Opening new doors to the library: no more youth fines

A message from  Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke

No more kids fines
With Summer Reading just around the corner, Multnomah County Library is removing late fines for all youth library materials and on youth accounts (ages 0-17), effective June 15. Children's and young adult items will no longer be charged late fines. You can read more about the specifics of the new structure here.

The public library is a partner to youth, parents, families and caregivers from birth through high school. Exposing children early to a world rich with words, songs and play helps them become readers and succeed in school and in life. We proudly serve youth of all ages with high-quality books, fun and captivating programs, research resources, homework help, and caring staff who offer personal assistance.

For many, late fines are a real barrier that stops children and families from using and benefiting from the resources the public library offers. With the support of the Multnomah County Library District Board, our library is changing this practice. All existing late fines on youth accounts and materials will be removed as of June 15, 2016.

Patrons of all ages will still be responsible for returning library material for others to use within seven weeks of the due date, or be charged the replacement value of that item. 

I wish you all a summer filled with fun and reading. Won’t you please come visit us at the library?


Vailey Oehlke,

Director of Libraries


Great policy for teaching kids that being irresponsible has few if any consequences.
Thank you so much! I have gone through various periods of avoiding the library for this very reason. My kiddo is going to be so excited.
Thank you for allowing students the opportunity to check-out books without the barrier of past fines. The comment that mentioned being irresponsible must not have read the entire statement as there are still consequences for not returning a book. You are now charged the replacement charge for the missing book. That still sounds like a consequence to me. Thank you for your great service to our community.
Thank you. It is frequently my fault, not my child's, that there are late fees but he is penalized. We will definitely visit more this summer!
As usual, taxpayers will pick up the slack for those not willing to be responsible. Thanks, MCL! :-( I'd much prefer to see a one-time amnesty to restore library card status, to get young people to see that there are still expectations for them to act responsibly.
This has come too late for me, a mother of 3 children in their later years of childhood. If you look at my account history I have paid about $500 in fines over 15 years. I'm a low income mama and didn't buy books but borrowed a huge amount for my voracious readers. Could've used that money on a vacation we never got but in books! Hopes this helps the next generation of low income families who can't afford books so they try to their library.
It IS a great policy for teaching kids that some things in life should be available EVEN IF you screw up. It's a great chance to talk about the complexities of values and priorities, and examine what this says about the priorities of the library (i.e. that access trumps all).
My kids often request books that are checked out by another user so the book gets placed on hold. How will this affect books on hold? Will the kid who currently has it checked out return it if there is no fine?
Continuing to carry on the Portlandia tradition that no one should ever been responsible for their actions. While I agree with the objective, should have just changed it to a "work it off" option rather than "never mind we won't hold you accountable" plan.
I agree with this move mostly... my main concern is that popular children's books and new items will not get returned for weeks past their due dates, making them unavailable to others. I also am a little confused on the details. My family uses 5 separate accounts, checks out and returns around 50-60 items at a time combined between them. We have never lost a book in years and thousands of check outs. We do get a couple dollars a year in late fees. Not a big deal. However, sometimes the little fee is for a children's book on an adult account - is that forgiven? Sometimes there is an adult title on a child's account (like a craft book)- is that forgiven?
Thank you for offering this! My kids are slow readers and I often have to renew once or twice before they finish the books they have checked out. Sometimes it takes them longer in their research too. It is challenging to keep up with renewing books because it comes to my email - they don't have their own emails. Again, thank you! This helps relieve some stress and will allow them to finish reading their books without fines.
Hi everyone, Thanks for sharing your thoughts, concerns and questions. Youth accounts and youth materials will not not be charged late fines. Items checked out on children's or teen's accounts are not charged late fines. Items out more than four weeks (28 days) past the due date will be billed to the account, so it is still expected that items will be returned in a timely fashion. Many libraries that have stopped charging fines reported that more items were returned - but this is something we will continue to monitor. Jeremy Graybill Marketing + Online Engagement Director Multnomah County Library
