After 30 days, a book would be considered lost and a replacement fee would be charged. The fines didn’t pile up forever, but anyone facing $15 or more in fees couldn’t verify the documents. In 2019, public libraries in New York, Brooklyn and Queens collected more than $3 million in late fees, according to Angela Montefinise, vice president of communications and marketing at the New York Public Library.
When Tony Marx joined the New York Public Library as president in 2011, his mission, he said, was to eliminate fines for good. Amnesty programs were put in place, and in Brooklyn a study was conducted on the effectiveness of fines and the barriers customers faced in returning the books.
Then, in 2017, the Nashville Public Library scrapped the fines, and fines in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco followed two years later. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit and fines were temporarily suspended in New York that Mr. Marx saw a clear opportunity to change the city’s system for good.
“We learned that we could adjust our budget to do whatever we needed to do and cover lost revenue because we’re not in a revenue-generating business,” said Mr. Marx, former president of the Amherst College, in an interview. . “We are not in the business of collecting fines. We are in the business of encouraging reading and learning, and we get in our way.
For some townspeople, the fines had been particularly discouraging. Dominique Gomillion said she stopped going to her library in Jamaica, Queens, after books she took out for her 8-year-old daughter Ariel left her with more than $50 in library fees. late – a substantial sum for her as a single parent. .
“It’s just me and her,” Ms. Gomillion, a 32-year-old supervisor at UPS, said in a phone interview. “We don’t really have much other support.”