Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation

Long Overdue: Improving Access by Eliminating Fines

← Back

Long Overdue: Improving Access by Eliminating Fines

San Francisco Public Library, Calif.

Race and Social Equity | 2019 | Honorable Mention

Innovation Summary

SFPL partnered with The Financial Justice Project to examine the role of overdue fines on access through the lenses of equity and inclusion, developing a careful and thorough analysis on this topic. The report’s findings led to a vote to eliminate overdue fines for all patrons. The report serves as a blueprint for libraries nation-wide.

Problem Statement

Through a literature review, dialog with library leaders, surveys of patrons and staff and analysis of ILS data, the team demonstrated that overdue fines restrict access and exacerbate inequality by disproportionately affecting low-income and racial-minority communities, create conflict between patrons and the library, require an inefficient use of staff time and do not consistently ensure borrowed materials end up back on library shelves.


The core element was research for a detailed report, developed in partnership with the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Financial Justice Project, titled Long Overdue: Eliminating Fines on Overdue Materials to Improve Access to San Francisco Public Library. The report clarifies the ways in which fine elimination supports SFPL’s mission, and offers evidence as to what fine elimination will mean for the people of San Francisco. The report included an exhaustive review of available data including results of past amnesty campaigns.


The SF Library Commission voted to eliminate fines on overdue materials in January 2019. The Commission also voted to waive all prior overdue fines on patrons’ accounts when the new Fines and Fees Schedule is approved. The budget and finance committee of the Board of Supervisors has recommend its support of the action to the full board which will vote on the item in July 2019. Mayor London Breed has also indicated her support for the legislation. We anticipate that SFPL will eliminate overdue fines by Fall 2019.