Overdue Library Fines Suck : 9 Reasons Overdue Fines Need To Go Away Forever

Over my entire library career, I have maintained that overdue library fines suck. This feeling has only grown over my career of working with students from ages 2-21. Seriously, y’all. We need to get rid of these overdue library fines, at least at public school libraries.

I’d honestly be happy to get rid of them at public libraries, too. Here’s why…

Kameron has an overdue fine of 85 cents.
Kameron can’t checkout if she has a 55-cent fine.
Kameron can’t pay her fine today.
Kameron doesn’t get a book today.
Kameron is sad.

I am also sad. I spent 10 minutes getting Kameron excited about a particular book, only to find out she has a stupid fine. Well, in my library, she’s getting that book anyway. Sheesh.

Thankfully, my current school does not charge overdue fines for late library books. But all three of my previous school districts did assess library overdue fines, district-wide, at various levels. One district charged fines to students as young as Kindergarten (5 cents per day).

One school district charged only secondary students: 5 cents per day for middle school and 10 cents per day for high school. The third district charged only at the high school level.


“It’s not about the money money money
We don’t need your money money money”
–“Price Tag” by Jessie J

Reason #1: All librarians have a million things to do and nowhere near enough time to do it.

Collecting nickels and dimes all day long, making change, recording that the fine was paid, dealing with the “I didn’t return that late” argument, blah, blah, blah. Do we not have enough to do? The book was returned, and that’s what matters.

Reason #2: Waste

To ensure students and teachers knew who still had books out and who had fines, we printed notices each Wednesday and sent them to English classes each period. No joke, we were printing an average of 50 pieces of paper each Wednesday.

With maybe 8 students printed on each page. Over a 36-week school year, that’s 1800 sheets of paper, or about 3 1/2 reams. At least half of the overdue notices were fine notices, not actual books that were still checked out.

Reason #3: Sometimes, the wrong person pays the fine.

Sometimes, teachers fed up with student fines would pay the fine for the students. While I understand the reasons behind it, this really put me in a tough spot.

When a teacher would ask me to add up all their students’ fines and send her a total, I had two choices: delete all the students’ fines for that teacher, or allow the teacher to pay it.

I don’t want the teachers’ money; they spend too much of their own money on school and students as it is. Similarly, if I just delete all the students’ fines for that teacher, how is that fair for the other students who still have fines?

I hated being put in this position, and it happened far too many times.

Reason #4: School policies and fairness.

Another tough spot: teachers fussing about my charging fines and trying to get me to check out books to the students because they need them for class.

I get it; I really do. I agree with you 100%, and of course, I will allow those students to check out. But again, it’s unfair to the other students who do still have fines. If the school district decides to have a consequence for late books (an overdue fine), then the schools need to apply it consistently.

Bending the rules for this student or that student is fine, but overall, charging the fines isn’t my policy, and it certainly isn’t my choice. I want students to get books, too. Please do not blame me for attempting to follow a policy that I don’t agree with and did not create. If you don’t like it, raise a ruckus with the district, not me.

Reason #5: Punishment

At the middle school level, students with outstanding library fines were not allowed to attend our version of Field Day. Instead, they were to spend the day with me in the library.

While I appreciated my administration’s support of the library, I really didn’t want to prevent any student from attending a fun event with their friends. This makes the library look like a punishment place rather than a fun place for everyone to be.

I usually had the students do some small library chore or light cleaning, then forgave the fine and sent them to the fun events outside. Still, I hated enforcing a punishment I didn’t agree with.

Reason #6: Fed up

“I’m not going to check out a book today. I’m sick of getting fines.” Yep, I heard this from students, and yes, I totally understand the feeling behind it.

Reason #7: Even more fed up

Phone call from a parent: “Please do not allow my child to check out any more library books. She’s getting too many fines.”

Again, I get it. Parents are busy. Many kids are shuttled back and forth among various family members. Not to mention the fact that many parents are simply broke. Times are tough, and I have zero desire to make them even tougher.

Reason #8: Some students truly cannot pay.

Administrator: “You are always free to dismiss fines if a family can’t pay.”

Me: “That’s the thing; they have to tell me they can’t pay. Most don’t.”

Instead, they just stop checking out books altogether. They stop coming to the library because they think they are in trouble or that I might hassle them about some 70 cents fine. I’d rather just dismiss all the overdue fines full stop.

Reason #9: Overdue fines are a barrier to service.

One of my most important roles in the school is to match students with resources. If a student can’t checkout because his fine is over 50 cents, then that prevents me from providing the service I am trained to provide.

Further, collecting nickels and dimes all day long is a huge waste of my time. Yet a significant portion of my day was spent counting, collecting, and tracking fines that were, in many cases, less than a dollar.


Read the American Library Association’s article about overdue fines as barriers to service

Here’s how I gave my students an alternative to paying overdue fines:

Help your students read off library fines with this free printable bookmark.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop