No More Overdue Fines at OPL

Image of Oakland Public Library

Oakland, CA – The Oakland Public Library (OPL) is no longer collecting overdue fines for library materials. Monday, July 1 marks the first day this policy takes effect, following City Council's approval of the Library's request to eliminate overdue fines on May 21.

Books, audiobooks, CD’s, DVDs and items reserved through LINK+ no longer incur overdue fines. Tools checked out from the Oakland Tool Lending Library will still have overdue fines, although those fines are significantly reduced.

Patrons will still be billed a replacement fee for items not returned 30 days past the due date. The fee will be excused when the item is returned in good condition.

“Our library exists because of community support. Our materials are meant to be used, and this is a more effective way of ensuring their availability to everyone,” said Oakland Director of Library Services Jamie Turbak.

OPL joins over 50 library systems nationwide in recognizing that overdue fines create unnecessary and inequitable barriers to resources. Moreover, overdue fines negatively affect patrons who can least afford the fine and are not an effective incentive to returning library materials.

Previously, overdue fines ranged between $0.25-$1.00 per day the item was late. When a patrons’ account reached a fine of $50 or more, their account could not be allowed to borrow materials until the amount was paid to less than $50. People would commonly stop using the library rather than pay what they could not afford.

In 2017-18, the Library collected $77,600 in overdue fines which were deposited into Oakland’s General Purpose Fund. However, it cost the Library more than twice that amount in staff time to collect that income.

“We want to spend our time serving people – not nickel-and-diming them because they are late in returning materials,” said Turbak. “Our library is now easier to access and we want everyone to feel confident and welcome to use their Oakland Public Library.”

By analyzing the impacts using the zip code framework in the Oakland Equity Indicators report, it became clear that overdue fines disproportionally impacted communities of color. In the analysis, an adult in a predominantly non-White zip code in Oakland, compared to an adult in predominantly White zip code in Oakland, was:

  • 5% more likely to have a blocked record due to fines
  • 26% more likely to owe library fines
  • 45% less likely to use their card (based on average total checkout)

According to the Oakland Equity Indicators report, these communities are also disproportionately impacted by poverty. Removing overdue fines reduces the significant economic barriers to the free public library resources for all of Oakland, Piedmont and Emeryville’s communities.

Even the potential of a fine was a deterrent to some parents signing up for a library card for their children or themselves. Now, any person of any age can register for their own library card without the fear of racking up fines. There is no age requirement to sign up for an individual OPL library card.

And now, thanks to OPL’s automatic renewal system, patrons will not have to keep their due date top-of-mind. All items eligible for renewal (i.e. there is no hold placed on the item) are automatically renewed up to three times. Patrons receive updates to their registered email address, or can opt-in for text notifications.

Some might understandably wonder what will happen to the Library’s collection and time it takes to receive popular titles. In 2017, with City Council approval, the Library eliminated overdue fines for youth patrons with the following impact:

  • Number of Juvenile and Teen library cardholders increased by 17%
  • Circulation of Juvenile of Teen materials increased by 12%
  • No impact to the rate of unreturned items

OPL, which increased its hours for the first time since 2004 on April 1 thanks to Measure D, is now more accessible than ever.

About OPL
The Oakland Public Library is a part of the City of Oakland in California and has been in existence since 1878. Locations include 16 neighborhood branches, a Main Library, a Second Start Adult Literacy Program, the Oakland Tool Lending Library, and the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO). On April 1, 2019, OPL expanded its hours for the first time since 2004 thanks to the passage of Measure D. The Oakland Public Library empowers all people to explore, connect, and grow.