That’s the philosophy behind the Library’s new Fine Free policy, enacted July 1, 2021 with support from Mecklenburg County.
CEO and Chief Librarian Marcellus “MT” Turner explains, “Until now, more than 150,000 Library cardholders were barred from Library access because they carried a balance of $10 or more on their accounts. We can’t improve lives or build a stronger community with barriers that restrict access to resources and tools our neighbors need. We’re proud to say, ‘life happens, fines don’t’.”
The community heartily agrees.
A Fresh Start
Monica J., a regular customer at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Sugar Creek location, owed over $100 and couldn’t use her Library card until she paid. On July 1, her friend Sydney Porter, a teen services librarian, made her day.
“She told me my balance is zero! I couldn’t believe it – I’d been paying a little each week but it would take a long time to pay that off. This means I can start fresh. It’s a huge relief.”
Like most customers, Monica didn’t intend to keep her borrowed materials too long – sometimes she simply lost track of time. Life happens. “I’m so grateful for this new policy,” she says. “I won’t feel like I’m sneaking into the Library anymore! I’ve been asking friends to check things out for me – now I can use my own account again and keep reading!”
For some, fines are more inconvenience than barrier. Zita Odren came to Plaza Midwood prepared to pay. “I’m halfway through this amazing book and I just want to finish it. I can’t renew it anymore, so I expected to pay – it’s not lost, it’s being used and loved a little longer. This policy is fantastic because it means more people can access Library resources.”
Customer Ensley Gilchrist agrees. The busy mom of two toddlers explains, “My card was blocked because I have overdue fines. I got an email about the new policy and it’s just a great relief. It can be hard to get here with the kids and my fines accumulate. As a former teacher, I understand that for many families a fine of any size can be a heavy burden. I love the idea of making the Library more equitable and accessible for all.”
Catherine Haydon is the Branch Leader at the Plaza Midwood branch. “We know we have customers who are hesitant to come in because they owe money. It’s a real barrier for many who rely on the Library for job searches, housing applications, workforce development programs and more. My hope is that this is an opportunity to remind the community that the Library is a welcoming place and we’re here to help, not punish.”
Paying it Forward
The Jackson family dropped by Plaza Midwood on the first day of the Fine Free policy. It was their first in-person visit since the pandemic began, and they were excited to get a Library card for their youngest son. “Our whole family uses the Library,” explains Roxanne Jackson. “I read about the new policy but it didn’t really hit me until now. I’m sure we’ve lost track of some books – we recently moved, and there are likely Library books still in storage. I always understood the idea behind fines, but I really appreciate this. Life does happen. I love everything the Library offers and I’m glad to pay it forward as a donation.”
Pay it forward! Make a gift to the Library Foundation in lieu of fines.