Bloomfield Township Public Library MeLCat Clerk Peter Banks checks out a reserved book from the Michigan eLibrary catalog for Bloomfield Township resident Harriet Sherman.

Bloomfield Township Public Library MeLCat Clerk Peter Banks checks out a reserved book from the Michigan eLibrary catalog for Bloomfield Township resident Harriet Sherman.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Bloomfield Township library eliminates fines for overdue materials

By: Mary Beth Almond | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 15, 2024


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — When life gets busy, local library patrons now have one less thing to worry about when their library materials turn up overdue.

The Bloomfield Township library is the latest in Oakland County to join the statewide and nationwide trend of going “fine free,” ceasing or limiting overdue library material fines.

“Right now, only about 36% of public libraries in the country are still charging overdue fines, and nearly half of the public libraries in Michigan have eliminated fines, so we are definitely riding a trend here,” said Bloomfield Township Library Director Tera Moon.

Michigan has 397 public library systems, 391 of which reported to the state in the most recent annual report due by Feb. 1, according to Joe Hamlin, library data and state aid/penal fines coordinator for the Library of Michigan. Of the 391 systems that reported, 226 said they don’t collect fines on print materials from patrons, while 186 systems said they don’t collect fines for non-print materials.

Hamlin said the Library of Michigan started tracking fine behavior years ago.

“In 2020, 15% of libraries had gone fine free, and then we had the pandemic in 2022 and we were at 44% who went fine free. Now, we’re at 57%, so we’ve slowed down, but we are still moving in that direction of fine free,” he said.

Library fines, Hamlin said, aren’t changing behavior.

“It doesn’t work. Libraries that are charging fines aren’t seeing any difference in how often their materials come back while charging an overdue fine versus not charging an overdue fine. Another thing that has come back is the cost of collecting the fine in some cases will outweigh the fine itself. So if you have a 50 cent fine, how much staff time is going to collect 50 cents? And in most cases, it’s way more than 50 cents-worth of pay. I also think a lot of libraries are looking to remove barriers to service, and fines can be a barrier,” he added.

On April 1, the Bloomfield Township Public Library eliminated its overdue fines for books, DVDs, and other materials that are returned after their due date, also waiving existing overdue fine balances from patron accounts.

“We think that this makes the library more inclusive because it removes that barrier of overdue fines,” said Moon. “It might be that somebody simply can’t afford to pay the fine, and therefore, if they have a fine, that might shut them out from the library, or it might just be an inconvenience that makes people not want to use the library. We’re hoping that this makes the library a more attractive, inclusive, convenient place for the whole community.”

The change, according to Moon, will have a minimal impact on the library’s budget, as overdue fines have accounted for 0.02% of revenues in recent years.

Many libraries nationwide that have eliminated overdue fines have reported either a negligible or even positive impact on the rate of items being returned on time, with more patrons returning items promptly, compared to when overdue fees were in place.

“Libraries that have made this move have found that return rates remain the same or even better. That has been a major concern that people are worried about, that popular items won’t get returned on time and that it will increase hold times, but the research shows that people are more likely to return an item if they know they aren’t going to have to pay that overdue fine,” Moon said.

But going fine free doesn’t mean there’s no responsibility for library patrons.

“Fine free doesn’t mean consequence-free. People will still be charged if they never return an item. … We really want the item back. There are a lot of chances and a lot of notices that we are going to send to patrons to try to get those items back,” said Moon.

Those who decide not to return an item or who keep something well beyond their due date will continue to be charged a replacement fee for lost or damaged books and materials. Patrons with $15 or more in fees on their account will not be able to borrow any more items until overdue items are returned or the fees are paid.

The Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham made the move to go fine free in 2021.

For more information about the Bloomfield Township Public Library, call (248) 642-5800 or visit