The children's floor of the Forest Park Public Library. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

The Forest Park Public Library (FPPL) is going fine free, which means patrons will no longer be charged fines for overdue items.

The move, according to the library, is important because getting rid of fines “removes barriers to accessing the library and helps provide a more equitable experience for all people in the community.”

In 2019, the American Library Association (ALA) passed a resolution that added a statement to the organization’s policy manual establishing that “the imposition of monetary library fines creates a barrier to the provision of library and information services.” The resolution encouraged libraries to take a hard look at overdue fines and “actively move towards eliminating them.”

The FPPL’s page on the no-fine decision says that penalties like fines work against the library’s goal to encourage people to use and enjoy the facility.

“Being fine free improves the checkout process by allowing our staff to focus on more positive interactions with patrons. We want people to be excited about coming to the library, rather than worried about whether or not they owe a fine,” reads the library’s web page on the topic.

Many libraries nationally and locally have gone fine-free permanently or temporarily during the pandemic, including Oak Park Public Library, Chicago Public Library and the River Forest Public Library, according to FPPL.

But how does being fine-free work, and what, exactly, does it mean?

First, patrons will no longer be charged overdue fines on any times checked out from the FPPL. This extends to patrons from other libraries checking out FPPL items. It also includes items owned by other libraries but checked out at FPPL.

Second, items will still have due dates, and patrons are still responsible for returning books, movies and other borrowed items. If there’s no hold on an item, like when another patron wants to check it out, the item will be renewed automatically up to two times.

Third, patrons will still be motivated to return items on time. For one thing, the sooner you return a book, for example, the sooner someone else can read it. But if altruism doesn’t help get items back, there will still be some repercussions for keeping an item too long. For example, people with 11 or more items overdue by one or more days OR bills totaling $25 or more will have their accounts blocked, and they won’t be allowed to check anything out until the items are returned and/or their accounts paid.

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between fines and fees. Fines for late return of items won’t be charged any longer. But fees, to replace an item, for example, are still part of library policy.

If your account gets blocked because you have 11 or more overdue items, as described above, after 42 days, you will be billed to replace the materials you haven’t returned. Upon returning the items within one year, however, the block and bill will immediately be removed from your account.

All existing fines for overdue FPPL items will be removed, but this doesn’t include replacement fees for missing or damaged items.

According to the FPPL, research shows that eliminating fines for overdue items actually does not affect how fast people return materials. “Return rates actually tend to stay the same before and after libraries go fine free,” writes the FPPL.

And those worried that without fines, libraries won’t be funded can rest easy.

“Fines are not supposed to create usable income for the library,” said the FPPL. “They are intended to encourage patrons to return their materials in a timely manner so they can be recirculated.”

In fact, the FPPL says that late fees represent less than .05 percent of the library’s overall operating budget.

“We have determined that the fines are mostly serving as a deterrent and contribute to inequity. Since the income is not essential to our operations, we don’t need to recoup it. We see this as a win-win,” stated the FPPL.