Users of the Chapel Hill Public Library will no longer accrue overdue fines from late materials.

Starting on Wednesday, July 1, the library will adopt a fine-free model increasingly seen across the country. According to a release from the Town of Chapel Hill, the move will help address some community members’ access to resources and equity issues.

The shift to the fine-free model was approved by the Chapel Hill Town Council as part of the town’s Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget at its final meeting before a summer break.

According to the town, library staff have reviewed data and other libraries’ experiences in consideration of adopting this model for years. Library Director Susan Brown said in the release hundreds of libraries in areas of all sizes, like Washington D.C., Chicago and even Wake County in North Carolina, have seen benefits from adopting the model.

“Most all of them indicated that soon after adopting a fine-free model,” Brown said, “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.”

In the Chapel Hill Public Library’s previous model, users who kept items past their due date would accumulate fines for each successive day. The charge for the fine would be requested after items were turned in, but some materials would never be returned to the library.

Under the fine-free model, a user who keeps item past the due date will receive a series of notices reminding them the materials should be returned. If the item is not returned after a certain period of time, the library will send a bill for the replacement cost of the materials and freeze the user’s ability to borrow more things. Users will suspended accounts can then either return the item or pay the bill for the item to be replaced in order to have their access restored.

Jess Anderson, a Chapel Hill Town Council member and liaison to the Library Advisory Board, said the revenue received from fines made up just one percent of the library’s operating budget. With the penalties significantly affecting some community members more than others, it made sense to change Chapel Hill’s model.

“When the Board and Council dug into this issue,” Anderson said in the release, “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.”

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