Dec. 04, 2023

Fine Free Program Here to Stay

Local libraries to continue fine-free program

Nov. 29, 2023
By Barry Courter
Region Services
Northwest Georgia Library System

Several libraries across the state, including those in Dalton, Calhoun and Chatsworth, have decided to continue their pioneering fine-free program in an effort to best serve Georgia residents.

The Northwest Georgia Regional Library System includes the Dalton-Whitfield County Public Library, the Calhoun-Gordon County Public Library and the Chatsworth-Murray County Public Library. NGRL Director Darla Chambliss said that members of the four boards (NGRL and the three libraries) unanimously agreed to continue the program during a recent collective meeting. “

We were one of the three pilot programs in the state and our boards agreed that this pilot program is good for the libraries, but more importantly good for users of the library. It removes a burden to the public and specifically to students in our area,” she said.

State Librarian Julie Walker commended the boards for their decision.

“I know a lot of hard work went into making this happen, and I appreciate the wisdom of your trustees in removing barriers to library service for your communities. Well done!”

The program does not forgive patrons who have lost or damaged books, but it does forgive fines for books that are overdue. It also does not forgive patrons who abuse the system. Also, items checked out of other library systems are still subject to fines. Chambliss said there are many reasons why people may not return a book when it is due.

The books can be misplaced, or the patron can become ill, for example. In some cases, younger patrons have lost library privileges because of fines owed by an adult in the family, and that is a driving force behind the program.

NGRL Board Chairman Dr. John Hutcheson said members of the board felt the pilot program was a success and they wanted to see it continued.

“I think this is good for the library and the patrons because anything that is a barrier to the library is something we need to get rid of,” he said.

The NGRL libraries were mentioned in a recent edition of for its pioneering efforts. “If you are a proficient reader, there is no limit to what you can do,” Walker said in the article.

Chattahoochee Valley Libraries (CVL) was the first system to go fines-free in 2019. In a story published online at, CVL Director Alan Harkness said that staff members at Chattahoochee, Marion, Muscogee and Stewart county libraries realized that late fees and other fines were impeding their efforts to boost early childhood literacy.

NGRL libraries adopted the pilot program in December of 2021 and they have seen circulation of physical items that are checked out of one the three libraries in the system climb dramatically. The biggest jump was from 28,366 in 2021 when library visits were limited because of COVID to 140,049 in 2022 (393%). From ’22 to ’23, circulation jumped 46% to 204,810.

With assistance and support from Georgia Public Library Service, NGRL libraries joined the Coastal Plain Library and the Piedmont Regional Library systems to complete a two-year study on the project.

The NGRL libraries recently surveyed patrons about the program and received 93 total responses to date with the vast majority of those being positive.

One patron wrote: “Our family has benefited from this program by having late fees removed. We are not local to Calhoun and my children are avid readers. There has been a few times we could not make the drive to return books on due dates and the wonderful staff (the reason we drive to Calhoun library) were able to remove the fee.”

A Chatsworth patron wrote: “We had a hard time after surgeries and we had $30 in fines forgiven.”

Another wrote: “The forgiveness program helps when you’re struggling to get gas or food. It is wonderful to give young people the chance to read a good book with no backlash.”

For more information on the fine-free program, visit


Betsy P.
Northwest Georgia Regional Library System
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