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Better Access to Library Services

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Better Access to Library Services

Prince William Public Libraries

Communicating the Library’s Value | 2021

Innovation Summary

Prince William Public Libraries removed late fines and formally went “fine-free,” addressing an unfair economic barrier to library access for youth and patrons from disadvantaged backgrounds. As only the second library system in the area to do so, we aim to inspire other libraries to take this step and make library services more equitable.

Problem Statement

In recent years, Prince William Public Libraries has increased its focus on removing barriers to better serve the community. The data and statistics from libraries throughout the country as well as stories from the community have shown that removing late fees has a positive impact on those who enjoy – and need – library services, resources and materials. Fines typically most affect those with limited resources and deter them from coming back to the library and checking out materials.


During the pandemic, PWPL suspended fines from March-November 2020. After looking at data, we chose not to re-implement fines for children and teens after November 2020 as the benefits far outweighed the small amount of revenue received from late fines. On July 1, 2021, we formally went fine-free. Only one of four PWPL’s neighboring library systems has also removed late fines. We hope that data and community response will inspire the remaining three library systems in our region to make this change.


Going fine-free will increase the community’s engagement with the library and invite users back who had been shut out because of the financial barrier. Especially patrons with limited resources will, again, have access to free library materials and services. Based on data and statistics from other libraries throughout the country, we also expect that patrons will return their overdue items at an increased rate. We expect to have data metrics proving these outcomes at the end of the year.