The University of Texas Libraries will no longer impose daily overdue fines, a policy that has been shown to have an inequitable impact across the community of library users.
Libraries have traditionally used fines as a revenue-generating measure and a method to encourage timely returns of library materials. In addition, research conducted in recent years at peer institutions has found that fines do not actually affect user behavior in the way intended – instead of encouraging timely return of library materials, such policies have the impact of discouraging use of libraries, especially by patrons of color and economically disadvantaged groups at both academic and public libraries.
The policy change was the result of a staff proposal and was approved after the Libraries initially suspended fines in 2020 as a response to the current health crisis. Previously, fines were only assessed for undergraduate and graduate students – not for faculty and staff – and, if unpaid, resulted in restrictions that prevented class registration and on the ability of users to receive official transcripts.
Manager of Borrower Services Margaret Alvarado has been a leading advocate for the policy change. “The burden of daily overdue fines disproportionately affects students from lower-income families and underrepresented communities,” she says. “In our department, we see firsthand the distress that overdue fines cause students already facing the high cost of living in Austin. They worry about the effect that fines will have on their ability to register, graduate, and send transcripts; no student should have to make the choice between eating and graduating.”
“Additionally, a negative experience with fines may discourage future use of the libraries by the very students who most benefit from free and equitable access to the materials they need for academic success.”
The new fines policy only applies to daily fines for overdue general collection materials. Replacement costs and processing fees for lost items remain unchanged.