The Editorial Board: Buffalo and Erie County Library System Eases Inequity by Waiving Late Fees | Editorial
News Editorial Board
Will canceling library fines in the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system turn a new generation of readers into juvenile delinquents?
Evidence from other library systems says no. By freeing library borrowers from financial penalties for overdue returns, more people use libraries and their wealth of materials.
The Erie County system intends to stop charging late fines on May 1, if the library board approves. Lost or damaged materials will always result in fines. Electronic downloads – which come back on their own – are not affected.
The “No Fines Movement” has spread across the country. Baltimore Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, Philadelphia and San Francisco are among the cities whose library systems have ended fines for late materials.
Library Journal reports on amnesty periods for late book returns have revealed that the public is responding with many happy returns. A forgiveness effort in Chicago led to the return of 20,000 late items. Los Angeles saw nearly 65,000 and San Francisco nearly 700,000.
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The Chicago program also allowed more people to get library cards and borrow more books.
Amnesty programs are always controversial. People who followed the rules don’t like others getting a free pass. But “free” has always been part of the raison d’être of libraries.
As Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, told The New York Times last month, libraries “are not in the business of generating revenue. We are in the business of encouraging reading and learning.
Revenues from late fees have represented very small portions of public library system budgets.
Studies have shown that poor people are more likely to have their library accounts blocked due to overdue fines they were unable to pay.
Jeannine Doyle, acting director of the Erie County system, told The News that “the value of increased access to library resources for residents of Erie County outweighs the loss of revenue” .
In addition to books, libraries offer e-books and movies, free computer and internet access, and technology workshops. The free knowledge they make available promotes the upward mobility of the poor and helps assimilate new Americans.
Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist who funded the construction of 2,500 libraries across the United States, would probably approve of the “Fine-Free Movement.”
“There is no cradle of democracy on earth like the free public library,” said Carnegie, “that republic of letters, where neither rank, nor function, nor wealth are given the slightest consideration. “
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