Tens of thousands of people living in unincorporated areas just outside Austin city limits will soon have access to the city library system's materials free of charge.

What happened

A resolution from council member Vanessa Fuentes moving to waive library card fees for residents of Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, and limited purpose areas was approved Dec. 14. Council will implement the final changes by early March.

Today, library cards are free for Austin residents but carry a $120 annual fee for those outside city limits. Access to Austin Public Library facilities and resources in person is free for all.

Council's unanimous vote came weeks after the city library commission recommended eliminating nonresident library card fees, citing equity and affordability concerns.

Fuentes said the change is aimed at removing barriers for the many area residents who live near and work in the city but don't have free library access.

"What we know is our libraries play such a key part in our communities; they are truly the heart of our communities. It’s where our folks go to get access to books, information, to digital materials, where we have workforce development programs, where we’re able to bridge the digital divide," she said. "There’s so many programs and key services that are offered at our libraries that we want to ensure that everyone in our area has access."

The approved resolution also asks the city to develop a promotion plan to update residents outside city limits about the change and encourage library card registration.

The context

The ETJ includes unincorporated land near Austin's boundaries that isn't already part of another city and where Austin services are provided. Limited purpose areas operate under some city rules but don't receive most city services. Residents in the ETJ and limited purpose areas aren't taxed by Austin.

Based on 2020 census information, about 195,000 people lived in those zones, including 179,505 in the ETJ and 15,493 in limited purpose areas, according to city information.

Check it out

More information about applying for an Austin Public Library card is available here.