The Piedmont Regional Library System (PRLS) will no longer be charging late fees on books, audiobooks and DVDs.

To increase access to resources and materials, the system and its libraries in Banks, Barrow, and Jackson counties will no longer charge late fees for materials returned after their due dates, officials announced in a news release. This applies only to books, audiobooks and DVDs that are owned by a PRLS library. Materials that are brought in on hold or checked out from other library systems may still be subject to late fees, as will technology items that circulate such as Chromebooks or Wi-Fi hotspots, officials said. Books, audiobooks and DVDs will still have due dates, but patrons will not accrue late fees. Due date reminders will still be provided.

The library system initially suspended late fees in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“It was just one of our many responses to support our patrons during this stressful time,” said regional director Beth McIntyre. “We are excited to be able to continue to offer this service to all residents of Banks, Barrow and Jackson counties.”

Opportunity arose to extend the service for another two years by joining a Fines-Free Pilot Program, officials said. Two other Georgia library systems, Coastal Plain Regional and Northwest Georgia Regional, are also participating in the program.

“Libraries across the nation that have eliminated late fees have experienced increased checkouts, enhanced goodwill, and the return of users who stopped visiting the library due to long-standing fees – many of whom are children and young adults,” McIntyre said. “This is exactly what we want for everyone in our community — to eliminate this barrier to access. We look forward to welcoming back our former patrons and issuing library cards to new ones.

“By removing late fees, we are going to be able to reconnect with patrons who previously avoided us because they owed us money. Late fees do not distinguish between people who are responsible and those who are not. They distinguish between people who can and cannot use money to overcome a common oversight. It is our greatest pleasure to promote the library’s mission of providing services and materials which empower people, raise their aspirations, enhance their employability and build active citizenship and quality of life in the community.”

The process of checking out materials has not changed. Patrons will know exactly which items will and will not be subject to late fees. Materials that are checked out from other counties and library systems will still be subject to late fees and will be clearly marked on each checkout slip.

Early reactions to the program have been positive overall, officials said, however, some patrons have expressed concern about the loss of late fee revenue for the library.

“Late fees consist of less than 1% of the library’s operating budget,” McIntyre said. “The majority of library funding is governmental. Government funding for libraries in our region has increased enough over the past 10 years to make up the difference.”

For more information about the program, including what to do if you currently have late fees on your account that may be eligible for removal, go to prlib.org/finesfree, or contact your local library.

The Piedmont Regional Library System serves libraries in Auburn, Braselton, Commerce, Homer, Jefferson, Maysville, Nicholson, Statham, Talmo, and Winder. All libraries are currently open to the public. To find your local library and current operating hours, go to prlib.org.

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