No more library book late fees for youngsters

  • Forbes Library in Northampton. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/4/2019 9:00:13 AM

Forbes Library in Northampton has eliminated late fees for children and young adults.

“Our goal is to emphasize the return of library materials rather than penalizing our youngest patrons. Using the library should not be a source of stress for families. We recognize that fines can serve as a barrier preventing some families, especially those who do not have the disposable income to pay fines, from visiting the library,” said Library Director Lisa Downing. 

The change was initiated by Sarah Johnson, head of the West Street library’s Children’s and Young Adult Department, according to a statement. Johnson argued that fines hinder a library’s ability to provide programs and services to all community members.

“Every blocked account is like a door being shut to a child or teen’s learning,” Johnson said. “Children and teens are often not in control of whether or not they accrue late fines. They cannot drive themselves to the library, nor do they have the money to pay for fines that they accrue. Perhaps most importantly, when we block a child’s card, we’re withholding library materials at the precise time that they can have the biggest positive impact in their lives.”

Forbes Library is not alone in adopting its new policy. The American Library Association recently issued a resolution titled “Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity” at its January 2019 meeting that “asserts that imposition of monetary library fines creates a barrier to the provision of library and information services; (and) urges libraries to scrutinize their practices of imposing fines on library patrons and actively move towards eliminating them.”

Notably, the income from children and young adult fines comprised just under 4 percent of Forbes Library’s book and media revenue. To offset this loss, the Northampton library will increase its fundraising efforts. Even though the late fees have been eliminated, young patrons are still be expected to return books by their due dates and will have to pay replacement fees if they are not able to return the items. Adult late fees remain the same.

More than the act itself, Katy Wight, a library trustee, said she hopes that eliminating fees will display the importance of addressing social justice and equality issues within communities. She noted the mission of public libraries is to serve all patrons in their communities, regardless of socio-economic standing.

With the news, Johnson said, “It’s still not too late to sign up for the Summer Reading Program, and we hope families that have stayed away because of overdue fines will come in and sign up right away.”

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