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Kids get amnesty on $2 million in library fines

Youngsters who would otherwise be barred from borrowing books can work off their late fines by reading more.

By doubleace Jul 29, 2011 10:19AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.

Up to 143,000 young scofflaws whose borrowing privileges had been revoked by the New York Public Library for failing to pay late fines have been invited back -- to take out more books.

While this seems like opening the vault and inviting bank robbers to come back and pocket what they missed, library officials stress that reading, not money, is why libraries exist.

"The country is in a pretty tough financial climate right now, and we know that kids more than ever need to use the library because their parents might not be able to afford to buy books or not be able to afford Internet access at home," Jack Martin, the library's assistant director, told Reuters

"When they have fines on their card, chances are they're not going to come into the library," Martin said. "They're embarrassed to come to the library; they think we'll know they have fines and we'll ask them to leave."

Under NYPL policy, any person owing more than $15 in late fees cannot borrow material, and about 30% of the library's cardholders who are 17 or under have run up bills at least that large. Under the amnesty plan, youngsters -- including those who owe less than $15 -- can sign up for the "Read Down Your Fine" program, check out books and get $1 knocked off their fine for each 15 minutes of reading done through Sept. 9.

No monitoring will be done. "We trust our kids," Martin said.

One kid who wouldn't need monitoring in any case is Rafiyu Afnan Mahmood, who ran afoul of the $15 rule while checking out 10 books at a time. Rafiyu read 666 books in about three months in 2009, according to the New York Daily News.

"In my mind, it's like a movie; it's fun," said Rafiyu, 10, who lives with his mother in a Bronx shelter. He checked out 250 books last summer.

The NYPL is looking at writing off a possible $2 million in unpaid fines, which even Martin agreed is "a serious chunk of change."

Libraries all over the country have been hit by cutbacks, and while fines are a major source of income -- late fees brought in $350,000 for the Louisville Free Public Library last year -- it usually is not cost-efficient to chase down those who won't -- or can't -- pay small fines.

The New York Public Library, however, has failed to pursue one high-profile borrower, despite his mounting late fees.

On Oct. 5, 1789, George Washington, in his first year as president, checked out two books: "Law of Nations," a treatise on international relations, and Vol. 12 of the "Commons Debates," which contained transcripts of debates from Britain's House of Commons.

He never returned them. Adjusted for inflation, his late fee would now be more than $300,000.

Washington, who has not been seen in public since 1799, doesn’t have to worry about his credit rating. The library is putting him in the same category as the kids.

"We're not actively pursuing (Washington's) overdue fines," head librarian Mark Bartlett told the Daily News last year. "But we would be very happy if we were able to get the books back."

More on MSN Money: 
Jul 29, 2011 9:09PM
Good for you NYPL.  Bless the kid living in the shelter with his mom who checks out and reads all those books.  That is one family that can benefit from this.  In time, if and when, the economy recovers they can always reinstate the policy.  But for now, what's the harm in making sure that kids who have nothing else can at least have access to books. 
Jul 30, 2011 12:40AM

 [QUOTE] ...library officials stress that reading, not money, is why libraries exist. [/QUOTE]

Oh my God...a voice of reason and common sence from a government offical !

The apocalypse really is coming (any day) for sure.

Jul 30, 2011 1:33AM
""In my mind, it's like a movie; it's fun," said Rafiyu, 10, who lives with his mother in a Bronx shelter. He checked out 250 books last summer."

WOW. Its funny how so  many people just latched on to "why are they being taught that they can get away with not returning books on time.  Yes, I agree kids need to be taught lessons, but there can also be room for showing some mercy. I was a kid who CONSTANTLY had fines and got in trouble at home for it too. But I loved to read, so I would check out like 10 books at a time because it was the only escape I had from all the stuff I couldn't control in my household.

This kid just brings me back to that time and lets me know the libraries are STILL needed, even for the kids who have computers, its still an asset because every book in the library is FREE. You don't have to BUY a kindle, BUY a book on kindle, and you can't share that kindle book with your friend most of the time. I love technology too, but some of you seem too smart for your own good.
Jul 29, 2011 8:24PM
As a librarian from Houston, TX, I completely understand the NYPL stance on this.  Families cannot afford to pay down their fines.  Notice they are not forgiving the adults' fines.  The children in many cases are dependent on their parents to get their books in on time and their parents sign for responsibility of the fines.  They are letting the kids read off their fines to tell the kids, "we understand that your family may be having a rough time right now, and we want you to know you can still come to the library."  It's easy to say what's good for the goose is good for the gander, but our first priority is what is best for the children.  Oh, by the way, any child that has over $15 dollars in fines cannot read down their fines until it is below $15 dollars.  So, many of the children who are blocked will still have to pay fines.
Jul 29, 2011 9:29PM
Returning a book late is hardly a crime, aahem.  Librarians are trying to encourage kids to read.  If they want to do a policy where you can read to make up for returning the book late, then I say more power to them.  
Jul 29, 2011 9:37PM
Unfortunately, blanket rules, or in this case, blanket forgiveness of debt, only causes more problems. Those who really need the help won't get it next year because those who can afford to pay their fines will expect this all the time. (As the daughter of a librarian I know this is a fact.)
And what about all those people who DO follow the rules, trying their best to return books on time, paying the fines, returning books in the same condition in which they were checked out? Their budget for new book just went down by $2 Million.
Yeah, this is just the NY Public Library doing a little press. Makes them look good and all that touchy feely goodness translates into levy votes next year.

Jul 29, 2011 9:31PM

Why couldn't they return the books on time?


> Get the answer to THIS and you'll really learn something.

Jul 29, 2011 8:41PM

Gary, it is community service of a  sort reading kids style, in which these youngsters have to read more books to pay off the fines....

