On July 1, 2020, the Falmouth libraries, including the West Falmouth Library and the Woods Hole Public Library, will join the Martha’s Vineyard CLAMS Libraries and more than 450 libraries across the country, in revising their policy toward overdue fines. 

This new fine-free policy means that Falmouth Libraries will no longer charge late fees for overdue materials. However, patrons will still be responsible for paying for the replacement costs of lost or damaged items. In the last year, all the CLAMS Libraries instituted a new automatic renewals policy, allowing due items to be renewed up to three times.  The elimination of overdue fees along with this automatic renewal policy will make it possible for patrons to use and keep checked out materials longer without fines.  It is important to note that materials will not renew automatically if another patron has requested, or put a hold on the item.

The main goal is to remove obstacles and improve access to information and services for everyone. Research about library use increasingly shows that fines are often barriers preventing people from using the library and its services – especially those who most rely on those services. The Falmouth Libraries want to remove those obstacles, end the stress and stigma of owing fines, and ensure that all members of the community can use the libraries. Late fines, no matter how small, can be a very real burden for individuals, families, and children. What starts as a tiny overdue fine can snowball into a larger amount with each day that an item isn’t returned. As fines grow, patrons may avoid coming back to the library altogether. For many, this means they can’t access books and other materials, or use essential services such as public computers or job resources. Falmouth Libraries would rather welcome patrons back than have them stay away because they owe late fines.

Following current policy, all checked out materials will be automatically renewed up to three times, unless there is a Hold on the item.  As before, if materials are not returned by the end of that period, the patron’s account will be blocked until the item is returned (with no overdue fines) or replaced. The goal of Fine-Free Falmouth is to remove barriers and make access to materials equitable and easy. All past overdue fines for Falmouth patrons will be waived and as long as the materials are returned there will be no overdue fines charged.  


  • No more daily late fines will be charged on overdue items at any Falmouth library  
  • All existing overdue fines from all accounts will be cleared on July 1, 2020, giving everyone a fresh start.  
  • Hundreds of patrons will have their accounts unblocked, which will enable them to once again use library services. Libraries previously blocked accounts with overdue fines greater than $25.  
  • No more fine-related restrictions will be placed on use of public computers or access to digital materials (eBooks, digital audiobooks, online databases and resources), even for people who had extensive late fees on their accounts.     
  • CLAMS member libraries will support Falmouth’s move toward fine-free library services, and will continue to share library items through interlibrary loan.  


What does “Fine Free Falmouth” mean? 

Starting July 1, 2020, Falmouth Libraries will no longer charge late fines on overdue materials. Patrons will still be responsible for paying for the replacement costs of lost or damaged items, however. 

Previously when you checked out an item and didn’t return it by the due date, daily fines started accumulating. For some patrons, the growing amount could become burdensome. Under the Fine Free policy, borrowed items still have due dates, and patrons are encouraged to return them on time. Libraries will still send reminders to bring back books, CDs, DVDs, etc. 

An item is officially categorized as overdue the day after its due date, but with the new Fine Free policy, that due date will not be associated with a punitive price tag. If something hasn’t been returned by two weeks after its due date, it will be considered lost, and the system will apply a lost item fee to the patron’s account to cover the cost of replacing the missing item. However, as long as the item is returned in good shape, patrons won’t ever be charged overdue fines. If a patron eventually finds and returns the outstanding materials, the lost item fee will be erased from their account. The largest group who will benefit from this new change will be families with children.

What about the late fines currently on my account? 

When we launch this new policy, everyone will get a fresh start. Existing overdue fines for ALL our patrons will be cleared from all Falmouth patron accounts on July 1, 2020. After this date, all overdue materials will fall under the new Fine Free policy. The Fine Free policy applies only to overdue items. If a patron currently has fees related to lost or damaged materials, those remain in effect. 

Aren’t late fines part of fundamental library service expectations? 

Not anymore. While overdue fines are traditionally associated with borrowing materials from libraries, that is changing. Libraries in many communities recognize that overdue fines sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to connecting people with important resources, so they’re reevaluating borrowing policies and making changes to evolve with the times. The Falmouth Libraries will be joining over 450 other U.S. libraries in eliminating late fines. 

But will people return materials on time without late fines? 

Interestingly, libraries that have eliminated late fines have found that return rates actually go up. By removing the threat of daily accumulating late fines, people are less likely to avoid returning to the library, and more likely to bring back any overdue items they’ve checked out. No late fines means more people using the library.

Can a patron hold onto a library item indefinitely? 

No. Patrons still have to bring back what they borrow – and we still ask that they try to do so on time – but the Fine Free policy is much more lenient if they miss a due date. After a few attempts to ask the patron to return the item, the patron will be billed for it. 

Don’t the libraries need to charge late fines for revenue purposes? 

Overdue fines contribute only a small amount of revenue. While our libraries are always carefully watching the bottom line, any loss of overdue fine revenue is small compared with the good this new policy will do for the community. A Fine Free policy opens our doors wider for all Falmouth patrons. 

How does having lost or damaged item fees on my account impact my ability to use library services? 

While we are eliminating late fines, libraries will still charge fees for lost or damaged materials. These fees are necessary to buy replacement books, CDs, or DVDs in our collections so other patrons may use them. As before, when a patron loses a book, CD, DVD or other library item, their account is blocked. That person then cannot borrow any additional materials. The account is unblocked when the items are returned or the replacement fees are paid. 

Previously, CLAMS cardholders in Falmouth could borrow materials from Cape libraries that are not fine-free. How does the Fine Free Falmouth policy impact their ability to borrow items? 

Interlibrary loan will not be affected. The CLAMS Board has agreed that Falmouth libraries may continue to borrow library materials from other CLAMS libraries even without collecting overdue fines. CLAMS cardholders will not be charged overdue fines at any Falmouth library, but a Falmouth CLAMS cardholder may still be charged overdue fines if they visit a CLAMS library on the Cape.