Ending Library Fines is the New Social Justice

In New York City, the new social justice cause is not paying subway fares. In Chicago, it's not paying overdue book fines.

An increasing number of libraries are dropping their late fees because the policies deter and bar low-income residents. 

NPR reported Saturday that public libraries in San Diego, Boston and Chicago have changed their policies in some way to address what they've deemed social inequality in the public library system. 

The San Diego Public Library in April cleared outstanding late fees, which affected more than 130,000 people. 

Chicago's libraries implemented a fine-free policy last month and have seen a 240 percent increase in returns. 

According to the news outlet, the American Library Association passed a resolution in January calling fines a "form of social inequity" and calling for libraries to get rid of them. 

So there's effectively no reason to return books on time. Or at any point.

I'm not overly fond of overdue book fines, which are a blatant revenue stream, but they're also a means of getting books back into libraries. As more people turn to digital borrowing, the whole thing is less relevant. When I want to keep on reading a book, I click on the app and renew it. Digital copies of books mean that a book is not an finite good. Book publishers and writers may not be all that happy about that.

With print books, it means there's no incentive to get a copy of a book back into the library. And that is

But if the premise is that everyone is entitled to use a library, and that fines hit low income people harder, and that they're therefore a form of social inequity, the same premise that is dismantling bail and assorted other fines, then parking violations would have to be next. And any fines in general. And that means there's no middle ground and no stopping point between behaviors that are fully legal and that are illegal enough to require criminal justice intervention. And that's socially unhealthy. 

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