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The Library Is Fine Free

Sunnyvale Public Library has eliminated overdue fines for all Library patrons.

Why? Cherise Brandell, Director of Library and Recreation Services states, "We want everyone to use and feel welcome in the Library, regardless of any fines they've incurred."

Going fine-free is good for our community. We are committed to providing free and equal access to Library materials, information, programs and services. Removing fines reduces barriers to information and encourages our diverse community to use our resources.

Also effective today, all outstanding overdue fines are cleared from all patron records. No exceptions, no questions. We are proud to give you the gift of a fresh start. We welcome you back.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being Fine Free

Will there still be due dates for materials? What does the new fine-free policy really mean?

There will still be due dates for checked out items. Fine free means that you will not be charged even if you return items late. We do ask that you respectfully return items on time so that others may enjoy our shared resources.

Why did the Library decide to eliminate overdue fines?

Inspired by other library systems that had eliminated fines for overdue materials, Sunnyvale Public Library’s Board of Trustees suggested studying the issue. After a report from Library staff on May 5, 2020, the City Council voted to clear fines from all patron accounts, restoring access to over 7,800 patrons.

Research shows that the elimination of overdue fines in libraries had several positive outcomes:

  • Increased patron access to materials and services
  • Reduced the inequitable impact of overdue fines
  • Improved patron relationships with their library
  • Optimized library staff time and increased staff efficiency

Additionally, research shows overdue fines do not ensure borrowed materials end up back on shelves.

Are other Libraries Fine Free?

Yes! Sunnyvale is joining other Bay Area library systems such as San José Public Library, San Mateo County, Alameda County, Oakland and Berkeley in eliminating overdue fines on all library materials.

Beyond the Bay Area, the fine free movement has taken on momentum across the nation. The Urban Libraries Council map shows other fine free libraries.

Won’t people keep materials longer if there are no fines?

Not necessarily. Our study revealed that overdue fines have little to no impact on the return date of items to the library. In many cases, more materials were returned on time once fines were eliminated.

What happens if I don’t return my items?

We will send a reminder the day before the due date, as well as one day after items are due. If the item is not returned 14 days past the due date, we will send a replacement bill for the cost of the item, plus a $12 processing fee. When you have over $30 in fees, your library account will be blocked until you return outstanding items or pay for a replacement.

What if I misplaced a book and can’t return it? Do we still have to pay for damages or replacements?

The Library has two different types of fees: overdue fines and billed-item fees. We removed overdue fines, and we will no longer charge you a fee each day an item is late. Library users are still responsible for fees related to replacing lost or damaged items.

Learn More about How the Library Became Fine Free

Sunnyvale City Council approved the change during its *May 5 meeting.

The decision was nearly two years in the making, as the Library studied the impact of fines within its system and data from other library systems that have gone fine free.

Cherise Brandell’s complete statement: "We are grateful to the Sunnyvale City Council for approving this change, and for the Library Board of Trustees for suggesting it! We want everyone to use and feel welcome in the Library, regardless of any fines they've incurred. Fines disproportionately affect low-income families, creating barriers for the patrons who most need access to the library resources. This is just one of the ways we can support our community, and we look forward to welcoming back those who may have stepped away from the Library.”

*See the Detailed Report and Presentation to Council (both PDF downloads).

February 18, 2021