Orange County Public Library will no longer apply fines for late returns

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As of November 17, the Orange County Public Library has not collected fines for overdue documents.

The Orange County Council of Commissioners announced the decision at its business meeting on November 16. Removing the fine is part of the library’s efforts to make it a more accessible space for all members of the community.

“It’s a matter of fairness,” said Libbie Hough, communications manager for the Orange County Public Library.

She added that many libraries across the country are turning to no-fine 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 flow of materials.

“We are trying to remove the barriers so that everyone has access to the wonderful resources that we have in the library,” said Renee Price, chair of the Orange County Council of Commissioners.

Price said the issue became a topic of discussion after a voter noted surrounding counties making similar decisions. When BOCC considered making this change, she said the library’s fine income was insignificant compared to the library’s budget.

Fines should be handled by library staff. Therefore, in a cost-benefit analysis, Hough said it was better for the community and the library system to go without fines.

“It’s just good to have a clean slate and move on,” Hough said. “We want people to always feel comfortable coming to the library. “

Hough added that in North Carolina, public libraries were not integrated until the 1960s. By eliminating the fines initially imposed to deter people, especially people of color, from using the library, Hough hopes that more people of color will visit the library.

“We are optimistic that not only will we see more people in the library, but our circulation will increase,” said Erin Sapienza, acting director of the Orange County Library System. “We know this has disproportionately affected residents of our community who have been living in low income households for some time. We really invite these people to come back.

Plus, many children visit the library independently, and Price said the BOCC’s decision will help take the stress out of whether their parents have enough money to pay a fine.

“Public libraries across the country recognize that we have a long way to go to become a truly welcoming place for everyone in our community,” said Hough. “This is another step we can take to reduce barriers. This is yet another example of commissioners doing what they can to make Orange County a more equitable community. “

Hough said the main concern of the library is to retrieve the materials while making sure it is a welcoming place. Hough said they have also created a strategic plan with initiatives that address diversity and inclusion.

The library will always charge a fee for damaged or lost materials.

Hough encouraged people to contact the library with their concerns, sign up for their newsletter, and follow their social media to stay up to date with events.

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