What a concept of punishment that makes sense.... otherwise known as a thinking person's educated solution to a problem that does not include denying the kids the access to books as they love to read....... gasp.Light bulbEye-rolling

Perhaps you would perfer them to be denied access to the library? ConfusedDisappointed

On the other hand these kids could be out and about getting into serious trouble instead of reading books, expanding their minds..... 

Well, it's still not too late to lock them up in one of those private for profit jails for children......yet.Tongue out

Jul 29, 2011 9:47PM
Once again "responsibility for your actions" are thrown to the wind. No wonder our society is screwed up, rude and expects to be taken care of by someone else.
Jul 29, 2011 9:41PM

This is a GREAT solution! I had fines that my mother would not help pay when I was a kid. I was not allowed to borrow books from our library anymore. I had to wait until we moved to a new state at 16 to be allowed to borrow from a library again. That's insane! How does that benefit the community?

Our library here in Milwaukee doesn't charge children's library accounts fines at all. Only adults are fined for late returns. It encourages parents to allow their children to choose books.

To the idiot who wants credit card numbers for library accounts: It's a LIBRARY! NOT BLOCKBUSTER. People who can afford that kind of BS will just go swill their Frappacino at Barnes and Noble.  And not everyone HAS a credit card. Some of us choose to not make debts and work in...OMG, are you sitting down?-CASH!

Jul 30, 2011 5:43AM
I understand a lot of folks really like the electronic books but I am fond of the smell, feel, and signt of the actual book.  I keep thinking about the old book, " Farhenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury.  A slightly different foundation but still threatening the demise of books! 
Jul 30, 2011 12:15AM
now if only the  irs would forgive my late fees
Jul 30, 2011 8:50AM
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that most of the negative comments are from people who have little to no concept of what libraries currently do or what they offer.  Perhaps it's based on the rusty, dusty memories of the library or librarian from your youth.  That's fine and while you have a right to voice your opinion, you have no real basis of knowledge from which to make that opinion.  That makes me feel much better about your ideas and decisions--and please, don't visit your local library.  You make our jobs that much more difficult.  By the way, China IS building new libraries.  You could find that information out at your local...oh, never mind.  Full disclosure: I am a vested dinosaur.  Dig it.
Jul 29, 2011 8:50PM

By the way ...... that is one beautiful library. It must be a joy to go there and  even just wander amoung those books...... the reading tables with those lamps are nothing to sneeze at either....  WOW....sigh


Jul 30, 2011 12:29AM

wow 15 dollars fine and cant borrow no more?? well my local library has a policy that if the fines

reaches 5 dollars you cant borrow no more until its paid. But you can still read books at the library and use time on computer. There is a limit time use for the computer however its 2 ( 45 minutes) time limit per day. So working off the fines by reading more books to bring down the fine seems okay but I doubt that will work because not everyone will be happy with it. Others have returned the books on time and they pay their fine. Personally parents should be held responsible for the late fees and know to avoid the late fees is to return the books before due date simple solution. Its common sense in the first place.

Jul 30, 2011 10:07AM
I take my children to the library weekly. They are 6 and 4, and yes...there have been a couple times when a library book would end up at school or in their bookcase, leaving our card with fines. I think the program is a wonderful idea. I am saddened to know how many people think libraries are archaic. What happens when all the books have been put on your little electronics, and the electronics fail? Books are a major part to society, and no later civilization is going to care what your kindle was to you, to them it is a blank screen, thrown away like almost all of the useless out of date electronics we have tossed aside. Some of us actually enjoy history and teaching our kids to use real books. 
Jul 30, 2011 1:25AM
I think the kids with excessive fines should be allowed to check out age appropriate material.  However, the parents shouldn't be allowed to check out material until the fines are paid.  Parents need to be responsible for their children.  After all, if that parent never takes the 10 yr old to return the book until after its due, the child shouldn't be punished.  And if the parent wants to teach the child to return it on time, then they can choose to punish the child in an age appropriate manner.  However, I think the better method of getting the child to return it on time would be to be aware of the deadline yourself.  If you are aware of the deadline, then that makes you a good roll model and you can regularly remind your kids about the importance of obligations. 
Jul 30, 2011 8:56AM
I personally like the read down your fine program! It encourages kids to work off their debt and be responsible! (come on.. WHO hasn't lost a book at least ONCE in  their life)!!  Way to GO NYPL!!!
Oh.. FYI.. I am NOT a librarian. I am a mom who has kids who DO misplace things and I have HAD to pay for them! I would encourage the read down the debt program IF it were offered in my local Library
Jul 30, 2011 9:33AM

While I like the idea of waiving fines for those kids who are just addicted to reading, I have to wonder how the "Read down your fine" program is going to work for those kids who continue to check out books and keep them forever. Do you get credit for an overdue book by checking out more overdue books? I'm confused at how this is going to work.

Maybe what would be best is a "Read Down your fine" program that keeps the books in the library by not allowing those kids who still have fines to leave the library with the books they choose to read. They can stay in the library and read down the fine by their time spent reading in the library, but if they ever want to leave with a checked out book again, they have to read long enough to "work off" the fine first. Of course, if it were up to me: I probably would have started with an actual "Work off your fine" program that would take in each kid who owes more than 15 dollars for about an hour and have them help me re-stack the shelves with library books by dewey decimel system. That would be a good "work off your fine" program. Then their slate would be clean to check out more books.


Jul 29, 2011 11:33PM

damn im suprised to see how many stupid hicks commented on this ****. obviously none of you have ever used a library. you dont PAY for the books you BORROW them. the library doesnt loose money when books are returned late. how the rich could possibly cover that would only be physically with thier bodies. They would have to litteraly cover the library because its impossible to financially in this situation.

Oh how i wish the ignorant could just be euthanized.

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