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Boston Public Library set to eliminate late fines and the equity imbalance they create, Janey says

The Boston Public Library.
The Boston Public Library.Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe

The Boston Public Library, pending approval from its board of trustees, will permanently eliminate late fines for all patrons beginning in July, Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced Wednesday.

The decision to ax the fines comes in part as a result of $125,000 set aside for “revenue relief” in Janey’s proposed 2021 budget for the city, a statement from the Boston Public Library said. Janey said removing the fines would allow for increased access to the library’s resources.

A moratorium on assessing fines was set in place in March 2020, after COVID-19 first struck Boston. That moratorium will continue on through June 30, until the permanent elimination of the fines on July 1. Fines were previously eliminated for patrons under 18 in October 2019.

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“With the BPL Board of Trustees’ approval, we look forward to eliminating library late fines and the equity imbalance they can create,” Janey said in a statement. “The Boston Public Library provides important resources, programs, and services to our communities. By removing this barrier to access, we are ensuring that these resources are actually accessible to everyone.”

Under the new policy, the library will remove all pending fines from patrons’ accounts. Library patrons will no longer have to pay a fine for returning their books late, but will still be required to return the overdue books before checking out any new materials, according to the statement. Library card holders will still be subject to fines if a book is lost or not returned.

“The BPL is proud to join the growing number of public libraries who are abolishing late fines and ensuring maximum accessibility, especially at this time of greatest need among those who rely on our resources most,” library president David Leonard said in the statement.

In fiscal 2019, the library collected $176,512 in fines from library card holders, a fraction of the total overdue fine balance on record, according to the statement. Of the library’s more than 390,000 card holders, about 42,000 are facing fines, the statement said, the majority of whom live in “the most economically challenged parts of the city.”

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“We have always believed that as a public library, our services should be ‘Free to All,’ and as the current global health crisis continues and we move into recovery, policy changes such as this are more important than ever,” Leonard said. “Thank you to Mayor Janey for authorizing the removal of late fines.”

Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.