Photo by Na Urchin from Pexels

A little good news for the frequent book borrowers out there: the Detroit Public Library is no longer charging late fees when patrons keep books (and other media) past their due dates.

Though DPL’s announcement came without warning, it follows a nationwide shift away from late fees, with policies implemented by dozens of other libraries since the early 2010s. Those that have done away with fees (or reduced them) explained the changes as a way to better live up to their missions: providing access to information, to put it simply.

Even a few dollars in fees can keep some people from being able to use the library, and punitive fines seem particularly harmful in Detroit, where one in three residents live below the poverty line. 

DPL already cleared members’ existing late fines, too. Cardholders will still have to replace lost or damaged items, both any fines from the past and in the future. And due dates aren’t going away entirely — now, you’ll be barred from checking out new items if you’re holding on to overdue books. 

This policy seems like a no-brainer, when you look at the small amount of revenue actually generated by overdue fines — and the much larger number of people who have potentially steered clear of the library because of fines.

DPL shared some of the numbers with Detour, and we’ve got a few bonus ones, too. 

321,568: Detroit Public Library cardholders. (DPL)

143,000: DPL cardholder accounts with overdue fines removed Sept. 1. (DPL)

$8: Average amount of fines cleared. (DPL)

$30,384: Total collected from overdue fines in Fiscal Year 2018. That’s less than .1% of the annual budget. 

16%: Circulation increase in the children’s department of northern Colorado’s High Plains Library District in 2017, 18 months after they eliminated overdue fees. (Slate)

95%: Materials returned within a week of their due date in the High Plains Library District. (Slate)

$0: Library card cost for Detroit residents. You can apply to get yoursin person at any of the 22 branches with identification. But cards are also free for members of a bunch of other southeast Michigan library systems. Or, you can get one for $100 annually if you don’t meet the residency requirement. Why pony up, you might ask? Well, there are…

3.2 million: Total items in the collections, according to DPL. That figure is a little lower than the 4.4 million recorded in Fiscal Year 2016 — but that year, DPL had the 12th largest collection of any municipal library system in the country. The University of Michigan collection and some other research libraries’ are larger as well. (DPL, U.S. Survey of the Institute of Museum and Library Services data via the American Library Association

1906: The year the Detroit Free Press published a hand-wringing story about this exact problem, describing “sinister” librarians demanding money from children, who often couldn’t pay and were then banned from borrowing. “Scarcely a day passes but it does not leave its record of tears and sighs and vain regrets in little hearts,” the reporter wrote. (Slate

Here’s to easier access and more books for young readers… not to mention, an end to those little hearts’ vain regrets!

Kate (she/her) is passionate about journalism that involves Detroiters from the start and helps readers solve problems and find joy in their daily lives. Her favorite Detroit spot to watch the sunset, play soccer, watch the freighters go by and feel a little haunted is Historic Fort Wayne.