The Free Library of Philadelphia:

Streamlining the Fine Paying Process

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Account Linking

Allows families to keep track of children’s accounts in one easy dashboard.

Problem & Solution:

Paying a fee at the library is a time-consuming process and is particularly difficult if you are a parent/guardian managing more than one account.

By offering an account linking feature, parents and families can keep track of fees and can log in and pay through one account in a simple, streamlined process.

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Publicizing Connections

Based on my research, families don’t know that children under 12 don’t accrue fines on overdue items and that it is beneficial to create and use their child’s library account to avoid the $0.25 per day late fee.


  • User Interviews (6)

  • Affinity Mapping

  • Persona Development

  • Task Analysis

  • Journey Mapping

  • Comparative Analysis

  • Wireframing

  • Usability Testing (5)


  • Hi-fidelity mockups of redesign

  • Future recommendations based on research insights

The Process


Research Plan:

  • Interviews

  • Competitive Analysis

  • User Persona

  • Building a Use Case

  • Task Analysis

Every time we have to pay a fine, it takes forever. I always forget the cards at home.
— Parent of a young child

Insights Gained:

  • The Free Library of Philadelphia was founded in 1891 and has expanded to include 49 neighborhood libraries.

  • A PEW Study of the Free Library in 2012 found that 91% of residents agree that the library functions as a safe space for children.

  • The Free Library’s Strategic Vision includes building a culture of literacy for adults and children.

  • The Free Library has opened 5 “21st Century Libraries” that embrace technology with touch screen check out systems, computer labs, and extended evening hours.

  • The Free Library moved to end late fines for children ages 12 and under in 2013 in order to increase access. However, this policy is not well known by families with children.

  • The current payment system is a 7 step process. This is potentially beneficial to those seeking to dispute fines or pay a partial fee amount, but significantly slows down those who would like to simply pay in full.

  • Logging in to the library system currently requires you to have your library card out or the number memorized, and does not allow parents and children to link accounts so that parents may easily monitor the status of family accounts.

In Philadelphia, two-thirds of young children are not reading on grade level. Thirty percent of Philadelphians do not have home internet access. These and other barriers to literacy constrain a thriving city. Access to library resources will provide citizens of all ages with pathways to literacy and enlightenment.
— Free Library Strategic Plan 2019

Synthesizing Insights

The library is a place where people in a neighborhood can gather together. However, paying fines can be a sticky process. Paying a fine at the library currently requires 7 steps including selecting which fines you’d like to pay. Because of budget limitations, the Free Library of Philadelphia has been understaffed for several years, and is increasingly turning to self checkout kiosks to reduce the need for additional staff.

Based on my interviews, most people would prefer to pay all fines at one time rather than having to check each one. Additionally, parents struggle to keep track of all the library accounts in the family. More than one account may be used during the checkout process. Parents often use their own cards to check out their children’s materials because it is more convenient, and then accrue late fees on their child’s materials.

Philly families need a better way to keep track of library cards, checked out materials, and easily pay fines. When designing my solution, these families were top of mind. Now, parents can log in, see all household accounts, and pay all fees at once with a credit card on file.

Task Analysis of 7 Steps to Pay a Fine:


Further Recommendations & Opportunities

  • Save a preferred credit card on file to pay fines.

  • Use a credit card reader to swipe cards at more than one machine. Currently, my local library has 1 kiosk for check outs OR paying a fine. The other kiosk only performs checkout services which slows down the process.

  • Increase publicity about no fines for children through signage in children’s areas and by checkout kiosks.

  • Consider revising the children’s fine policy to be governed by type of material rather than age of patron. This would allow anyone checking out children’s materials to avoid a fine regardless of age. This way parents aren’t penalized if they forget their child’s card at home. This also helps engage older children with disabilities, adult learners, and ESL populations who may check out children’s items in order to practice improving English literacy and fluency.

  • As a safety feature, require linked accounts to be re-linked after a PIN is changed.

  • Based on testing, it may be useful to keep the “Manage My Fines” function. Currently, this allows patrons to select to pay only some fines as well as contest fines. A managing function in addition to a pay now function would allow patrons to pay in full or choose which fines to pay. Testing and evaluating data on how often this feature is used by library patrons would help inform a final decision.

Final Designs