Brooklyn librarians call for late-fee amnesty for kids

March 5, 2020 Alex Williamson
Brooklyn Public Library
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Book lenders across the city say it’s time to give kids a break when it comes to late fines at the library. Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson joined library leaders from Queens and Manhattan to call for new funding that would grant amnesty to the thousands of New York City children and teens who’ve racked up fees and fines for overdue books. 

About 60,000 New York City children currently have at least $15 in library fines — enough to bar them from checking out books and using other library services. According to librarians, most of these fines are concentrated in the city’s neediest neighborhoods.

“The fact is that for many families across the U.S., library fines are a true barrier to access,” New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx wrote in a 2017 op-ed in Quartz. He went on to argue that, for higher-income book borrowers, fines aren’t much of an incentive to return library materials on time, while they have a disproportionate impact on the lower-income patrons who need libraries most. 

“We know the heartbreaking truth: that there are families who refuse to even use the library for fear of accumulating fines,” Marx wrote. 

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

BPL was one of three branches to give a one-time amnesty from fines to kids and teens in 2017. According to Marx, about 11,000 kids who were previously blocked from borrowing books because of fines, or who hadn’t used the library in at least a year, rekindled their relationship with the library within one month of having their fines waived. 

Other library systems in Ohio, South Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska have experimented with fine-fee borrowing and reported an increase in circulation without a significant increase in lost items. 

“By eliminating fines, we are opening the doors for new and lapsed cardholders to reconnect with public libraries and take advantage of all of our services and materials—reinforcing our commitment to equity and opportunity for all New Yorkers,” said a spokesperson for BPL. “As we have seen in libraries in other major cities who have successfully eliminated fines, it is possible to instill a sense of responsibility without denying access.”

Before that one-time amnesty, about 20 percent of the New York Public Library’s 400,000 juvenile patrons had blocked library cards, and about half of those kids were serviced by branches in the city’s poorest quartile of neighborhoods. 

The late fine forgiveness funding is part of a $10 million package that the libraries requested from City Hall. Other earmarked uses for the funds include programs to boost literacy for toddlers and pre-K children and programs to support research. 

The three library systems are also requesting $24 million in additional operating funds and $300 million for capital money for emergency repairs and maintenance in the FY 2021 budget.

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  1. Why can’t libraries offer amnesty to adult readers as well, for one day. I’m sure there are low-income or delinquent borrowers who would benefit as well as libraries to this offer.