Public libraries within Chicago have seen a 240 percent increase in the number of books returned after the city’s mayor announced the decision to eliminate overdue fines in late September.
Library Commissioner Andrea Telli testified at City Council budget hearings on Wednesday — where she says hundreds of long-overdue books have been returned in the weeks since Chicago became the only major city in the U.S. to cease fines for its users.
She says the policy, which went into effect on Oct. 1, has been great in getting readers and books back in local libraries.
“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, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Library use has seen a drastic decline when compared to the previous decade due to technology changes, with only 44 percent of Americans visiting a local library or bookmobile in 2016, according to the Atlantic.
Three years earlier that rate was 53 percent.
She said the 2019 book return increase could be attributed to the elimination of fear most book users have about coming face to face with their fines.
“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 Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the policy’s goal is to assist both youth and low-income readers in the area who don’t have as much disposable income to pay off the fines.
She says the city’s 2020 budget also includes an $18 million property tax increase to aid her promise in adding Sunday hours at the city’s 77 local libraries.
Only four libraries in the area are open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.
The 2020 budget also includes an increase in 62 additional full-time and 115 part-time employees to assist in those new 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,” she added.
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 new policy might have caught on in other areas of the U.S., as Angela Montefinise, a spokeswoman for New York Public Library, says they are considering it.
“We and the other two NYC systems have long been considering this — it is enormously complicated in systems as large as ours,” Montefinise told gothamist.com.
The Associated Press contributed to the report