Library late fees have always been a reality of checking out books or other media. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in a book that you forget to return it, while other times it’s stuffed in a schoolbag or under a couch cushion and you don’t even know that you have it. Before, these fines could add up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars over a long enough period of time. It reminds me of the “Bookman” episode of Seinfeld. However, I recently came across this MSN article that sparked an interesting new way of looking at library fines: Food for Fines: Libraries Across the Country Will Let You Pay Overdue Fees With Donated Food.

“For a limited time this month, libraries across the country will be accepting an alternative form of payment from patrons with overdue books.

Bring pantry goods into a library with a Food for Fines program and you can pay your fines without further opening your wallet. Libraries will donate any unopened, nonperishable foods they collect to local food banks, and they typically waive $1 worth of fines per item. Some libraries even accept pet food to give to animal shelters in their area.”


This is a fantastic idea. Instead of only serving to donate money directly to the library to pay for your past due items, you’re instead helping members of the community. That seems like the ethos of libraries in general. They exist as information warehouses where the general public, with or without the financial means, can stay well-read, use computers, engage in free activities, rent movies, and better themselves without incurring cost.

It only makes sense that, instead of punishing people’s wallets directly, force them to empty out their pantries and donate directly to helping alleviate at least a portion of the hunger in their own community.

The article also states:

“In addition to providing food to communities, Food for Fines programs can get people to rethink traditional library late fees. Many libraries are moving away from fines all together in an effort to make their services more accessible to low-income families. At Los Angeles County public libraries, anyone under 21 can clear their late fee balance by reading more books.”

Again, this goes back to the idea of public spaces for information and culture and their ultimate goal–improving the lives of people in the community. Doing away with late fees entirely or finding alternative ways to wipe them clean are fantastic efforts to inspire positive change without further negatively impacting the economically under-privileged.