Eliminating fines increases library engagement and circulation, according to Georgia Public Library Service findings

February 27, 2024

CONTACT: Deborah Hakes, Georgia Public Library Service, dhakes@georgialibraries.org

ATLANTA – A fines-free pilot program among three Georgia public library systems found that eliminating late fees resulted in an increase in patron visits and materials circulation. These findings have led to more libraries voting to go fines free across the state and the PINES Executive Committee to approve that it will support any member library that wants to go fines free.

“This policy shift empowers any PINES library to eliminate overdue fines, removing financial barriers to using the library and reaffirming a commitment to providing equitable access for everyone in a community,” said Vice Chancellor for Archives and Libraries and State Librarian Julie Walker. “We are so excited to welcome more libraries into the Georgia fines-free network.”

The PINES pilot program participants, Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Northwest Georgia regional library systems, all voted to remain permanently fines free in fall 2023. PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services) is a network of 300 member libraries that provide cardholders free access to books and other materials throughout the state by delivering items to their local library.

“A growing body of research shows that fines disproportionately affect low income community members and decrease library usage, as parents and others hesitate to check out books for fear of fines,” said Walker.

As an example, the number of patrons blocked from using the Coastal Plain Regional Library System due to overdue fines went from 9,189 cardholders in 2021 to 874 in 2023, once the library had gone fines free, a 90% reduction.

“Overdue fees are not a predictable revenue source, and alternative sources of revenue will mitigate the impact on local library budgets,” said Sandy Hester, director of the Coastal Plain Regional Library System. “We have been welcoming back so many patrons who had stopped coming because of their overdue fees.”

Piedmont Regional Library System staff feel empowered to reconnect with patrons who previously avoided the library because they owed fees.

“Late fees do not distinguish between people who are responsible and those who are not. Removing fines ensures that the library remains accessible to everyone, promoting a culture of learning and exploration without financial barriers,” said Beth McIntyre, Piedmont Regional Library director. “Going fines free furthers our mission to empower people, raise aspirations, and build quality of life in the communities we serve.”

A fines-free policy aligns with the Georgia Council on Literacy’s focus on the importance of removing barriers to reading, especially for underserved families.

“Eliminating library overdue fees welcomes all Georgians to take advantage of all that our libraries offer,” said Walker, who also serves on the council.

The Northwest Georgia Regional Library System, which serves Dalton-Whitfield County, Calhoun-Gordon County, and Chatsworth-Murray County, cited the success of the pilot program and an interest in promoting youth literacy as reasons to go permanently fines free.

“We learned that anything a library can do to increase foot traffic, especially for families and children, is likely to pay huge dividends for a community over time,” said Darla Chambliss, director of the Northwest Georgia Regional Library System.

In November, the Worth County Library board also voted to go fines free.

“The important work of these libraries led the PINES Executive Committee to give us the local option to go fines free,” said Worth County Library Director Leigh Wiley. “We have a wonderful opportunity to welcome people back to the library who have stayed away due to fees they have accrued. Fines are a barrier that blocks the people who need the library the most.”

The Pine Mountain Regional Library System, which serves Meriwether, Upson, Taylor, and Talbot counties, voted to go fines free as of June 1, 2024.

“Some of our patrons have a hard time finding money to pay the rent; they shouldn’t have to worry about overdue fines too,” said Pine Mountain Regional Library System Director Cynthia Kilby.

“Removing fines ensures that the library remains accessible to everyone, promoting a culture of learning and exploration without financial barriers. Going fines free furthers our mission to empower people, raise aspirations, and build quality of life in the communities we serve.”
Beth McIntyre, Piedmont Regional Library director

PINES also has implemented the PINES Library Access for Youth (PLAY) card with 51 school districts so far, enabling more than half a million pre-K to 12th grade students to check out books without late fees, request items at any PINES library to be delivered to their local library, and use online reading and learning programs like eRead Kids, LearningExpress Library, and Mango Languages.

Other Georgia public libraries that are permanently fines free include two non-PINES systems, the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, which was the first system to eliminate fees in 2019, and DeKalb County Public Library. A number of systems are fines free for children’s books including Gwinnett Public Libraries, Henry County Library System, Marshes of Glynn Libraries, Middle Georgia Regional Library, and Roddenbery Memorial Library. Fulton County Library and Sequoyah Regional Library are both fines free for student card holders.

Since Chattahoochee Valley Libraries implemented its fines-free program, it has experienced an increase in cardholder sign-ups as well as in activity among occasional and recently-lapsed users. In the first year after going fines free, the library saw a 34% increase in new card sign-ups and an 11% increase in circulations over a four-month period compared to the previous year.

“Immediately, staff started seeing people return to the library or get a library card; they were excited with us. It was really a rare opportunity in one’s career, when you see the impacts almost immediately,” said Alan Harkness, director of Chattahoochee Valley Libraries and the 2023 Georgia Public Library Director of the Year in part for his fines-free leadership. “Once the data started rolling in, with the wonderful anecdotes, it cemented that we made the right decision.”

The DeKalb County Public Library implemented a fines-free policy in 2022. The library reports that circulation and branch visits continue to climb.

“We wanted to send a clear, welcoming message: The inability to pay a fine should never place a barrier in front of anyone who wants to use the library,” said DeKalb County Public Library Director Alison Weissinger.


Georgia Public Library Service empowers libraries to improve the lives of all Georgians by encouraging reading, literacy and education through the continuing support and improvement of our public libraries. Georgia Public Library Service is a unit of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

The release and map have been updated to remove Dougherty County Public Library as fines free for video circulation. February 28, 2024.
The map has been updated to show Troup-Harris Regional Library as fines free. April 17, 2024.