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Our Library Stopped Late Fees, So I Stopped Returning Books

homeless person in a library
Image CreditTyler Merbler / Flickr, cropped / CC by 2.0

The American Library Association cited essentially Marxist justifications for urging all libraries to end late penalties and book replacement fees.


Libraries all over the country are ending the longstanding library tradition of fining patrons for returning books late or not at all. It’s another self-destruction tactic subtler and less morally abominable than using their dedicated taxpayer funds to purchase pornography for children.

Our local government library ended late fees in the last year, so I quickly stopped returning books on time. The lack of fees was especially helpful in recently allowing me to keep for an extra month the book Albion’s Seed. I couldn’t manage to finish that magnificent tome in the usual three-week checkout period. So I just kept ignoring the “overdue book” notifications the library frantically sent. If there’s no penalty, why should I care?

Common courtesy might be one reason. Someone else appears to have placed a hold on our library’s copy of Albion’s Seed that I temporarily hoarded. That’s why I kept it overdue — because I couldn’t renew it. Sorry, stranger. Our library doesn’t penalize people for keeping books indefinitely, so I guess your hold means nothing now. I won’t begrudge you doing the same to the next person who wants to read that absorbing American history tome. It is 900 pages long, after all.

The American Library Association — the same publicly funded major library association whose current president is a “Marxist lesbian” — formally supported ending all library fees in 2019. Not surprisingly, the policy cited essentially Marxist justifications for urging all libraries to end late penalties and book replacement fees.

“[T]he charging of fees and levies for information services, including those services utilizing the latest information technology, is discriminatory in publicly supported institutions,” the resolution ALA adopted says. The resolution is titled “Resolution on Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity.” It further states, “[M]onetary fines present an economic barrier to access of library materials and services,” and it “urges governing bodies of libraries to strengthen funding support for libraries so they are not dependent on monetary fines as a necessary source of revenue.”

This essentially calls for unlimited public expenditure on any material or service a library provides. Some might say that’s not true because many libraries like those in New York City still charge replacement fees for books that are never returned. Advocates of ending late fees claim that offering “fee amnesty” dramatically increased the return of long-lost library items by people who kept the materials to avoid penalties.

But that only suggests an occasional, temporary jubilee can be useful. It doesn’t recommend forever ending all penalties against what is effectively stealing public materials. I suspect, based on my own experience, that ending late fees will also result in people keeping library items out longer, depriving others of access to them for months like I did with Albion’s Seed. And ending book replacement fees, the final goal the ALA policy also calls for, will result in institutionally sanctioned theft of public resources.

If Late Fees Are ‘Inequitable,’ So Are Replacement Fees

If there are effectively no overdue dates then when, really, can the library say the book is lost instead of merely late? To impose a replacement fee for not returning a book after six months seems like just lengthening the period of overdue fees rather than fully eliminating them, as the ALA resolution calls for. And if there’s no fee after six months, why should there be a fee after one year, or five, or 10?

If late fees are “social inequity” and an “economic barrier,” so are replacement fees. The logical outcome of this idea would be to erase all fines, just as the ALA resolution states. This would make public libraries basically a tax-sponsored Amazon. If there were no replacement fees, anyone who wanted a book, puzzle, game, DVD — or any other item libraries lend — would merely need to be the first one to the shelves to own a free taxpayer-paid leisure activity.

If we could also continue requesting that our libraries buy certain books, as I do occasionally, libraries would turn into a free-for-all of access to public book funds. Given that the people running this organization are publicly declared Marxists, that’s almost certainly their desire. It would allow them to argue for bigger library budgets because so many people want books and “can’t afford them.”

Econ 101: Supply affects demand. If it costs nothing to borrow a book, game, or DVD without returning it, more people are going to borrow without returning — i.e., steal.

Now, I have strong moral inhibitions against stealing. I took a tiny mirror from a junk shop as a child, and my mother made me return it to the store owner, a terrifying experience that forever cured me of taking other people’s stuff. Having finally finished Albion’s Seed as fast as I could, it’s now back at the public library.

But many people don’t have the same moral qualms about not only stealing but also inconveniencing other people like I did with the person who put the book I had on hold. Without any external checks on our natural selfish impulses, the selfish impulses become action far more often. It’s the classic tragedy of the commons.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

It’s also another instance of degrading public places in a bigoted assumption that poor people just can’t be expected to meet the standards other people can. It stoops to the level of the worst-behaved in our society instead of maintaining high expectations for all.

The New York Public Library president, aptly named Tony Marx, claimed that erasing fines aims to create a “more equitable society.” Seattle’s public library leaders said ending fines was especially beneficial to “low-income” patrons. Why should public standards be lowered to the level of the worst-behaved, and the poor just assumed to be worse-behaved than others?

This is the same dynamic underlying libraries’ slide into effective homeless shelters, allowing unpleasant vagrants to scare decent patrons away because ensuring clean, safe, and non-threatening public spaces is somehow seen as evil and uncompassionate. The truth is the opposite. The public square should not be controlled by disorderly people. Disorderly people should be required to shape up to be accepted in public. Rewarding rudeness, incivility, and crime ensures it will continue to increase.

Clearly, ending all library fees is not fair or practical. But that has never stopped cultural Marxists. Indeed, illogic seems to inflame their passions further, making them even more angry and committed to their contradictory and nonsensical ideas like the Red Queen of Alice In Wonderland.

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