This is wonderful!!! At first I thought Kids were no longer being charged late fines because of the way the catch line is written on Facebook. Its a one time fine forgiveness then back to usual. Kids love books! They take them to PPS and they get into the hands of a friend or a teacher's library or a school library. It happens because they loved the book! And where ever they lost it it is mast likely being enjoyed by some one else, so TAXPAYERS are paying for books to get out in the community. TAXPAYERS are paying for kids to want to get in the library and read. I cant think of anything better for society. Nothing wrong with that. YAY Multnomah Co Library!!!! boo to the angry ones. hush
Thank you so much for removing this barrier for many of the families in our County. I know that many, many adults, teens and families with young children experiencing crisis, for example having mental health issues or experiencing homelessness, find it very difficult to achieve stability in their lives. Relatively "simple" things like returning library books quickly falls to the bottom of the priority list when one is scrambling to find housing or safety. As fines stack up, the person who looses is often kiddos and youths, who do not return because they can no longer check out books. This is a huge win for families. Thank you for putting social justice and investment in the learning and connection of the young people in our communities. I'm so proud of our libraries for this decision!
I think this is a terrible precedent. Our taxes pay for the library. I expect that our taxes are not tossed away by irresponsibility. Children and youth have to learn responsibility. This teaches total irresponsibility. As a mother and grandmother who uses the library a lot and visits it 1-3 times a week, I would never promote this. Shame on you Multnomah county library. You may have good intentions but this is not a good life lesson.
What if a parent abuses this policy by exclusively using their children's cards to check out all materials, including adult materials? And what about DVDs?
This is a wonderful thing. I run a small library in PA and am looking at the same idea. You have inspired me!
I think this is a great idea. For those of you complaining that this gives kids a free pass to be irresponsible, I disagree. Do you expect a five-year-old to keep track of due dates and renewing their books and getting them back to the library? Of course not.
Hoooray! Let's not hold parents accountable for teaching their children to be responsible.
thank you so much
thank you!!
First, I think this is a great. Is there a way to voluntarily pay the fine if we choose? When my kids (8 and 6) have fines, its usually my (the parent's) fault. I would want to pay the appropriate fine or make a donation in that amount.
Regarding optional fines - thank you for your support. If you'd like to consider augmenting that library support in other ways, we encourage you to take a look at our fantastic support organizations: The Library Foundation and Friends of the Multnomah County Library. Sincerely - Jeremy Graybill Marketing + Online Engagement Director Multnomah County Library 503.793.0881
Thank you for the information. Somehow it made my day
Many times, we are fined because our kids are young readers and we cannot get through a chapter book in 3 weeks. Thank you for recognizing this situation and removing the fines and preventing this from happening again. We are diligent patrons who return books as we finish them.
Does this mean that youth materials checked out on adult cards will not be charged overdue fines?
This is wonderful. Thank you.
This is fantastic news! We always strive to return books on time, but inevitably, there are times when we mess up, and boy, do those fines add up quickly. We absolutely depend on the library for reading material, so this is a real burden off my mind. I promise we won't take advantage of it!
Everyone who claims that the fine waiver for kids encourages them to be irresponsible, think of it this way; if a family with a good income fails to return its children's borrowed books on time and owes, say, $20, they can easily pay it and continue to borrow. If a family that is financially struggling has books overdue for the same time, that $20 can prevent their children from borrowing more in the future. This scenario essentially leads to more education for affluent kids and less for those who are not so economically fortunate, perpetuating inequality in our community. Thank you, MLC, for recognizing this and helping to level the playing field!
RE: youth materials checked out on adult cards. Thanks for your question. Children's and young adult items will not be charged late fines - even if they are checked out on an adult card.
It is far better to have kids continue to check out - and read - than not to do the same because a book is late and a fine to high to afford. Taxpayers are not "paying" for this, as there is no more "this" (fines). The child (adult) is still responsible if an item is lost, but if it isn't than why charge them for it? This is the policy I use at my school library, and it doesn't create nor encourage irresponsibility...but it does encourage reading! Great work, MCL!
This is great! We're not here to teach kids financial responsibility by being a hammer--that's their parent's job. We're here to make accessible the items kids want, and help them find what they need. As for taxes, they don't depend fines; any fines collected are "profit" for the library. They may affect the desire to adjust appropriation of taxes within the library, but it would take more than loss of overdue fines to make such an impact-- especially because there is still a replacement fee. Way to go MCL!
