Home > Uncategorized > A Mother’s Admonition to Her Daughter Regarding the Library: ‘Don’t take books out. It’s so expensive’

A Mother’s Admonition to Her Daughter Regarding the Library: ‘Don’t take books out. It’s so expensive’

March 31, 2016

As one who believes that public libraries are designed to provide wide access to books and media of all types— including broadband computers– to as many people as possible– especially those who cannot afford it— I was appalled to read an article by Carol Pogash in today’s NYTimes describing the usurious fines charged by the San Jose library system. The fines lead parents to keep the very children who need access to the library to stay away and, consequently, the digital divide expands:

In San Jose, libraries began charging 50 cents a day for an overdue book, and what Jill Bourne, who become director of libraries in 2013, called “an exorbitant processing fee” of $20 for lost materials. Those high fines have come at a cost.

In impoverished neighborhoods, where few residents have broadband connections or computers, nearly a third of cardholders are barred from borrowing or using library computers. Half of the children and teenagers with library cards in the city owe fines. Around 187,000 accounts, or 39 percent of all cardholders, owe the library money, Ms. Bourne said.

To make a bad situation even worse, in San Jose once the fines exceed $50.00, which can happen fairly quickly if a child takes out a stack of picture books and forgets to return them, a collection agency is sent to collect… and if the parents are fearful that immigration officers might be alerted to their presence if they fall behind in returning library books there is an even greater disincentive to borrow library books.

 And while the article doesn’t say so explicitly, it is evident that the fines are seen as a revenue stream for the libraries… a revenue stream that helps reduce the amount the library needs to collect from taxpayers who don’t want to give “the government” any money.

One library has a good way to address the issue of overdue books. In Queens, where the tab for overdue books borrowed by teens is $1.45 million, Joanne King, the director of communications, said, “We’re very concerned about people not being able to use the library.”

Those who cannot pay money, she said, can pay down their debt with reading time in the library. The program lets children and young adults through age 21 spend time reading in the library to earn financial credit to pay fees.

This requires some paperwork on the part of librarians and results in the loss of revenue, but it reinforces the self-improvement mission of public libraries as envisioned by Andrew Carnegie, who donated funds to establish over 1,000 libraries in our country. Most importantly, it provides a means for all children to have access to the computer technology that is the best means for self-improvement in today’s world.

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