The Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a proposal by the Harris County Public Library to end library late fee fines on books and DVDs on Feb 21.

“The elimination of late fees makes HCPL the open, free public resource it was always meant to be,” HCPL Executive Director Edward Melton said.

The HCPL has waived late fees since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all its branch locations in March 2020, and the policy is now permanent, according to a HCPL news release.

The decision comes down to economics for both the library and the community it serves, officials said. Late fees hit low-income households harder than others. Even relatively small amounts of late fees can economically affect disadvantaged people and prevent them from using the library, according to a HCPL news release.

“We want to remove barriers and ensure that our collections and services are available equitably,” Melton said. “A late fee should not keep someone from the information and resources that can literally change their lives for the better.”

The decision to eliminate late fines was also influenced by the fact that collecting and processing late fees results in less revenue than is generated and is ineffective at deterring late returns.

Additionally, libraries that have stopped charging late fees have seen significant increases in library use, circulation, library card applications and materials returned, according to a HCPL news release.

In accordance with the new policy, patrons will continue to be charged for lost or damaged items, but returning items after their due dates will not result in a fee. Outstanding overdue fines will be waived, though it might take some time before these changes are reflected on library accounts, according to the HCPL.

With the support of the commissioners, the HCPL joins the growing number of public library systems nationwide that have removed late fees in recent years, including Houston Public Libraries.