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Library fines are officially off the books in Fairfax County

Fairfax County Public Library branches that serve low-income neighborhoods, including Reston Regional Library, tend to have more cards blocked due to fines

Fairfax County Public Libraries will no longer charge fines for most overdue materials, joining other jurisdictions in the D.C. area in an effort to maintain equity.

The FCPL Board of Trustees unanimously approved the policy in a meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 8). The new system, which begins on Jan. 1, would also reset fines that have already been incurred.

Board of Trustees Chair Fran Millhouser said the policy change is intended to encourage all individuals to take advantage of the library system.

“The FCPL Board of Trustees has approved eliminating fines on most materials and joins surrounding jurisdictions in removing this significant barrier to equitable access to information and library services,” said Millhouser.

The move comes after the board discussed the issue with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in mid-October. An FCPL analysis showed that overdue fines affect young people and individuals in low-income areas.

Blocked cards — cards that are not allowed to check out materials due to fines exceeding $15 — were more prevalent in the following areas:

  • Reston Regional Library
  • City of Fairfax Regional Library
  • George Mason Regional Library
  • Kingstowne Library
  • Sherwood Regional Library

Before the pandemic, 17% of all cardholders had blocked cards. Blocked youth cards accounted for 23% of the total youth cardholder population. A link was found between low-income communities and blocked cards.

Library systems across the country, including in neighboring Alexandria City, Loudoun County, and Prince William County, have adopted fine-free models — a move that has resulted in a surge of returned materials.

Fines will still apply to materials in special collections like interlibrary loan materials, Chromebooks and mobile hotspots.

At the Thursday meeting, board trustee Liz Walker encouraged the library system to further identify what items were still not fine-free. 

But Millhouser noted that a prescriptive approach was not appropriate because the library offers many resources.

“It’s good to leave it open as the library just becomes so diversified… we’re not just a library anymore.”

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