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Chapel Hill Public Library Adopts a Fine-Free Model to Increase Access and Equity

Post Date:06/29/2020 4:09 PM

CHAPEL HILL PUBLIC LIBRARYAs of July 1, Chapel Hill Public Library users will no longer have to pay overdue fines on late materials. Chapel Hill will join a growing number of communities across the country whose libraries have ceased charging overdue fines in order to increase access to resources and address equity issues. This change was adopted by the Chapel Hill Town Council last week, as part of the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget.

Library staff have been working toward this for several years, reviewing data, considering impacts, and learning from other libraries. Library Director Susan Brown says that many libraries have had similar experiences, noting “Most all of them indicated that soon after adopting a fine-free model, both lapsed users and long-lost materials came back in great numbers, and that well after the model was in place, items were returned in a timely fashion.” Brown also noted that hundreds of libraries have gone fine-free, from larger cities like Washington, D.C. and Chicago to more local systems, including Wake County.

The Library Advisory Board, which advises the Town Council on library policies and services, also studied the matter and agreed that this policy change was in line with Library goals of removing barriers to access and Council goals around equity and inclusion. Jess Anderson, Town Council Liaison to the Library Advisory Board, says “When the Board and Council dug into this issue, we found that fines disproportionately affect low-income and traditionally marginalized populations. This policy change is one more way that we can put our values into action in Chapel Hill.” Anderson also noted that the revenue the Town received from Library fines represented just 1% of the Library’s operating budget.

Before this change in policy, a user who kept items past the due date would accumulate fines for each successive day past the due date. Under the new policy, a user who keeps items past the due date will receive a series of notices reminding them that the item should be returned. If the items are not returned after a certain period of time, the user will receive a bill for the replacement cost of the materials and their ability to check out other materials will be suspended. If the item is returned, the user’s ability to borrow materials will be restored.  If the items cannot be found, the user can pay the bill for the items and then their ability to borrow materials will be restored.

For more information about Library collections, services, programs, and policies, visit www.chapelhillpubliclibrary.org.  For information about other libraries that have gone fine-free, visit the Urban Libraries Council online map at www.urbanlibraries.org/member-resources/fine-free-map


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