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Hennepin County Library goes fine-free

Hennepin County Library has officially become a fine-free library, eliminating late fines for overdue materials. The library joins a growing number of institutions across the nation who are removing financial barriers to library service.

The measure was approved by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners as part of the library’s 2021 operating budget. “We don’t fund our libraries based on the mistakes of others,” explained Library Director Chad Helton. “Our purpose is to share information — not generate revenue.”

Going fine-free is the latest effort to make the public library accessible to more residents.

“The elimination of late fines from the Hennepin County Library system is a change that will reduce disparities and increase access to our collections,” said Commissioner Marion Greene, board chair. “We know that fines and fees disproportionately affect low-income people and communities of color, and we are doing what we can to ensure that everyone is welcome to utilize our services regardless of their ability to pay.”

Your library. Free for you.

Ending fines for overdue items doesn’t mean library materials are free to keep. Going forward, patrons will continue to be responsible for the replacement cost of unreturned or lost items. An item is considered unreturned 41 days after its due date.

In addition to its fine-free policy update, the county is providing a one-time fresh start to all residents. On March 10, 2021, all Hennepin County Library cards were reset to a $0 balance.

“Our goal is to get people borrowing again,” Helton said. “If you’ve been staying away from the library because of a book that was lost 10 years ago, we want you back.”

This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in income and education.