Rethinking School Library Fines

How does everyone feel about school library fines for late and lost books? Until recently, I’ve been mostly okay with the concept, especially in middle and high schools, but now I find myself questioning the effectiveness of library fines.

Our current policy is ten cents a day for late books, maxing out at five dollars. Any student with fines or an overdue book cannot check out books until the fine is paid down to a dollar or below or the overdue book issue is resolved. Generally my co-librarian and I enforce this policy about half of the time. We’re constantly making exceptions to our own rules, because we want our students to read and have books.

As librarians we don’t have access to information regarding a student’s free and reduced status, and with 1,500 students sometimes we miss subtle indicators suggesting a student might be struggling with a late fee or lost book. Usually when we print out fine notices we ask classroom teachers to pull out notices for students who may not be able to pay, or have some other type of circumstance like homelessness or split homes, but classroom teachers don’t always have complete information either. Not everyone is forthcoming about having financial, emotional, or general difficulties and some students have learned to hide their hardships.

Even though we try to be proactive, I can’t help wonder how many students don’t use the library because they cannot pay a library fine. This presents an accessibility issue since we cannot be entirely sure we are waiving fines for every student who is unable to pay, and some students would feel uncomfortable knowing they had a fine and knowing the librarians waived the fine due to a hardship.

I’m more concerned with getting books returned, and getting them back on time because other students are usually waiting for books that are checked out. Right now library fines serve as a consequence for limiting another student’s access to a specific book, but I’m open to other options.

In regards to lost books, we try to be as lenient as possible. We’ll accept used trades and paperbacks from Amazon for a library bound book, and we usually give students as long as they need to look for the book and come to terms with the fact that the book is truly lost. Many times we’ll even look for a cheaper version of the book if the price in our computer seems excessive.

I’m really interested in how a no late fines school library operates. Do you charge for lost books? Do you have other penalties for late books, and has going fine free drastically impacted your budget or spending? I’m going to have to sell my co-librarian on it, but I want to play around with our library’s fine policy and make sure we’re providing support and access for those students who need it the most.

Author: Mica Johnson

I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Intellectual Freedom, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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10 replies

  1. Hello Mica,

    We used to charge late fees on books, but we realized that it did nothing but create fear of forgetting library books in our students, and parents requesting that their child not borrow books. We needed to ask ourselves the question of why we are here in the first place. The answer was simple. We wanted to instill the love of reading and the love of books to our students. We replaced our fines with overdue notices sent with the student and later via email to the parents. The only time that we ask for payment, it is for the replacement of a lost book or the replacement of a damaged-beyond-repair book.

  2. We do not fine elementary students for overdue books and we do not charge for lost books. We do ask for a replacement for the lost book, but realize this may be beyond the limiited budgets of many families. We believe a child’s literacy journey is more important than a $20 lost book fee.

    However, we do charge secondary students for lost books, but we no longer charge overue fines for library and/or textbooks.

  3. I am with the above comment. Too many students were telling teachers they didn’t want to check out books because of fees they owed from elementary (we’re a high school!). So this year I started waiving all the overdue fines a few months ago. And in January I will just take them off completely but I need to go through and take off the old ones. With the exception of lost or damaged books which is more of a responsibility issue. When the book comes back, the fine is cleared. If a student explains, I usually waive the other as well or make arrangements.

  4. I loved reading recently that a public library (maybe in SoCal?) is letting children read off their overdue fines and fees. An hour of reading in the library equals a fixed amount. It seemed a really excellent answer to a knotty problem.

  5. Dorcas, you may have the solution for all those decades when school librarians charged fines. It’s good to read that so many have stopped making students pay to read their books. Read off your error in forgetting your book. Yeh! Maybe write a book review of the book you forgot to return? etc. etc. etc.

    Anything is better than charging fines ever for anything. It is the No. 1 worst public relations campaign ever imagined.

  6. Removing fines was one of the first things I did at my HS Library. I didn’t think charging fines contributed to the welcoming environment I wanted to convey. It’s too hard since I don’t know which students can comfortably afford the fines and for which it would be a hardship. I don’t want to discourage students from checking out. We just send reminders for the books if overdue, offer treats for students who return or renew overdue books during certain weeks of the year, and sometimes we implement consequences like restriction of privileges if it goes on for too long. Examples: no “open campus” (open study hall), can’t purchase prom/homecoming tickets, can’t qualify for band/sports, etc. in theory anyway. I’ve never actually had to implement most of those more serious consequences. Reminders and treats usually do the trick. We only charge for lost books. Any books not returned by the end of the year are marked lost and the replacement cost is put on the student’s account but we are always happy to accept the book or a replacement instead of money. I would also waive the cost if it was a burden, or accept volunteer hours from the student instead. I think last year we only had 12 unreturned books by the start of summer I’ll take that

  7. HI Mica,

    I hope you do reconsider fines. I blogged on this about a year and a half ago, offering some options to fines. This post contains a link to a good Huffington Post article about libraries going fine free as well.

    Good luck!


  8. We did away with fines about 8 years ago and we get more books back now than we did before. I miss the extra money that I could use for special events, but email overdue notices have done wonders for getting our items back.

  9. From August 2002–my second year in my middle school library–to December 2013 when I retired, we did not charge any overdue fines in our library. We were the only one of the 6 middle schools in our district who did not charge fines, and every year I had to defend this decision to other secondary librarians, thankfully with the support of my principal and the district library coordinator. I listed my reasons for this decision in a blog post “5 Hacks for a School Library.” (

    Many librarians run overdue notices on a regular basis to be handed out to students in a class or homeroom. I abandoned that practice. I do run overdue notices at the end of each semester in order to clear students for exams, as required by my principal, but otherwise, I have a better solution.

    I created a set of funny overdue notice bookmarks. When a student comes to check out a book and I see they have an overdue one, I grab a bookmark, write the title of the overdue book on it, then put it inside their current book, all the while chatting them up about finding and returning that overdue book. With a bookmark, the student sees it every time they read their current book, and whether at school or home, it reminds them to find and return the overdue book.

    Another strategy is to invite the student to use my phone at the circulation desk to call their home or their own phone and leave a voice message about the overdue. When they or their parents get home and check messages, the reminder prompts a search for the overdue book to be returned the next day.

    The bookmark or the phone call takes a little more time, but both are specific and timely, direct between the student and I, and upbuilding rather than demoralizing. The knowledge/skill I am building with these two strategies? How to be organized and responsible.

  10. Hi Mica,
    When I was in elementary school, I LOVED to read. I would sometimes have a late book that was due. My fines kept stacking up, until they got to $30. My parents didn’t give us allowance, and I lived in the country with no neighbors to mow lawns for or sell lemonade to. I asked my school librarian. It turns out, my school did not charge fees unless the book was still lost by the end of the year. Students also had a limit of two books. If one book got lost, students could still check out another. I don’t know how the library paid their expenses, but I think allowing kids to read is more important.
    To have a more welcoming place, I would suggest creating a little reading corner for students to read books in the library, but not check them out. They could grab a book from the library without checking it out. Once they have to leave, you could have a bin to “return” the books. I also like the idea of having students “read” out of their fines.
    And sometimes, the only problem is that students didn’t know that their book was due. You can give bookmarks or paper slips when a student checks out a book. On the back, you could write when the book was due. You could also give prizes to the students who check out the most books in one month. This way, students want to come to the library and know that they will be welcomed.

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