjustment for any reason. We want people to be happy."

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