Sign from the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library explaining the new policy of no fines.

One of the best parts of living in Pittsburgh is access to the Carnegie Library System, a fine collection of over seventy libraries big and small in the city and surrounding suburbs.  There are very few books of interest to the general reader that you can’t borrow from one of these libraries.

During the worst days of covid, the library rolled out a new policy that they’ve made permanent—no more due dates, no more library fines.

They’ve also wiped clean the slate of borrowers with previous fines.

So here’s the thing—I started writing this post from a curmudgeonly point of view.  The original title was “I’m Fine With Library Fines.”

I was going to write that libraries are one of the best ideas mankind ever came up with.  Modern libraries would’ve thrilled history’s great autodidacts.  I’m willing to bet that Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson would’ve traded a few years of their lives in return for the scope and access to libraries that all Pittsburghers (and most Americans) enjoy today.

I was going to calculate the number of books I’d checked out over the past year and estimate the amount of money the library has saved me.

Then would come my big finish….with all these wonderful benefits, the least people could do is pay a quarter if they failed to return their books on time.


But then I did a little research on the library’s decision—turns out that fines aren’t a significant source of revenue, and that people are still returning the books in roughly the same amount of time as they did when they had assigned due dates.  Patrons will still have to pay for lost or damaged books.

If someone requests the book you’ve got, then you’ll be given a suggested due date to return it, so you can’t hoard something that’s in high demand.  Otherwise, it can stay in your home instead of unread on a shelf until you’re finished with it.

So basically the library eliminated a bureaucratic process of collecting fines that wasn’t making them any money and made things more convenient for patrons.

To complain about that just seems like the first step in a long slow slide into becoming one of those bitter old people who kvetch about how today’s soft kids never had to walk to school uphill both ways.

Even Lincoln would’ve told me to lighten up.

Vive la fine free library!

And I think I’ll keep those three biographies on Olivia de Havilland I checked out six months ago just a little bit longer…..