In her piece at Slate, Long Overdue: Why public libraries are finally eliminating the late-return fine, Ruth Graham shows us that in many cases overdue library fines are racked up by users who can least afford it.
And it gets worse in some districts where up to 35% of patrons have had their borrowing privileges revoked because of unpaid fines!
Library fines in most places remain quaintly low, sometimes just 10 cents per day. But one user’s nominal is another’s exorbitant. If a child checks out 10 picture books, the kind of haul librarians love to encourage, and then his mother’s work schedule prevents her from returning them for a week past the due date, that’s $7. For middle-class patrons, that may feel like a slap on the wrist, or even a feel-good donation. For low-income users, however, it can be a prohibitively expensive penalty. With unpredictable costs hovering over each checkout, too many families decide it’s safer not to use the library at all.
Granted suspending overdue fines will dry up a much needed revenue stream but the value in supplying a steady unimpeded stream of books to our most neediest kids and families will surely enrich our communities in the long run.