Starting Nov. 17, the Orange County Public Library has not collected fines for overdue materials.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners announced this decision in their business meeting on Nov. 16. The fine removal is part of the library's efforts to make it a more accessible space for all members of the community.
“It’s an issue of equity,” said Libbie Hough, communications manager for the Orange County Public Library.
She added that many libraries in the nation are turning to fine-free policies to try to dismantle barriers between citizens and the public library. She explained that there is research to support that fines do not negatively impact the return and circulation of materials.
“We are trying to remove barriers so that all people have access to the wonderful resources that we have in the library,” said Renee Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners said.
Price said the issue became a topic of discussion after a constituent noted that surrounding counties were making similar decisions. When the BOCC considered making this change, she said the revenue from library fines was insignificant compared to the library's budget.
Fines require processing by the library staff, so in a cost-benefit analysis, Hough said it is better for both the community and the library system to go fine-free.
“It’s just good to get a clean slate and move forward,” Hough said. “We want folks to always feel comfortable coming to the library."
Hough added that in North Carolina, public libraries were not integrated until the 1960s. By eliminating fines that were originally implemented to deter people, especially people of color, from library use, Hough hopes that more people of color will visit the library.
“We are very hopeful that we will not only see more people in the library, but our circulation will go up,” Erin Sapienza, interim director of the Orange County library system, said. “We know that this has been something that has disproportionately affected residents of our community that are in low-income households for quite some time. We really invite those people to come back.”
Additionally, many children visit the library independently, and Price said the BOCC's decision will help remove stress regarding whether their parents have enough money to pay for a fine.
“Public libraries around the country recognize we have a long way towards being truly a welcoming place for any individual in our community,” Hough said. “This is another step we can take to reduce barriers. It’s yet another example of the Commissioners doing what they can to make Orange County a more equitable community."
Hough said that the library's primary concern is getting materials back while ensuring that it is a welcoming place. Hough said they also created a strategic plan with initiatives that address diversity and inclusion.
The library will still charge fees for damaged or lost materials.
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