The Houston Public Library System became "fine free" earlier this year to encourage more residents to start utilizing library resources after seeing a decline in users, partly because of the financial barriers of overdue book fees.
Houston City Council voted unanimously in January to make the transition joining many other libraries across the country. Since then, library officials said more users have started using the libraries again.
"Houston Public Library is so happy that Mayor Turner and our Council Members agreed and allowed the library to become fine-free," said Julie Mintzer, Deputy Assistant Director for the Houston Public Library System. "It has been incredibly successful in just a few short months that we have been fine free.”
HPL held an amnesty period January 18 – February 17 to allow users to return overdue books and materials, and start over with a clean account. 3,098 customers had their overdue fines wiped during the amnesty period returning a total of 21,245 items – with a value of $425,000 worth of books and other items being returned.
Mintzer said choosing to go fine-free has encouraged users to return to the library.
"For the folks who had their accounts blocked, and they couldn't check out items – once their accounts were cleared, now they're coming back to the library and they're coming back strong, and were thrilled – were thrilled for that," she said.
850 of the 3,098 customers who returned during the amnesty period are actively using the library again. Among those 850 people, over 6,500 materials have already been checked out. Mintzer said many customers were shocked that their fees were removed.
"A lot of people didn't believe it, they were so thrilled," she said. "Some people accrued fines on their accounts for different reasons, whether it be a family member who checked items out, whether they have lost things during a storm or other natural disasters – so they were shocked."
HPL cleared accounts with balances as high as $1,000 and even received three books checked out from 1992.
"What we realized in Houston Public Library is that, when you can take away that financial barrier, more people will come and utilize the resources," said Mintzer. " The resources in the library are vast – it's not just books – we have free streaming movies and music, we have classes to learn languages, we have so many cultural programs, including impressive exhibits of both art and cultural pieces."
Residents are still responsible for paying for lost or damaged items.