County library system axes late fees, cancels customers’ debts

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, library system CEO Skip Auld and Mizetta Wilson, director of Brooklyn Park Community of Hope announced Tuesday that county libraries will no longer charge fines on overdue materials and cancel existing debts.  Photo by Brenda Wintrode.

By Brenda Wintrode

The Anne Arundel County Public Library will no longer charge fines on overdue materials and will cancel all debt owed by over 28,000 library customers, the system’s chief executive officer announced at a Tuesday news conference. 

Axing old library fines will lift a financial burden for already struggling families, said library CEO Skip Auld. “Fines are a barrier which disproportionately impact people without the means to pay,” he said. 

The library system will wipe clean $361,524 of debt from 28,430 library accounts. 

Auld made the announcement in front of Brooklyn Park Library alongside County Executive Steuart Pittman and Mizetta Wilson, the director of Brooklyn Park Community of Hope, a coalition of government agencies, nonprofits and businesses that provide supportive resources to area families. The library system is one of Community of Hope’s partners. 

“Our goal at Anne Arundel County Library is to help build a resilient community where all can realize life to its fullest potential,” Auld said. To those library customers who may have stopped coming to the library because they couldn’t pay old fines and subsequently had their accounts blocked, Auld said, “We want you back,” and told them, “the library is your library.” 

Auld said the program would not have been possible without the support of County Executive Steuart Pittman, who also spoke at the press event.  

“We don’t want to fund our libraries with fines,” said Pittman, who pledged to make up library revenue shortfalls from the county’s budget. 

Pittman said he sees the library late fees as “a tax on the people who can afford it the least, who need to be in libraries the most,” pointing to the wide array of services offered by county libraries, such as helping people find jobs, signing up to get a COVID-19 vaccination appointment or applying for unemployment insurance.  

Wilson, who has an office space inside the Brooklyn Park branch, told CBM Bay Weekly that the library’s debt cancellation program will remove barriers from poor families accessing library resources. Over 11 percent of Brooklyn Park residents live in poverty, compared to 6 percent of county residents overall, according to Census data. 

“If you’re already poor, having $20 to pay a library fee, or $10 to pay a library fee doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is for a family that’s struggling,” Wilson said. 

In addition to nixing late fees for all customers, the library will automatically renew materials borrowed at county libraries up to five times for items not already on hold, and twice for items on loan from outside of the county’s system. 

Before the system became fine-free, the library blocked the cards of customers with late fees in excess of $15 or more and sent their overdue accounts to a collections agency. 

However, borrowed materials still need to be returned when they are due. Under the new program, replacement fees will be charged on materials overdue for more than 21 days or damaged. If customers accumulate more than $15 in damages or losses, their card will still be blocked, but their information will not be sent to a collections agency until the amount owed reaches $50.  

During the pandemic the library system has provided digital materials, loaned WiFi hotspots, provided virtual programming over teleconference apps and still loaned physical materials through curbside pickup, Auld said. 

County libraries yesterday began accepting appointments for library users to visit in person. Customers can walk through aisles of books, seek help from staff and use the computers, just like the old days. Appointment times and durations may vary by branch.