Duluth has abolished library late fees as the city moves to increase access for all residents, even the forgetful ones.

"We're moving away from a punishment model to a more positive model," said Carla Powers, Duluth Public Library manager. "The public library is not only for people who can always remember to return things. It's not only for people who have the capacity to pay an overdue fine."

With the move, Duluth joins cities like St. Paul, Hibbing and Grand Marais in dropping late fees to encourage people to "come back to the library," as Powers put it.

Library cardholders who live in lower-income neighborhoods have an especially high rate of cards disabled by late fees — the threshold is $5 — with more than 30% of children across downtown Duluth, the Central Hillside and Lincoln Park neighborhoods unable to check out materials due to fines.

With the late-fee forgiveness, 7,651 patrons are now able to use the library again.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said the issue came down to access and equity.

"These are the living rooms of our community; this is where everyone is welcome," she said.

Larson was joined by library staff and supporters Tuesday in front of the circulation desk of the downtown library to announce the move. Powers made a show of crossing out the "fines, payments" part of a sign above the desk as the change was effective immediately. Those who lose books will still be required to pay the replacement cost before using their library card again.

The city collected nearly $58,000 in library fines last year, according to annual financial filings, and on average the city faced about $21,000 in uncollected overdue charges over the past several years. The library had a $4.7 million budget for 2019.

Larson said that the city will dig into the general fund to replace the fee revenue.

In January, the St. Paul Public Library system dropped overdue material fines and forgave more than $2.5 million in outstanding fees, unfreezing thousands of library cards. Duluth library officials were told circulation there has been on the rise, and books have been late at about the same rate.

Brooks Johnson • 612-673-4229