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Largest public library system in U.S. says it is ending late fees in push for a 'more equitable system'

Fines are "an antiquated, ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books," the president of the New York Public Library said.

The largest public library system in the country is no longer charging late fees — and is clearing the books for those with outstanding debts.

The New York Public Library said Tuesday the change would be effective immediately, in hopes that the new policy will encourage increased use of its collections and create a "more equitable system that does not disproportionately impact high-need communities."

Library president Anthony W. Marx called fines an "antiquated ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books; for those who can afford the fines, they are barely an incentive."

"For those who can't afford the fines — disproportionately low-income New Yorkers — they become a real barrier to access that we can no longer accept. This is a step towards a more equitable society, with more New Yorkers reading and using libraries, and we are proud to make it happen," he added.

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The New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan on Sept. 13, 2021.Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Under the city's previous model, patrons who accrued more than $15 in fines would have their library cards blocked. About 400,000 New Yorkers — which included "more than half in high-need communities — fell under that category, according to library officials.

New York City isn't the first major city in the country to eliminate late fees.

In the past three years, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and Burbank, California, have all scrapped overdue fines.

Three weeks after Chicago implemented its policy, the library system saw the return of hundreds of overdue books, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in the news release Tuesday the policy was "another major step towards making our public libraries, the heart of so many communities, accessible to all.

He continued: “Eliminating fines will let us serve even more New Yorkers, allowing them to enjoy all of the resources and programs that public libraries offer to grow and succeed.”