This came up a wee bit a few weeks ago when I suggested that making children work off overdue fines wasn’t the best way to make them want to use the library.
Apparently the Free Library of Philadelphia also thinks fines can be a problem, because they want to make sure fines don’t keep children from being able to get books.
Under a new policy, “the library would no longer prohibit children who have outstanding fines from borrowing materials so long as they do not have any overdue books or other materials.”
A spokesperson said “the change was being introduced to get more children to visit libraries in the summer, noting the ‘learning loss’ among children during summer break. He said another goal was to have every public and charter school student in the city get a library card.”
Those seem like worthwhile goals for a library.
The Council members have introduced a bill designed to teach the little kiddies a “life lesson,” because that’s what libraries are for. The bill would stop the policy of letting children with fines check out library books, and states that “it’s important that all patrons, especially including the young, learn that there are consequences for irresponsible behavior such as the loss or late return of borrowed materials.”
“Teaching children responsibility for their actions is a key part of the measure,” because “‘when children are taught that they don’t need to return their library books or they can hold onto library books for as long as they want and not have to pay any fine as a result, the councilman thinks that sends a bad message to kids.’”
The Council members are also upset at the potential loss, or rather the lack of gain, of $70,000 from the fines. Out of a library budget of $40 million, that doesn’t seem like much, especially if the library really could avoid “learning loss” in the summer among children who probably have little enough incentive to read over the summer as it is.
There are all sorts of reasons to have overdue fines. They help get people to return items, and they can help fund library projects. But are they really there to teach life lessons?
Seems like mission creep to me. The goal of public libraries is to get children reading and promote literacy, not teach life lessons, and certainly not with fines.
If libraries wanted to teach children life lessons, they could bring in a life lessons coach to go along with the psychologists and social workers that libraries also apparently need.
For the sort of kids for whom library fines are prohibitive, what’s more important, that they read, or that if every library book they check out isn’t returned on time they won’t be able to check out any more?
If children with any fines were banned from checking out books, the life lesson they’d learn is that even libraries aren’t there for them. It’s not enough to be able to use the materials in the library because they library isn’t open all the time.
So that’s the question. Should libraries be in the business of teaching life lessons or supporting childhood literacy?
And if you say they can do both, what happens when a conflict occurs? Let’s say a child has $5 in fines she can’t afford to pay and is then only allowed to read when her branch of the library happens to be open?
Look at the list of branch hours. Lots of them are closed on the weekends and at 5 many weekdays. Is that really a substitute for checking out a book and being able to read it at home? What’s more important for poor children: reading or the dubious life lesson of library fines?
I have a feeling those are not the kind of questions the Council members proposing this bill have ever had to ask themselves.