Jeremy Graybill, you could've provided more details right up front and saved a lot of needless discussion found in the 30+ comments that followed the announcement. Why hold back that materials will be charged after 28 days? Then you failed to mention that child/youth materials checked out on an adult card also fall under the new policy. With an announcement of this import, you really owe it to the public to present the facts of the policy complete and straight on the first try.
Removing library fines for kids is a bad idea. I grew up as a patron of Multco Library and fines taught myself and my siblings as children respect for the library and civic responsibility. I think the fines should be reinstated, but at a much more modest fee level because they were too high for many people to afford, to begin with.
Muchas gracias Biblioteca del Condado de Multnomah. Mi pequeño y yo estamos muy felices por esta nueva medida, y se que muchos mas padres de familia estaran muy contentos por sus hijos. Muchas veces los usuarios asumen que deber limita la manera en la que podemos usar los servicios que la biblioteca publica ofrece. Y este cambio se que hara la diferencia en la vida de muchos niños y jovenes lectores.
Good real-world decision. I can get to my branch any day I make it a priority, but but that's certainly not true for most elementary-school-aged children. Thank you for keeping this huge resource available to them. And I'm happy to pay the fines I accrue when I can't renew something because someone else has it on hold. At that point, if I'm not willing to return it, put it on hold again and wait, I'll pay rent on it until I'm done. I'm happy to not put kids through that.
The library's mission is to provide access to resources and information, and it's the role of families to teach their kids responsibility. Fines were designed as an incentive to return materials, not as punishment, but we are seeing the unintentional consequences. Kids often don't have control over the items they borrow, or the means to return or renew for themselves. Other library systems who don't charge fines have seen an increase in returned items. Some of the kids who need the library most have fewer resources (like Internet) at home. Also, taxpayers include those who pay fines; it isn't "other people" who are paying these taxes, it's all families. As a responsibility to other tax payers, library materials do need to be returned. Without debilitating fines, more people will have access to the resources that we are all paying for. In my opinion, it's a win-win.
Thanks for that feedback. While the details are included in the fines policy page and in other public announcements, we could have done a better job articulating specifics in this blog post itself. We've updated that. Thanks for writing. Jeremy Graybill Marketing + Online Engagement Director Multnomah County Library 503.793.0881
Thanks MLC (and Jeremy) for instating this policy that allows public resources to be more fully available for all children. When all children are free to read as much as they want our entire community benefits, both in the short term and the long term.
This is a HORRIBLE idea. I return items on time as a courtesy to other borrowers who have holds on them -- or I renew them if I want to keep them past three weeks and there are no holds on them. I think this new policy encourages discourtesy, disrespect, and irresponsibility. Perhaps if it were implemented only for items that are not on hold for other patrons, I could live with it... but as it stands, I'm outraged and amazed that the Library would even consider such a policy change without input from current library patrons/taxpayers. I guess I can also assume that I am now free to keep music CDs for 7 weeks, since those are, in my opinion, youth items...
I do not oppose parents that think they need to teach kids how to pay fines. I understand where they are coming at. They mean well. There intent is good. But let us reason together diplomatically. As a poor kid growing up with other poor kids and parents, fines for us prevented months of nice summers to use the Library. For others it discouraged them from using or going into the Library for many years or summers. The childhood experience of the Library in the summer gone forever. Parents are hard at work trying to make ends meet working long hrs. Kids can't find more than a few penny or nickel on the ground let alone to be fortunate to discovered a $5 bill on the sidewalk. Parents can give a kid a simple bank account. From there one can easily teach kids about fines, fees, interests, etc. They can self learn the bitter life of fees, fines, interests, etc. as well as the benefits of dividends. They will immediately learn. Responsibility will sink in. Banks will make sure of that. Kids don't have jobs. They are living the life of early stages of learning on this Earth. They are enjoying life as they learn from the wonders of knowledge in books and children computer learning games, education, etc. If they are hit with a fine...Where can they generate this high cost of money to pay fines? They can't. Some are from abusive homes. Others from poor homes. Some from low income family. Many kids just don't start off with a trillion dollar in their pocket when they are born. Let alone $5. They will just stop going to the Library. Stop reading a