5 ways to keep track of your library books and avoid library fines

I love the library and I HATE library fines.

I know many libraries have done away with library fines altogether, but I’ve never been lucky enough to live somewhere with one of those magical libraries.

(Ours does have no fines on kids items, which is nice).

Anyway, if you’re trying to come up with a system for keeping better track of your library books and avoiding library fines, here are a few tricks that have helped our family.

Because I want my taxes to fund the library, not my library fines!

5 ways to keep track of your library books and avoid library fines

Designate a spot for your library books to live
This made a huge difference for us – I bought a large square basket at Home Goods 9 years ago and it acted as our library basket in every home we’ve lived in. Then a few years ago, we got this small bookshelf for our library books. Having a space designated for our library books means they don’t get mixed in with our personal collection and when they’re left out, everyone in the house knows where to put them. This basket keeps the picture books from the library, while I keep my books on a specific shelf in my office and the girls have a shelf in their bedroom for their library books so they can read at night before bed.

Set a calendar reminder
Once a week, my Google Calendar reminds me “Renew library books!” and it’s a good nudge to hop on to my account and renew everything.

Go to the library weekly
For the first few years we lived in Arizona, we didn’t have a good library routine which made it really hard to get books back on time. Once we committed to a story time day and attend basically every week, it’s much easier to renew my books in the morning before we head out and collect anything that’s due in the next few days. I think in general the library works much better for families who have it as a regular part of their weekly routine instead of trying to use it here and there (and then you get nailed by library fines and it becomes even LESS of a part of your routine).

Have a bag or basket for books to return to the library
In my office, I have a set of hooks where I hang my purse and my workbag. I also keep a tote bag hanging there and whenever we’re done with a book (whether it’s one we’ve finished or one we didn’t care for), I drop it right in that bag so it’s ready to be returned on our next library trip.

Ask for an extension
Sometimes you KNOW you have a library book out and it’s due back and you can’t renew it anymore, but you just need a little extra time to find it. If the book isn’t requested, often the librarians can override the renewal limit and give you an extra 2-3 weeks. This little trick has saved my bacon more than once.

And a little PSA: Know the library isn’t perfect
In a perfect world, no library book would ever get misplaced, but in my years of heavy library use, I’ve had more than one book go missing due to a library error. I remember in high school, I checked out four books for a political science class and the next time I went in, they told me I owed $16 in overdue fines. I was floored and went hunting in the stacks and returned with all four books which had been reshelved weeks earlier but never checked in (they quietly checked them back in, erased my fines and apologized).

I’d say at least once a year I have a book that I return that doesn’t get scanned back in and I have to have them find it on the shelf. I’ve had books go in the slot and then drop under the return bin instead of into it. It happens and I’ve found that the librarians almost aways want to do their best to help you out and get it straightened out quickly and easily.

If you have other tricks for keeping your library fines to a minimum (or even non-existent – teach me your ways!), I’d love to hear them!


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  1. We always check out books in multiples of 5 so it’s easy to see if we are missing a couple! We have 13 to return? Keep looking, at least 2 are still missing!

  2. We got rid of library fines on all our kids and teen materials, but it’s still tricky b/c we’re in a consortium and not all the member libraries went fine-free, or some went completely and others only kids’ stuff like us! I always tell people to pick their bossiest kid and put them in charge of the library materials (-:)

  3. One bad trick I learned. My library doesn’t charge a fine for the first three days it’s overdue. Then it’s 1.50. But it gives me a little leeway. My library also lets me sign up for email alerts of things almost due. And will auto renew books. I think those are just settings in my account.

  4. I totally understand the concern of never getting your books if there aren’t fines (I had that fear too!). However, our library did away with fines this past summer and I have not noticed an increase in wait time at all! As my library said “What starts as a tiny overdue fine can quickly snowball into a larger amount with each day that an item isn’t returned. Because people fear fines, they avoid coming back to the Library altogether. For many, this means they can’t access books for schoolwork and other vital materials or use essential services such as public computers or job resources. We would rather have you back visiting the Library instead of staying away because you owe late fines.” I am glad we can better support everyone in our community with this policy and would encourage more cities/libraries to look into fine elimination. Just for reference, I’m in Kansas City – so not a small town – and our policy is here if anyone is interested: https://www.kclibrary.org/finefree

  5. I’m not quite lucky enough to have a library that doesn’t charge fines but my library does have a library app available where I can keep an eye on what is due back and when, and if necessary – renew! I renew a lot…!

    I check the app regularly as I often get alerts telling me a book has come in.

  6. I would have the same worry if my library got rid of fines!! We’re a lot like you – we have a designated spot for library books, have a designated spot for books to return, we have a consistent library schedule (every Friday unless we are out of town!), and I semi-obsessively track my returns so I know when I returned something and it missed getting marked in. I also use our library app A LOT so I can see what is checked out on all our cards and get them returned or renewed in time! We maybe pay $1 in fines a year so it’s all pretty successful!

  7. Our local libraries actually just announced that they are eliminating fines! Apparently libraries are showing a big increase in engagement when they do.

  8. We also have a special spot for library books (one shelf in each of my kids bookcases), which I love. However, I mistakenly assumed my 3 year old could identify a library book in order to put it in the right spot. So we’ve had lots of conversations about how a library book looks different – it might have a plastic cover, a barcode (different from the sales barcode on the back), and maybe some identifying stickers. Before these conversations, she was stashing books all over the house and she’s much better about it now.

  9. First, see if your library is willing to go fine-less. Ours did away with fines during the pandemic, and its been really nice. Secondly, is there a fine donation program? Before the pandemic, our library would host a canned goods for fines drive, and donate all the items to the local food banks and shelters. Third, attach your email to your library account and they will send you a notice three days (at least ours is three days) before its due to remind you. Then, you can either sign on to renew it, or remember to bring it back in. 🙂

  10. Check to see if your library has an app that can let you view your account anytime you want, or if they send text reminders, or if they do (or have plans to start doing) autorenewals!

  11. Our city library system has eliminated fines for children and youth. If anyone loses a book, t Shey can replace it with ANY new book. So generous. Nonetheless, a fine here and there is still a drop in the bucket compared to what I would spend if I bought all of the books/materials that I borrow.

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