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Located in Chatham, Illinois
Chatham Area Public Library
Thursday: 9:00 am - 8:00 pm

Fine-Free Q&As

Article Date
July 13, 2023

At its January meeting, the Board of Trustees revised library policies to stop the assessment of overdue fines for items checked out at the Chatham Area Public Library, effective February 15, 2021. Please note that the information below relates to Chatham Area Public Library cardholders and Chatham Area Public Library registered reciprocal borrowers only.

Learn more about these changes below:

Why the change?

There are many reasons why we have decided to stop charging overdue fines, but the main reason is that overdue fines are widely recognized by professional library organizations as a form of social inequity. The American Library Association and others have conducted multiple studies that show that imposing fines neither teaches responsibility nor motivates borrowers to return items on time.

Being fine-free also improves the checkout process by allowing our staff to focus on more positive interactions with patrons. We want people to be excited about coming to the Library, rather than worried about whether or not they owe a fine. We hope to welcome back anyone who felt discouraged about using the Library because of a fine on their account.

The bottom line is that we want library services to be as equitable and accessible as possible, and removing overdue fines is the best step we can take as an organization toward that goal.

How does this work?

Libraries work because borrowers are entrusted to return materials so that others may use them. Patrons are still expected to adhere to loan periods and return or renew items on or before the due date. Due dates are provided at checkout and can be viewed when you log into your online library accounts. If an item is overdue, the Library will send up to 3 overdue notices via mail or email (Please make sure the email address on your account is up to date!). Your account will be blocked from further check-outs once the item is 14 days overdue unless it is either renewed or returned. Your account will be billed for the item when the item is 28 days overdue

Although patrons will not be charged overdue fines, the Library will suspend borrowing privileges when items are not returned in a timely manner.

Once an item is returned, the billed item and associated charges will be removed and borrowing privileges will be reinstated.

**During the COVID-19 pandemic, the library quarantines returned items for up to 7 days before further handling and check-in. Bills will only be issued when the items are 28 days overdue. Once an item is checked in, the bill will be removed and borrowing privileges will be reinstated. **

Do items still have due dates?

Yes, each item will still have a due date, and you are still responsible for honoring the due date or renewing the item.  When you return items on time, it helps your neighbors borrow items sooner. To help you return items on time, we can send you reminders by email. You can set up email reminders in your library account.

How will overdue items be treated now?

While you will no longer be charged a fine, if a Chatham Area Public Library item is 14 days overdue, your account will be blocked from any further checkouts until you return or renew the item. The account block includes checking out physical items (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.), as well as access to our digital collections (including downloads from Libby, Hoopla, Kanopy, etc.) and research databases.

If an item is more than 28 days past due, you will need to either return the item or pay the replacement cost to unblock your account.

Items borrowed from other libraries are subject to the lending policies of their home libraries.

If there are no fines, what keeps me from not returning items?

Though we are no longer charging overdue fines, there are still consequences if a patron never returns an item. When one or more items on a patron’s account reaches 28 days overdue, the patron’s account will be billed for those items and no more checkouts will be allowed until the balance is paid or the items are returned.

We trust that our patrons are checking items out with the intention of bringing them back for others to use. Libraries that have removed overdue fines have reported very few adverse effects.

Have my past overdue fines been erased? 

We are working to remove all previous overdue fines that are on your accounts.   This may take some time, but if you have blocks on your account due to overdue fines, please reach out to us and we will address it right away.

If you had fees on your account due to lost or damaged items, you will still need to settle your account to get your card ready to borrow items once again. We are happy to work with you on getting your account back in good standing!

To find out if there is a balance on your account, log into your account at, call us at (217) 483-2713, email us at [email protected], or ask a staff member at the Library.

What’s the difference between a fine and a fee?

Fines are daily penalties assessed for the late return of library items. We no longer charge fines at the Chatham Area Public Library.

Fees are replacement charges assessed for materials that are lost, unreturned or returned damaged.

Will this loss of revenue hurt the Library?

The loss of revenue to the library is minimal, as the overdue fines collected in any given fiscal year make up less than 1% of the library’s overall budget. While that amount is not completely insignificant, we believe that the benefits of making the library more equitable and accessible to our community are more important than the loss of revenue from overdue fines.

If you are interested in donating to the library, please click here.

Will I have to wait longer for popular items to be returned?

Libraries that have gone fine-free have not seen any difference in when items are returned. Most items are returned within a week of their due date.

What will happen if I don’t return my materials on time?

If you have overdue materials or fees from lost or damaged items, you will be unable to check out materials or download any eBooks or audiobooks.

I haven’t used my library card in years! Will it still work?

Chatham Area Public Library cards expire every three years. If your card is inactive after expiration, it may have been deleted. The best way to find out the status of your card is to call us at (217) 483-2713 or stop in to the Chatham Area Public Library. We’re always happy to help!

Q: What happens if I lose or damage an item I checked out?

You will be charged a fee to replace the item.

Q: Will I still have to pay to copy, print and fax documents at the Library?

Yes. Fees will still be charged for services, including copying, printing and faxing.

Q. You mentioned studies, can you share some resources regarding removing library fines with me?

A.  Absolutely! Here are links to some of the studies and articles related to going fine free:

Overdue and wait times:

Fine Free Policies - a detailed analysis of the return rates, days overdue, and circulation in several libraries that have gone fine free.

Libraries are Increasing Usage by Going Fine Free - a report from Information Today about the fine free trend in U.S. libraries and how it is increasing checkouts.

Children and families:

Removing Barriers to Access: Eliminating Library Fines and Fees on Children's Materials - a report from the Colorado State Library that presents a thorough overview of all of the research done on elimination of fines and borrowing behavior and how fines can adversely impact the borrowing behavior of families with children.

Equity and access:

A Year After Denver Public Library Ended Late Fees, Patrons - and Their Books - are Returning a report on Denver Public Library's decision to go fine free, one year later.

General Information on Fine-Free Libraries:

Doing Fine(s)? | Fines and Fees - A report from Library Journal on a survey of 450 randomly selected libraries about fine policies and procedures, and the impacts of going fine free.

A Librarian’s Case Against Overdue Book Fines - a TED Talk from a Librarian in Wisconsin, discussing how fines negatively impacted her patrons. n