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How to Avoid Library Fines and Use the Library Without Going Broke

How to use your library and avoid library fines.

Post contains affiliate links.How to use your library and avoid library fines.

I had a friend once tell me she couldn’t afford to use the library.

What do you mean you can’t afford the library? The library is FREE.

Yes, my friends, it is free…until you have overdue fines on 57 books and owe money for the book your toddler dropped in the toilet and that darn missing Taylor Swift CD you never wanted in your house in the first place.

Yeah, the library doesn’t seem so “free” at that point. I used to joke that library fines were how I helped to fund our local library until I learned something horrible. Our library doesn’t see a single penny of the overdue fines I pay. I don’t know how it works at your library but here the money goes straight to the city.

Not cool, City People, not cool…

So yes, I totally get it. We have torn our house apart looking for that missing book only to have it show up 8 months later in the crack of the couch with a moldy apple, LEGO mini-figure, and the card the kids made for Grandma. I knew there had to be a better solution.

Here are five ways to keep track of those darn books and avoid library fines. 

Girls, Village Books and Jalepenos. It's how we like to party.

Have an established bookshelf or basket.

We have what we call in our house The Library Book Shelf. It has two metal locker baskets (ours are vintage but you can buy cool ones off of Amazon). Any library books not in use are supposed to reside in these baskets. Having all of your library books in one place drastically cuts down on stress and last minute panic on library days.

Check on drop off locations.

Our libraries here allow us to drop off books at any branch and at several other locations (such as the grocery store). Find out where alternate drop off locations are and make it easy on yourself!

How to use your library and avoid library fines.

Print a receipt.

There are several ways to do this. Our library offers printed receipt but I always lose them or end up stuffing chewed up gum in them. Who knows, maybe you’ll have better luck than me.

Take a photo. 

You can take a quick picture with your cell phone as soon as you get home (or before if you kids love to read books on the way home from the library).  This way you will have a simple visual record of the books you checked out.

Technology enables me to homeschool my daughter with hearing loss.

Track them online.

I regularly use our library’s online catalog to put books on hold, check to see what is out, what is about to be due and what books we are still waiting for.  You can print out these lists to make sure you have all the books before you head to the library.

Track them with an app on your phone. 

Inside Higher Ed has a great rundown of apps that you can use to catalog your home library. You could just as easily download one of the apps to your phone and log your library books.

How to use your library and avoid library fines.

Use only one library card. 

At our local library, each patron can borrow 75 items at a time. We have nine kids living at home right now and Chuck and I each have our own library cards… that means our family can check out a total of 825 books, movies and CDs before we go over our limit. Does that number scare you? Because that is the stuff of nightmares for this minimalist mama.

By limiting books to one card it is easier to check online to see what is out, pay fines (who wants library fines spread out on eleven different cards) and keep our book borrows activities in check.

Use Library Elf

Library Elf is completely free! You can add in every library card in your house and it will keep track of the books you have checked out, books you put on hold and it will email you to remind you when they are almost due. Library Elf has been a complete game changer for me!

Are you a regular library user? What are your best tips to avoid library fines?




  1. thissquirrelsnest

    Today I returned our sack of library books. Several are overdue. In on our county you can return books to ant library, so I stopped by one we hadn’t been to before and put them in the book slot. J was asleep so we didn’t go in.

    As we drove away I saw the sign above the building, “Town Hall”….the library is attatched but the other set of doors with it’s own “book drop” instead of a “night drop box”.

    So I’m hoping the nice people at the town hall take my books over…

    The best thing I’ve found is going to the library the same day every week. My kids love books and libraries, which is fabulous. My success rate for reducing fines is obviously not stellar at the moment…

  2. Sara

    75 books? That is amazing. I haven’t used the library much in the past 25 years. As a voracious reader, even after that much time, I still miss it. The restriction is 3 books per category, a max of 10 books and you can only renew either 1 or 2 of the books each time. There are more restrictions but I’ve forgotten the details. Since the library is 26 miles one way, overall it isn’t budget friendly. Tried the book mobile that came every other week for a couple years but discovered if they ‘forgot’ to show up, I had to drive the 26 miles and waste 90+ minutes just to return the books.

  3. Sara-Jane

    We go on Tuesdays when the library is nice and quiet!

    I got clear library-style carts that are child sized at a garage sale for a steal, from Land of Nod originally (I got them for $50 as a set. Originally a whopping $300 apiece. Score.). Wednesday night is collection. I roll down the halls harassing my poor offspring until all nooks and crannies have been searched, all books are accounted for on my digital checklist, and any books that need to be renewed are renewed right then and there. Haven’t paid a fine in over a year.

  4. bemis

    I require that all library books stay in the living room–not in bedrooms or down in the basement/playroom. That way they aren’t as easily mixed up with our other books (many previous library books bought used). My kids are young still, so this is a pretty easy thing to do; it might be harder when they’re older and want to read in bed (right now they just browse our own picture books in bed).

    I hook the book list/receipt that our library gives on the refrigerator immediately after getting home so that I can easily account for books when it’s time to return them. I also start moving them one by one to a cubby right next to our door, out of reach of kids’ hands, as it gets close to library day so that when the time comes they’re hopefully all ready to go.

  5. Greg Thames

    Library Elf is great for tracking books. You put all your library card numbers onto your library elf account and they send emails remaiders of due dates, books ready for pick up, books requested not yet ready, and overdue items. It also tells you which person has checked out or requested each of the books. My kids love using their own card for checking out so this lets me keep track of all the cards in one spot.

  6. June

    Library fines are consistently a problem here. Just before we moved from Boston, they started doing automatic renewal. That was AMAZING. Unfortunately, North Carolina doesnt do the same, and their check out time is shorter. I’m trying to establish a weekly routine of checking the account but haven’t quite managed it yet.

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