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The New York Public Library system is making a major policy change, lifting its late fee charge and waiving existing fines.
The new policy, which went into effect Tuesday, clears and erases any prior fines and replacement fees for all patrons, the library announced online. Going forward, the library will no longer collect late fines on materials that are returned past their due date, but will still charge replacement fees for lost items.
The library system's announcement focuses on "eliminating a barrier to access and ensuring that all New Yorkers have free and open access to knowledge and opportunity," a Tuesday news release stated.
With the elimination of the fines, New York's library system joins other major U.S. cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and San Diego, all of which have done away with late fees, per The Washington Post.
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In Tuesday's news release, New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx said the COVID-19 pandemic partially inspired the library's new policy.
"During the pandemic, it was clearer than ever that we live in a Tale of Two Cities, with our most vulnerable citizens too often left behind," Marx stated. "We must work to ensure that we are adhering to our mission of making knowledge and opportunity available to all, and that means addressing late fines. They are an antiquated, ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books; for those who can afford the fines, they are barely an incentive."
He added, "For those who can't afford the fines— disproportionately low-income New Yorkers— they become a real barrier to access that we can no longer accept. This is a step towards a more equitable society, with more New Yorkers reading and using libraries, and we are proud to make it happen."
With the policy shift, the library hopes to encourage more New Yorkers to use their branches and to make the library system more accessible and "equitable," the news release stated. Before Tuesday's policy took effect, the library used to block patrons' cards if they had over $15 in fines. Prior to clearing all fees in existing accounts, the library system said around 400,000 New Yorkers had over $15 in fines, with "more than half in high-need communities."
"This announcement is another major step towards making our public libraries, the heart of so many communities, accessible to all," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in the news release. "Eliminating fines will let us serve even more New Yorkers, allowing them to enjoy all of the resources and programs that public libraries offer to grow and succeed."
To kick off the new policy, the library announced Welcome Week, a week of programming and giveaways at all New York Public Library branches starting Oct. 18 and ending Oct. 23.