After 30 days, a book would be deemed lost and a replacement fee would be charged. Anyone owing $15 or more in fees would be blocked from checking out materials. In 2019, the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries collected more than $3 million in late fees, according to Angela Montefinise, the vice president of communications and marketing for the New York Public Library. .
When Tony Marx joined the New York Public Library as president in 2011, it was his mission, he said, 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 that patrons faced in returning books.
Then, in 2017, the public library in Nashville eliminated fines, and those 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 permanently.
“We learned that we could adjust our budget to do everything we needed to do and cover the lost revenue, because we’re not in the revenue-generating business,” Mr. Marx, a former president of Amherst College, said in an interview. “We are not in the fine-collection business. We’re in the encouraging-to-read-and-learn business, and we were getting in our own way.”
For some city residents, the fines had been particularly discouraging. Dominique Gomillion said she stopped going to her library in Jamaica, Queens, after books she had taken out for her 8-year-old daughter, Ariel, left her with more than $50 in late fees — 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. “There’s not really much other support that we have.”