In Support of Removing Barriers to Access

NJLA in Support of Removing Barriers to Access, Including Elimination of Fees and Library Card Residency Requirements

As an information-based profession, the New Jersey Library Association believes strongly that library work and policies should follow evidence-based practices. NJLA is proud of the work its Diversity & Outreach Section has conducted in 2022 to research and compile information that supports eliminating barriers to library access particularly to at-risk communities.

This research has found, specifically, that patrons without permanent addresses are more likely to be responsible with library materials when compared with patrons as a whole, regardless of limits placed on the ability to borrow or of the type of community served (urban, suburban, rural). Further, for patrons in general, minor fines have little-to-no impact on return rates of library materials, but once a patron has accrued a fine, they are less likely to visit the library again. Elimination of fines also appears to have little impact on overall budget in most public libraries on average, and many libraries have seen both an increase in circulation and in library card membership after eliminating or reducing their fee structure.

Studies and experience show that fear of fees for overdue materials and fees associated with damaged or lost materials--even small penalties--deter people from registering for a library card or visiting the library, particularly among low-income families, communities of color, and children. This appears to be particularly true in communities where English is not the first/primary language. Therefore, those who could benefit the most from the free public library’s resources are discouraged from accessing them.

The library should be seen as a welcoming community institution that provides free and open access to information. Given that, in the interest of removing barriers to access to library resources and services, NJLA proclaims that public libraries, regardless of community type, should register library cards to patrons without permanent addresses for free and with no limits on what or how much they can borrow, and that libraries should pursue policies that remove the implementation of fines. 

NJLA has always and continues to respect the autonomy of local Boards of Trustees. Supporting barrier-free policies explicitly indicates a level of trust and respect between libraries and the communities they serve, and NJLA encourages Boards and governing bodies to adopt policies that support and uplift the communities we serve.

NJLA Executive Board, June 22, 2022