One of my favorite things about libraries is that philosophical approach to serving everyone in the community, particularly the underserved. I frequently refer back to moments I had early in my library career which largely shaped the way I make decisions about policy and procedure. In my first year in libraries I was working in the youth department, where I frequently witnessed parents negotiating with their children to leave the library. Often, the kids did not want to go. I always saw this as a “good problem.” One time, a woman whose children had grown was witness to one of these negotiations. She chuckled and stated to me something that I still carry, that she always loved bringing her children to the library because: “it’s one of the few places left where I didn’t have to constantly tell my children ‘no’.” When she took her children to the store, she had to say: “Don’t touch that.” “We can’t buy that.” “That’s not yours to play with.” But at the library she could say: “Yes, you can play with that!” “Yes, let’s bring that home!”
Over the next ten years, I started noting the times I witnessed a parent say “no” at the library. A theme emerged: the primary fear of parents was that if the child took too many materials home, they might accrue fines. I see overdue fines as a barrier to service for young children whose families cannot afford even small fees or have limited access to transportation. The staff and Library Board here in New Holstein also see it as a barrier, and we recently adjusted our policies to reflect our philosophy. All of the New Holstein Public Library’s children’s reading materials (books, magazines, audiobooks) will no longer accrue fines. In order to ensure equitable access to our materials, NHPL is eliminating overdue fines on children’s books and magazines to remove the unnecessary stress, fear, or apprehension of library use.
Many libraries across the country have eliminated fines on children’s books. Those libraries continue to experience prompt return of library materials without the threat of overdue fines. And most importantly, they have witnessed many more children using the library.
Patrons will still be responsible for replacement costs for lost or damaged items.