The end of overdue fines?

The Book Bench at The New Yorker has a short piece on The End of Late Fees. They highlight the San Francisco Public Library’s Overdue Library Fines Amnesty program, which includes a call for patrons “to share your funniest and cleverest excuses (true or not) for having overdue materials.” The SFPL also has a set of Celebrity Excuse videos, including one from airline pilot/hero Captain C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger.

I do often wonder whether overdue fines are actually the most efficient way to accomplish the goal of getting patrons to turn items in on time. There is a fair amount of overhead required to set up a system for imposing, collecting, and arbitrating fines. Is there any research to show that it is worth it? Any research into what the optimal fine level is that will get people to turn books in on time? Would something besides fines work?

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3 Responses to “The end of overdue fines?”


  1. 1 allan Chen December 8, 2009 at 8:32 am

    I’d have to think that, even if the break-even point for such a system, even with staff time, would have to occur at some point and that eventually there is a profit. Whether it’s the best way to enforce return of books is a different question. But from a pure cost point, including staff time, I figure it’s got to break even and go positive at some point.

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    • 2 Chris December 8, 2009 at 11:58 am

      Allan-You are right, there pretty much has to be a break-even point. I’m sure someone has done the study — though it probably differs by type of library. I don’t think we have ever tried an amnesty period at Stanford… might be worth it just to get the “long-overdue” books back in circulation. It also might be worth it from a “good will” perspective.

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