At its Dec. 8 virtual meeting, the Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) Board of Trustees approved a new policy that ends the practice of charging overdue fines on most library materials.
"The FCPL Board of Trustees has approved eliminating fines on most library materials and joins surrounding jurisdictions in removing this significant barrier to equitable access to information and library services," said FCPL Board of Trustees Chair Fran Millhouser.
Library staff members are working to ensure the system is set to forgive fines already incurred and stop imposing most fines beginning around Jan. 1, 2022.
Overdue fines remain in effect for some special collections and interlibrary loan materials.
“Equity is driving our shift to a fine-free model of library services; we don’t want accrual of overdue fines to deter anyone who wants to use the library,” said FCPL Director Jessica Hudson.
FCPL analysis showed that overdue fines disproportionately affected young people and those in low-income areas. Pre-pandemic, “blocked” cards (accounts not allowed to check out materials due to having more than $15 in fines) were about 17% of the total cardholder population. “Blocked” youth cards (accounts for users under the age of 18) were 23% of the youth cardholder population.
“Blocked” card numbers are higher in areas served by Reston Regional Library (Hunter Mill District), City of Fairfax Regional Library, George Mason Regional Library (Mason District), Kingstowne Library (Mt. Vernon/Lee District) and Sherwood Regional Library (Mt. Vernon District). There appears to be a link between low-income communities and higher numbers of blocked library accounts.
Library systems around the nation, including in all neighboring counties, have gone fine-free and experienced surges in returned materials. These systems have also found that their cardholders continue to return materials on time, even without the threat of fines, Hudson said.
FCPL’s special collections that will continue to incur overdue fines include but are not limited to: interlibrary loan materials, Chromebooks and mobile hotspots.