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Public Libraries Drop Overdue Book Fines To Alleviate Inequity

The San Diego Public Library system just wiped out overdue fines for 130,000 people. It’s part of a growing trend, reports NPR:

The changes were enacted after a city study revealed that nearly half of the library’s patrons whose accounts were blocked as a result of late fees lived in two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. “I never realized it impacted them to that extent,” said Misty Jones, the city’s library director.

For decades, libraries have relied on fines to discourage patrons from returning books late. But a growing number of some of the country’s biggest public library systems are ditching overdue fees after finding that the penalties drive away the people who stand to benefit the most from free library resources. From San Diego to Chicago to Boston, public libraries that have analyzed the effects of late fees on their cardholders have found that they disproportionately deter low-income residents and children. Acknowledging these consequences, the American Library Association passed a resolution in January in which it recognizes fines as “a form of social inequity” and calls on libraries nationwide to find a way to eliminate their fines….

Lifting fines has had a surprising dual effect: More patrons are returning to the library, with their late materials in hand. Chicago saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy last month. The library system also had 400 more card renewals compared with that time last year. “It became clear to us that there were families that couldn’t afford to pay the fines and therefore couldn’t return the materials, so then we just lost them as patrons altogether,” said Andrea Telli, the city’s library commissioner. “We wanted our materials back, and more importantly, we wanted our patrons back…”

in San Diego, officials calculated that it actually would be saving money if its librarians stopped tracking down patrons to recover books. The city had spent nearly $1 million to collect $675,000 in library fees each year.


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