County Library clears outstanding fines for all patrons

County Library clears outstanding fines for all patrons
San Pablo Library at 13751 San Pablo Ave.

As promised, the Contra Costa County Library system started off the New Year by clearing outstanding fines on all library accounts.

Last month, the Library announced its plan to eliminate fines for overdue books and materials and to bring all library cards into good standing. Patrons previously blocked from library services are now able to check out books, magazines and DVDs and use all online services.

Library officials hope the decision will attract back patrons who have been avoiding the Library due to the fines. Last month, about 118,450 of the more than 650,000 cardholders in the county, or 18 percent, had blocked library cards.

Library officials also believe clearing fines will lead to the return of overdue materials.

“No matter how old, no matter why it was late, we want you to bring it back. No questions asked,” County Librarian Melinda Cervantes said in a statement Wednesday.

Moving forward, patrons will no longer be charged daily overdue fines on library materials.

However, patrons are still expected to return the library materials on time. Checkout periods will remain the same. If an item is not returned within 30 days after its due date, a lost charge and $10 non-refundable processing charge will be assessed. If the billed item is returned in good condition, the lost and processing charges will be removed from the account.

“Yes, you still need to return library materials,” Deputy County Librarian Nancy Kreiser said in a statement. “But when your schedule is hectic or you need another day or two to finish a great book, you can do so without worrying about late fines.”

Library officials say the elimination of fines won’t impact its budget to the point that Library operations are reduced. Since 2013, revenue from library fines and material replacement charges made up about 2-percent of the library’s total revenue, a decrease of about 31 percent. During the same period, circulation of eBooks and other e-resources, which were already fine-free, increased by 128 percent, Library officials said.

“The elimination of fines and clearing of all accounts helps to meet the Library’s goal of removing barriers to access and making it easy, equitable and enjoyable for everyone,” the county said in its statement.

Cervantes added, “It allows everyone regardless of age, location or ability to pay, the opportunity to have continued access to the library.”

Contra Costa County Library is the first county library system in California and largest in the state to eliminate fines for everyone. The library system operates in over two dozen locations in the county, including in San Pablo, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Pinole and Hercules.

For more information on the elimination of fines, see the library’s Frequently Asked Questions below, or


When will fines be eliminated?

The Library will eliminate fines beginning on January 1, 2019.

Why is the Library eliminating fines?

Eliminating fines removes barriers for our community and makes access easy, equitable, and enjoyable for everyone. Our doors are open for the entire community to take advantage of all the Library has to offer. Ending the collection of overdue fines will also result in more positive customer interactions.

If there are no fines, how will the library recover books and other materials that have been checked out?

We have eliminated overdue fines, but not the charges associated with damaged or lost materials.  Checkout periods for library materials have not changed and we expect patrons to return items to the library on time.

If an item is not returned within 30 days after its due date a lost charge and $10 non-refundable processing charge will be assessed. However, if the billed item is returned in good condition, the lost and processing charges will be removed from the account.

Will the elimination of fines impact the Library’s budget?

Fines and charges make up only slightly more than two percent of the library’s total budgeted revenue. Revenue from fines has decreased significantly in the last several years and we don’t expect the elimination of fines to have any impact on library operations.

Do I get a refund for late fines I recently paid?

No. Fines paid before the new fines and charges schedule was approved are not refundable. We thank you for your support of the Library.

Will the Library still send reminders about returning materials?


I always considered my fines as a donation to the Library. How can I continue to support the Library financially?

  • Donate books or become a member of any of the Friends of the Library groups at our 26 branches. Money raised by the Friends from sales at their bookstores supports the Library.
  • Some Community Library Foundations and some Community Library Friends groups are registered as a 501(c)(3) California nonprofit organizations. The Library and these two support organizations are considered qualified charitable organizations for tax purposes by the IRS. Your contributions may help lower your income tax bill.

What about teaching a sense of responsibility to children?

Libraries have traditionally been viewed as a place charged with teaching responsibility and consequence, but that has never been part of our mission. We believe what’s most important is getting more books in the hands of the children who need them most.

The mission of the Contra Costa County Library is to bring people and ideas together. Our strategic goals focus on easy and equitable access, literacy, high-quality customer service and promoting the value of the library.

All library materials will still have the same checkout periods. We still expect books to be returned on time. Any materials not returned 30 days after the due date are considered lost and patrons will be charged for them.