HACKENSACK, NJ - As of Monday, Johnson Public Library has eliminated late fees and fines on most materials, a move library officials believe will ensure its items are equally accessible to all residents.

By doing so, the library will welcome back more than 1,700 people whose cards have been blocked by overdue fues, more than a third of them children and teens, according to library officials. That number represents about 6% of the library's 25,659 cardholders.

"We want to serve each and every resident of Hackensack and are excited to offer this fine-free pilot through the end of 2019," said Library Director Tara Franzetti.

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She added: “I am confident that the trial will be successful and that the library will be able to continue this initiative in perpetuity. The staff and trustees of the Johnson Public Library look forward to welcoming each and every Hackensack resident back to the library."

A growing number of libraries across the country have become fine-free in order to better serve communities.

Though little evidence exists showing that fines encourage more people to return materials on time, studies have found that late fees can be a barrier to library access and drive borrowers away, particularly people with low or fixed incomes, according to a 2016 report published by Colorado State Library.

The change follows a January resolution from the American Library Association encouraging libraries to consider getting rid of overdue fees because fines "ultimately do not serve the core mission of the modern library."

“The board of trustees and staff agree with the American Library Association that fines and fees discourage library use and limit access to library materials and services," said Franzetti.

Libraries that have gone fine-free report that while they haven't had an increase in unreturned materials, they have noticed a boost in library usage.

Under Johnson Public Library's previous policy, cardholders were charged .10 a day for most materials, like books and CDs, and $1 per day for movies and video games.

According to Laurie Meeske, the library's community relations and outreach library, in 2018 the library collected $17,000 worth of fines. However, she noted, since that number varies from year to year, the funds are unpredictable so the library doesn't include them in general budget planning.

"Also, by not collecting fines, we'll have the opportunity to redirect the staff time that went into managing these fees toward supporting other services to benefit the community," Meeske said.

This year, two other libraries within the Bergen County Cooperative Library System (BCCLS) have announced similar initiatives. Montclair fully eliminated overdue fees, while Ramsey launched a summertime pilot program for children and teens.

What the change means for you

  • Cardholders are still encouraged to bring back materials on time, however items such as books, movies and CDs will no longer have fines.
  • However special services such as Kindles, hotspots and museum passes, as well as materials loaned from other BCCLS libraries, will still accrue fines if returned lated.
  • Patrons will an overdue item will not be allowed to check out additional materials until the item is returned or renewed. Replacement fees for lost or damaged items will still be charged.