Island libraries eliminate late fines

Following national trend, libraries expect to waive $39,000 in late fees.

Island libraries are eliminating late fines for all patrons. — Lucas Thors

Joining a movement across the country, all Martha’s Vineyard libraries will eliminate overdue fines for materials starting Jan. 1, 2020, for a fresh start to the New Year.

For all Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing (CLAMS) cardholders, there will be no more daily late fines for overdue items, all existing late fines from all accounts will be cleared, and no more fine-related restrictions will be placed on the use of public computers or digital materials.

The fee elimination will waive $39,000 in late fees from all libraries combined, impact over 7,300 Island library cardholders, and unblock hundreds of blocked accounts, according to Edgartown library director and Martha’s Vineyard Library Association (MVLA) president Lisa Sherman. Previously, libraries blocked accounts with overdue fines greater than $25. The debt was also considered “bad debt” that either couldn’t be paid back or wouldn’t be paid back by patrons.

“That means that people who have stayed away for a long time because they’re overwhelmed can come back to the library,” Sherman said. “We are extremely happy about doing this.”

In November, Oak Bluffs librarian Allyson Malik received selectmen support in eliminating overdue fines and all existing fines. The goal of eliminating late fines now and in the future was set by all six Island library directors over a year ago at a MVLA meeting. Island libraries are members of the CLAMS network, which consists of more than 35 libraries on the Cape and Islands, but are allowed to operate under their own set of loan rules. Island libraries also received support from governing boards of all Island libraries.

In addition to eliminating past and future fees, Island libraries will also institute up to three automatic renewals. Library materials still have due dates, and the library will encourage people to return materials on time. If after several renewals a person does not return the item and does not respond to an automated letter, the library will consider it lost, and charge a replacement fee. If the book is then brought back in good condition, the fee will be waived. Interlibrary loan, which allows patrons to borrow materials from the more than 35 libraries on the Cape and Islands and have it shipped to their local library, will not be affected, and books will not be automatically renewed if there is a waitlist. 

Island libraries will be joining over 450 libraries in the U.S. in eliminating fines. A map of those libraries can be found at

While families with children will certainly benefit, the fee elimination is a boon for all library card holders. Eliminating fines will not affect Island library operating budgets; revenue from late fines went directly into each town’s general fund.

Libraries will also continue collecting nonperishable foods for the Island Food Pantry. In the past, libraries utilized Food for Fine programs, in which fines could be waived if patrons donated canned foods. Rockland Trust heard about the Island libraries’ efforts, and is pledging $500 to the Island Food Pantry.

“We’re all just so happy to be a part of this wave happening across the country. It’s really cool to be able to do it on the entire Island,” Sherman said. “It’s just going to be such a great thing for our community and our patrons.”