book. Stop using our abundant resources of learning and knowledge. Some kids just don't grasp the concept of fines. It doesn't really sink in. Every kid is at a different phases or stages in life. Remember being a kid. Tell them fines. And it goes through the other side of their brain. They are thinking about food, water, or the next meal at school or home. Kids use our children education computer stuff and read books and checkout books and actually develop their brain skills and neurons from this. Their I.Q. level actually grows at this point. The idea that all youth materials contain no fines allows for greater potential and use for those resources for both kids and adults. I see the simple wonderment and joy and relaxation as the time passes by in a day as kids learn and develop their brain from using our great resources in our great Library. -- Eugene :)
I think this is an appropriate step to help encourage library use. The lessons that may be taught by fining for failure to timely return may be different for different people being fined. If you are a low income child, paying fines for late materials (as many others have noted, not necessarily the fault of the child) may be that being poor is itself a punishable offense. Direct impact on taxpayers is difficult to assess. If materials are not returned at all, the borrower is charged for replacement cost, as per current policy. That may or may not be collected. I don't know, but would guess that the library does not forecast for late fines in setting the budget, because those costs are variable and are adopted to encourage timely return, rather than to create a revenue stream. It bears noting, as well, that many costs of MCL programs are supplemented by private donations, through the Library Foundation or otherwise. I for one say that anything that helps encourage getting books into the hands of youth benefits us all far more in the long term than having a policy designed to teach "life lessons" to children. The life lessons they will get through reading and expanding their views of the world will be worth it to all of us. Thanks for the policy.
Thank you, MCL!
What a fantastic change, MCL. Reading through comments of differing cardholder experiences, it becomes clear that MCL is clear on their priorities...keeping ALL kids reading. Educating children is the first and foremost way to increase life opportunities, and MCL has it right that their primary role is supporting education. Fines for kids in dire need often result in non-readers, a huge loss to all of us in the community in 20 years time. Loss of books will still be fined, so this is not a free for all, but a support to education for all kids. Very inspired by your vision.
I hope this new policy encourages more library use and interaction.
Thank you. Most children are at the mercy of there parents for transportation, and paying their fines. Fines were never meant as barriers but incentives to insure good library citizenship. Thank you for providing creating access where there is none and a more equitable and just world.
Did you consult a psychologist or social worker about the pros and cons of this decision? It seems to me that the message you are sending to children and young adults (which is loud and clear) is that they do not have to take responsibility for their actions. It would have been far better for the kids if you had reduced the fines significantly rather than eliminate them altogether. Have you also considered that returning borrowed books to the library on time is respectful to other kids who might want to read the books? Now that you have completely eliminated all reason to return a book in a reasonable period of time, what will ever drive the young adult (or his/her parent) to do it? My guess is that you will have a huge loss in children's books very shortly.
I disagree with Eugene's comment that removing fines for kids allows for greater potential and use for those resources for both kids and adults. If materials can be kept for seven weeks before consequences ensue means that those materials are out of circulation for others for that time, plus the time it takes to order new materials. If patrons cannot afford and do not pay fines, what is the expectation that they will pay the cost of unreturned materials? And I agree with all the comments about teaching kids accountability. They learn by doing. There is a simple way to avoid fines - return books on time.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments. We want to do everything we can to keep the library accessible to youth. Youth are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed, and may not have control of when they visit the library. Leading up to this change we looked at various library systems across the country whom have implemented similar policies - including Fort Vancouver Regional Library just across the river. What we found is that other libraries often reported that eliminating fines meant more items were available, not less. We've already begun to see books being returned that were presumed lost and/or overdue after implementation of this policy, so we're enthusiastic about allowing children who had been shut out from library services, being able to use the library again. Of course we will continue to review and measure this policy over time to make sure it's working as intended. Thanks again for writing and sharing your thoughts. - Jeremy Jeremy Graybill Marketing + Online Engagement Director Multnomah County Library 503.793.0881