Chicago book returns surge 240% after city eliminates fines

CHICAGO -- Chicago public libraries have seen a 240% increase in the number of books returned since the city's mayor eliminated overdue fines, according to a library official.

Library Commissioner Andrea Telli testified at a budget hearing Wednesday, telling City Council members that abandoning the library fines policy has been instrumental in luring in both patrons and 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.

Chicago became the nation's first major city to forgo overdue fines, which went into effect Oct. 1 and erased all outstanding fees. Mayor Lori Lightfoot framed the policy change as her latest attempt to remove barriers that deter youth and low-income patrons.

Lightfoot is also making an effort to open libraries on Sundays. The mayor's 2020 budget includes an $18 million property tax increase to honor her promise to establish Sunday hours at Chicago's 81 libraries. Currently, the Harold Washington central library and three regional libraries are open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

During Wednesday's hearing, Telli noted that 15 to 20 branches will open Sundays in the first quarter of 2020, while more branches will follow gradually throughout next year.

"We don't want them all to open first on the North Side or the South Side," Telli said. "We want them spread around the city as they open."

The library system also has 180 vacant positions. Next year's budget includes an increase of 62 full-time staffers and 115 more part-time employees to accommodate Sunday hours.
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