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Newton Free Library is Fine Free! 

Effective January 2nd, Newton Free Library will no longer charge fines on late returns or renewals. We are proud to join the growing national trend to eliminate fines on overdue materials. In fact, 85% of Massachusetts Libraries are fine free

Research shows that overdue fines are not effective in encouraging the return of library materials. Libraries are for everyone – and this change ensures that everyone in our community has access to library books and materials, regardless of their circumstances. Instead, fines can easily become a barrier to using the library.

Please remember, you’re still responsible for returning your borrowed materials so others may enjoy them, and fees are still in place for unreturned, lost or damaged materials.

Why eliminate overdue fines?

  • Eliminating fines helps close the opportunity gap: families and individuals with limited incomes depend upon the materials that libraries offer; fines hinder access and library use.
  • Fines do not accrue on e-books and e-audiobooks, which creates inequity between those who borrow digital materials and those who borrow physical materials. Digital borrowing has increased since becoming available and continues to increase.
  • Late fines are not effective or necessary. Studies show there is not a significant difference in return rates between libraries that charge fines and those that do not. Many other libraries have gone fine free and have seen increased circulation and library card registrations. We have not charged late fines on children’s and young adult items since 2021, and borrowers have continued to return those items so that others may enjoy them.

What does Fine Free mean for you?

  • You will no longer receive an overdue fine for late returns or renewals. 
  • You are still responsible for returning your items, so that others may enjoy them.
  • We will continue to email reminders to return your items.
  • You will be billed for items that are 4 weeks overdue. If you return the item, the bill will be cleared from your account.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What happens if I don’t return my library items? 

The library will continue to issue date due notices as well as overdue notifications. After the final overdue notice, borrowers will receive a bill via email or regular mail for the cost of the material.

How does the library get people to return borrowed materials without charging fines?

“No overdue fines” does not mean “no responsibility.” Due dates still apply, and borrowers owe it to other library users to bring materials back in a timely manner. Borrowing privileges maybe suspended once a patron has a billed item in their account.

Will I need to wait longer for items if there are no fines?

Good news, most fine free libraries report that a majority of patrons still return their materials on time, and waitlists aren’t affected. Library staff will be monitoring the effect on waitlists and adjust accordingly, and we always encourage patrons to return materials on time so others can enjoy them.

Newton Free Library did not see material return rates change when the Library went fine free for youth materials in 2021. In an average month, 92% of our borrowed materials are returned on time and the majority of the overdue items are checked in within 7 days of the due date. Newton’s return rate is above the Minuteman Library Network average. Collected data revealed that Childrens and Teen materials were ~1% more likely to be returned on time as compared to adult materials with fines.

What if I return an item for which I’ve been billed?

The bill (replacement cost) will be removed from your account when you return the item.

Will I be charged overdue fines for items owned by other Minuteman Library Network libraries?

Overdue fines are based on the policies of the library where you physically check out the item. Items that are checked out at Newton Free Library will not accrue overdue fines, regardless of where the material came from within the Minuteman Library Network. If you go to another MLN library and check out an item—whether it’s from their collection or Newton’s—the policies of that other library apply, even if you return the item in Newton. Fines are determined by check-out location, not return location.

What about the lost revenue that overdue fines generated? How can I support the library?

Fine collection has sharply declined over the past 5 years due to increased access to library accounts online, automatic renewals for library materials (introduced in January 2020), and the tremendous growth in popularity of digital borrowing. Any decision with financial implications must be made thoughtfully. In reviewing fine revenue collection and data on the impact of fines on library usage, it was decided it was time to retire this practice in favor of reducing barriers to library use.

You can support the library through donations or by joining and volunteering with the Friends of Newton Free Library.