Lightfoot’s decision to eliminate library fines triggers 240% increase in book returns

Library Commissioner Andrea Telli says hundreds of long-overdue books have been returned in the three weeks since Chicago became the nation’s largest major city to jump on the no-fine bandwagon.

SHARE Lightfoot’s decision to eliminate library fines triggers 240% increase in book returns
Library books.

Chicago is now the nation’s biggest major city to jump on the bandwagon against late fees for overdue library books.

Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to eliminate library late fees and lure scofflaw patrons back to Chicago Public Libraries by erasing outstanding debt already is working wonders, aldermen were told Wednesday.

Testifying at City Council budget hearings, Library Commisioner Andrea Telli said hundreds of long-overdue books have been returned in the three weeks since Chicago became the nation’s largest major city to jump on the no-fine bandwagon.

“The amount of books returned has increased by 240 percent. A huge increase in the number of books coming back. We’re very, very happy to have that. … Those books have a value and cost money to buy. We want those assets back. We also want the patron to come back,” Telli said.

Telli noted that forgoing library fines is a national trend — and for good reason. They’re a barrier to library use, particularly in impoverished neighborhoods where “people can’t afford to pay the fines” and libraries can be a safe haven.

“People have a library book or many library books. Those books become overdue. ... They owe fines and then they’re afraid to come back to the library because they can’t pay the fines. So we not only lose that revenue, which we would never have collected in the first place. But we lose the books and we lose the patron,” she said.

Telli is certain scofflaw patrons are returning now that their fines have been wiped off the books.

“Just by word of mouth and also on the library’s social media pages like Facebook, we saw a lot of patrons say, ‘Oh my God. This is so great. I’m gonna bring back my books. I’ve been hesitant to come back to the library because I owe these fines,’” Telli said.

Lightfoot’s 2020 budget includes an $18 million property tax increase to honor her promise to establish Sunday hours at Chicago’s 77 branch libraries.

Currently, the Harold Washington central library and three regional libraries — Woodson, Sulzer and Legler — are open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Branch libraries ultimately will match those Sunday hours — but not until the end of next year.

The expansion will be phased in as fast as a hiring blitz will allow.

The library system now has 180 vacant positions. The 2020 budget includes an increase of 62 full-time staffers and 115 more part-time employees to accommodate Sunday hours.

“We’re expediting filling those vacancies as quickly as possible in order to bring staffing up to where we can add those additional hours. … We have to follow the labor agreements and the Department of Human Resources process for hiring,” Telli said.

“So we’ll be rolling it out equitably across the city to open maybe 15 or 20 branches at a time, depending on how quickly we can get through the hiring process. We also want to make sure there aren’t any pockets in the city where many branches in this area are open on Sundays and very few in this other area. So we’re gonna roll that out very carefully.”

Library Commissioner Andrea Telli (second from the left) with Mayor Lori Lightfoot (far right) and the mayor’s wife, Amy Eshleman (center) at McKinley Park library earlier this year.

Library Commissioner Andrea Telli (second from the left) with Mayor Lori Lightfoot (far right) and the mayor’s wife, Amy Eshleman (center) after unveiling the “Summer of Learning” program at McKinley Park library earlier this year.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Lightfoot’s decision to try to expand library service — and raise property taxes to pay for it — is not surprising.

Former Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, who resigned in 2011 to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s cuts to library hours and services, is a close friend, former co-worker, campaign advisor and contributor to Lightfoot.

And Lightfoot’s wife, Amy Eshleman, served as an assistant library commissioner under Dempsey. Eshleman is credited with helping to develop YOUmedia, a digital center tailor-made for teenagers.

Adding fuel to the fire was a recent follow-up audit by Inspector General Joe Ferguson, which concluded that staffing at Chicago’s 80 public libraries was still not aligned with community needs a year after he recommended a “systemwide workload analysis” to better serve patrons.

The Latest
The man, 49, was found with multiple gunshot wounds to the body in the 4300 block of West 25th Street around 3:26 p.m. police received an alert from gunshot detection technology.
Colin Hinkle, a professional drone pilot, noticed the red dye mixing with the green water of the fountain early Saturday morning and saw spray paint on the ground that read, “Gaza is bleeding” and “Stop the genocide.” 'That’s when I realized it was a protest,’ Hinkle said.
It’s not just the losing. It’s the way they’re losing. Missing the cutoff man, committing balks, blowing 5-1 leads on consecutive nights against the Cubs.
Some business owners are helping to fill the gaps in communities that don’t have a chain coffee shop offering specialty drinks and food.
Police found the man, 44, with multiple gunshot wounds to the body in the 2900 block of South State Street around 10:40 a.m.