Rowan Public Library goes fine free

Published 12:01 am Friday, May 26, 2023

SALISBURY — Rowan Public Library has eliminated overdue fines, joining others across the state and nation that have chosen to do away with such punitive action.

“While the rationale for imposing overdue fines, which is to ensure or encourage the timely return of materials so others may use them, may seem logical, it is not reality,” Library Director Melissa Oleen said in her presentation to the board of trustees. “North Carolina public libraries that have gone fine free in the last year report increases in circulation, book returns, long-lost book returns, library visits, and check-outs. Even the number of materials designated as ‘lost’ has decreased as return rates improve.”

Oleen looks for ways the library can yield the highest rate of return and best use resources provided through county funding.

“Loaning physical materials is still one of the most sought-after services we offer,” Oleen said in a news release. “Going fine free is a significant way to maximize use of circulating collections.”

Under the previous policy, a customer could be prevented from checking out items based on overdue fines owed on already returned items. These fines seem especially punitive for many juvenile users (ages 17 and under) as the fines may follow them into adulthood and bar them from checking out materials for years. Often, adults who cannot check out materials simply do not visit the library.

In these ways, overdue fines create an economic barrier impacting library use. Statistics show that overdue fines disproportionately affect low-income adults and families, seniors, at risk teens, teen parents, and adults with low literacy skills. It is not uncommon for Rowan families on a tight budget to make the decision to not sign children up for library cards or refuse participation in library programs that involve the check-out of materials in order to avoid the risk of incurring the expense of overdue fines.

While the notion of a library without overdue fines may be surprising to some, RPL’s digital library has always been fine free, with digital materials automatically returning themselves when the borrowing period ends.  RPL’s digital and circulating physical collections now have matching, fine free policies.

The policy is not retroactive, and overdue fines accrued before May 25 are still owed if the materials have not yet been returned. The library recognizes that returning materials late is often due to circumstances beyond the account holders’ control, such as home displacement, fire and water damage, or extended hospital stays.

A new procedure for requesting existing fines and fees be waived has been formalized using the same criteria for each request. Borrowers interested in this option are encouraged to ask for a fine/fee waiver form at any branch.

To learn more about Rowan Public Library, visit