New York City public libraries have decided to forgive young readers who rack up late book fines. Usually, readers who have more than $15 in late fines must pay their debt before they can take out anymore books, but this is set to change, at least for children.
As The New York Times reports, it’s estimated that around 160,000 children, many of whom live in the city’s poorest districts, are unable to check out books due to late fees. “Learning is a right. Reading brings you to new worlds,” said Octavia Loving, a 17-year-old student at Special Music High School, as she stood by Countee Cullen Library in Harlem, one of the neighbourhoods with the highest concentration of children with blocked cards. “They shouldn’t block us from reading because of money.”
On Thursday, the New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island; the Queens Library; and the Brooklyn Public Library agreed to forgive fines for children under the age of 17. This one-time write off has been aided by the JPB Foundation, a charity which supports civic causes and will pay the $2.25 million bill.
President of the New York Public Library, Anthony W. Marx said the amnesty “is a dramatic way to message to kids and young adults that we want you back, and we want you reading. We want you to be responsible, but we don’t want to penalize you just because you are too poor to pay the fines.”
Fines for new late materials will begin again on the same day, but it is a chance for readers to wipe thew slate clean. President of the Queens Library system, Dennis M. Walcott, described the move as an “experiment” that could help pave the way to a fine free future.
Marx explained that fees from fines help libraries fund certain programs. Fines are also seen as a way to ward off thieves and ensure books are available. However, other libraries have gone even further regarding late fees.
In 2015, the District of Columbia’s Public Library System opted to stop fining readers under the age of 19 for late or lost books. “We didn’t want the reason you didn’t come to the library to be fear that you owed money,” said George Williams, a spokesman for that library system. The city of San Francisco held a six-week forgiveness period earlier this year which saw over 5,000 cards unblocked.