Say Goodbye to Overdue Fines at the Free Library!

By Kate C. Fri, February 14, 2020

It’s our valentine to the city we love: We’ve gone fine-free!

That’s right: As of today, the Free Library of Philadelphia no longer charges fines for overdue materials! The new policy, which was passed by the Board of Trustees in December 2019 and put into effect February 14, 2020, has also removed all historic overdue fines—large and small, from last month or last decade—from patrons’ library cards.

"By saying goodbye to fines, we’re welcoming back the nearly 88,000 cardholders who are currently unable to take full advantage of the library due to owing fines. We’re also anticipating increases in circulation, an uptick in new library card signups, and more overall visits to libraries throughout the city," says Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library. "It’s going to be a positive change in many ways, and I’m so proud that we’ll be one of the largest library systems in the country to eliminate this penalty."

An initiative nearly two years in the making, this giant leap toward creating a more inclusive and truly 21st-century library is the result of research into the role of fines in our own system, as well as studying data from other public libraries that have already eliminated fines. Across the board, evidence shows that overdue fines are a barrier to equitable access and have no significant impact on the return rate of checked-out materials. Removing them will bring people and materials back through our doors, moving the Free Library closer than ever toward achieving our mission to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity for all Philadelphians!

The decision was supported by Councilmember Cherelle Parker and Mayor Jim Kenney.

Customers who do not return materials on or before the scheduled due date will receive reminders that their materials are expected back, and their cards will be blocked from further checkouts until the overdue materials are returned (or, when applicable, renewed). After 30 days, the materials will be considered lost. Customers will be required to return, pay for, or replace lost or damaged items before they can check out more physical materials, though they may still check out digital items and enjoy other Free Library programs and services.

Have questions? Read our fine-free FAQ, or give us a call at 215-686-5322. Then grab your library card and check us out—we can’t wait to see you at the Fine-Free Library!

Welcome to the Fine-Free Library!
Welcome to the Fine-Free Library!


I feel that being a fine free library is not the way to go because now there will not be any kind of responsibilities of the patrons. I can see for children not to have any fines but now we have to deal patrons all over.
Antonio Daniels - Germantown Fri, February 14, 2020
Hi Antonio! Thanks for your feedback. Because customers still need to return materials in order to check out other materials, the incentive to bring back items remains! More importantly, eliminating overdue fines supports greater equity and inclusion across all our constituencies.
Kate C. - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Thanks Free Library! I think this is such a great way to make the library a more accessible and equitable place!
Rachel - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Thank you, Rachel! We're excited about this change!
Kate C. - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
What a lovely valentine to Philadephia! Instead of paying fines, I will make a yearly donation to the Free Library.
Emily - Philadephia Fri, February 14, 2020
Thank you so much, Emily! <3
Kate C. - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
This is still punitive, and overly so. Remove the freeze on the card. Why not simply give people up to 8 or 12 weeks to borrow books? Whoever decided three weeks made sense?
Grittenhouse - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Hi Grittenhouse, thanks for your feedback. Our goal is to get our materials back so that they can be enjoyed and checked out by more customers!
Kate C. - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Will patrons with books on hold be expected to wait longer for popular books as there is less incentive for someone to return that popular book until they finish reading it? Will audio book holds be unchanged?
Tyler Krechmer - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Hi Tyler, check out the FAQ page here: As for audiobooks, there will no longer be overdue fines for physical audiobooks, and audiobooks checked out digitally will operate the same as they were before! Hope this helps!
Kate C. - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
I think it's great!! Now it truly is the FREE LIBRARY OF PHILADELPHIA!!! I go to the FISHTOWN branch alot & the staff is awesome always willing to help!! This just make a great place all the better!!!!
JOE (OBIE) O'BRIEN - FISHTOWN Fri, February 14, 2020
Thank you all so much!! I had a fine as of Wednesday, and now i don't thank ypu sooo much!!❤❤😁
Richard Brenneman - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Hey miss Judy !! !! Grant says hi!!❤
Richard Brenneman - Philadelphia Fri, February 14, 2020
Erasing past fines is a very nice idea to welcome people back. But no longer charging late fees is very disappointing. I have a number of materials I'm waiting for on hold. Now that wait is gonna be much much longer. A big step in the wrong direction. Your intention to bring people in will have the total opposite effect.
Chas - Philadelphia Sat, February 15, 2020
Now I can borrow DVD's and even a guitar and keep it for months. Thanks! And to the people waiting behind me? Oh well. Say thanks to your mayor.
Mike - Philadelphia Sat, February 15, 2020
I think that the library going fine-free is a great idea. I believe it will enable patrons to be more inclined to visit the library.
Marcus Carter - Philadelphia-Logann Square Sun, February 16, 2020
I fully support the Free Library on this decision! Beyond highlighting inclusivity and equity, I appreciate that 'no more fines' means fewer financially punitive mechanisms for the circulation of books and learning materials, which walks the talk of the library's best values as an institution for community learning and popular education. To disappointment/sarcasm noted above as to 'patron responsibilities,' I think the evidence from other cities--check it out: -- makes it fairly clear that fines don't actually cultivate more responsibility, most of all here in the biggest poor city in America. Nice move, Free Library!
Ben - Philadelphia Sun, February 16, 2020
I'm wondering about the fines for DVD? My granddaughter borrowed them & because they were returned so late, they charged her the cost of the DVDs. They were returned and her card reflects that. We started to pay the charges down and were at $60.00 at last check, would that be erased? I still can't understand paying the cost of DVDs after returned.
Cheryl - Philadelphia Mon, February 17, 2020
JOE (OBIE) OBRIEN - FISHTOWN!! Mon, February 17, 2020
"... eliminating overdue fines supports greater equity and inclusion across all our constituencies". I don't understand this concept. How is Free not equitable and inclusive? I understand the penalty to be same for everybody. If you can't behave in a socially responsible manner there is a minor penalty. I think what you really mean is that you have accepted that there are subgroups in society that just can't be expected to follow the Golden Rule but you are unable to come out and say it. This is simply further evidence of the downfall of society.
Andrew - Philadelphia Tue, February 18, 2020
Hi Cheryl, if the DVDs were returned, those fines should be erased. If you are still seeing them, shoot us an email here with the name on the card and the card #. Thanks!
Kate C. - Philadelphia Tue, February 18, 2020
My feelings are mixed on this one. I almost never viewed the fines as a kind of penalty. Although, I'm aware that they are. If anything, it was my way of "giving" to the library. Some would argue that the money generated from fines are negligible. I'm sure significant money is generated from fines. Now that this is gone, that's one less money stream. IJS.
Zchagiel Monroe, Esq. - Illadelph! (Mantua, Wynnfield, Tue, February 18, 2020
I am glad that there are no fines. The practice of the City of Philadelphia was to put unpaid book fines on your dredit report. Will the renewal process be the same/
Yvonne - Philadelphia Wed, February 19, 2020
I applaud the good intentions of having no fines. However, I think the proposed 50 book limit at one check out is a bit much. Why would anyone try to read 50 titles in three weeks? I can see increasing the number to 15, but not 50! This 50 title limit may deplete the collections at some locations and discourage some from using a particular library location-no books, no patrons!. Also, I am afraid that the wait for books on hold will be that much longer. In some cases, the wait for a title is quite long enough already. Perhaps a second look at limits might be in order.
Hannah - Phila Wed, February 19, 2020

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