Contra Costa County Library to eliminate overdue fines

San Pablo Library seminar aims to curtail increase in scams on seniors
The San Pablo Library is located at 13751 San Pablo Ave. (Photo by Zach Chouteau)

Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, Contra Costa County Library will eliminate overdue fines on all library materials, becoming the first county library system in California and largest in the state to eliminate fines for everyone.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of eliminating daily fines on overdue books, magazines, DVDs and other materials, with the aim of increasing access to community members. The library system operates in over two dozen locations in the county, including in San Pablo, El Sobrante, El Cerrito,  Pinole and Hercules.

Eliminating fines will unblock library cards for 118,450 of the more than 650,000 cardholders in the county, or 18 percent. For youth accounts, 43 percent owe a balance and approximately 21,000 youth cards are currently blocked due to fines.

“Saying goodbye to fines gives everyone an opportunity to restart their relationship with the library,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff in a statement from the Contra Costa County Library. 

Revenue from library fines and material replacement charges make up about 2-percent of the library’s total revenue, and that revenue has decreased by 31-percent since 2013.

“During the same period, circulation of eBooks and other e-resources have increased 128 percent,” library officials said. “E-resources are already fine-free and benefit those with greater access to technology.”

Despite the elimination of fines, patrons will still be expected to return library materials on time.

“Checkout periods on materials will remain the same and patrons will incur a replacement charge if materials are not returned 30 days after the due date,” the library system says.

Here is a FAQ by Contra Costa County Library about this new policy:

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.


  1. Sorry, but I am totally opposed to this new ruling. If people cannot afford a 25-cent-a-day fine, then they need to make more of an effort to return books on time.
    How does this teach responsibility, respect for public property, and returning books on time so others can also use the materials?

    If a book is a month overdue, at 25 cents a day, that is about a $22.50 fine. Under the new rule, there is no daily fine, just a replacement charge when the item is more than a month overdue. If people aren’t paying 25 cents a day now, they sure as heck are not going to pay the replacement cost. They will just keep the book forever. There is no incentive to return books on time under the new ruling. Be prepared for even longer waits for books on hold.
    They should have given a one-time fine amnesty to delinquent borrowers. If they do it again, then freeze their account. Borrowing library materials is a privilege based on being a responsible, respectful borrower.

  2. The main focus of the library is to bring equitable access to all people it serves, not to teach responsibility to children. That is the job of the parent, and as a parent, I know there are literally hundreds of other ways to do that.
    I work at a library. The majority of our patrons return books in a timely fashion. The biggest failure has been parents being late in bringing back the books that their children checked out on their own cards, and then not paying the fees. This results in kids who just want to get another book being blocked from using their card, and it’s usually NOT their fault. So if you want the library to be a part of teaching responsibility, how about starting with the parents showing their kids that THEY get the books back on time?
    Also, late fines top out at $1.00 for kids books and $5.00 for adult material. So yes, if a patron gets a bill for $25.00 + $10.00 processing fee for a very overdue book, you bet they’re going to take that more seriously than the couple bucks they would have paid before. And trust me, when the collection letters go out and patrons realize they are being charged the full price (which happens already, but after a couple months) you BET they get that material back to us.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here