Ashley He / Sun Staff Photographer

Students work in Olin Library on Nov. 18, 2019.

December 3, 2019

Pennies a Day to $1 Per Minute: Cornell Librarians Talk Late Fees

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As anyone who has let a library deadline fly by or misplaced a book may know, library fines are no joke. According to Tobi Hines, Head of Operations and Outreach for Mann Library, library fines are in place as an incentive to get students to return high-demand items.

Prices for fines vary depending on the item itself and need for the item. Ordinarily, an overdue book costs $0.75/day, “but if another person has recalled that book, the late fine increases to $3.00/day,” Hines explained.

Short-term and long-term equipment loans have a different pay schedule with fines accumulating at a faster rate. For unreturned short-term equipment, patrons are charged $0.04 per minute. For “special loan equipment” — which can include long-term loans — the fine is $1 per extra minute.

Fortunately, lost books don’t cost infinite sums. There is a cap on how high fines can go, depending on the item borrowed. The limit for general books is $25, but the cap on textbooks on reserve can go up to $150, since many students rely on them for schoolwork.

According to the University’s website, fines are waived if the item is returned within 26 days of the due date.

“All unit libraries have a fine appeal process, and we do take extenuating circumstances into consideration,” Hines said. “Ultimately, it is most important to us that our items are returned in good condition so that we can ensure equitable access for all our users.”

Tompkins County Public Library made the decision to remove fines earlier this year, arguing that fines were a “social equity barrier” for many library users, The Sun previously reported. It remains unclear whether the Cornell library system has plans to do the same.

According to Bonna Boettcher, director of Olin, Uris, Music and Fine Arts Libraries, libraries are a “public good we share as a community” and provide affordable research resources.

“Late fees have helped manage the sharing by communicating the borrower’s responsibility to others. Borrowing a textbook or a laptop, for example, is not as convenient as owning your own, but in most cases if others aren’t waiting for the resource after your turn is up, you can check it out again,” said Boettcher. “It’s about giving everyone a fair chance.”

Though fines may be an inconvenience to some students, they go towards library initiatives like improving public spaces within the library.

“We are always open to suggestions on improving our policies for students,” Hines said.