All area children should have access to Lincoln Library. Libraries are, after all, the great equalizer. They serve everyone regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, social status or economic class. Those who can’t afford books, DVDs, an internet connection or a computer can turn to their local library for access. The resources a library offers could truly change someone’s life for the better.
But the recent initiative launched by Lincoln Library – which as a holiday gift is encouraging patrons to pay off fines accrued on children’s accounts – has us wondering if there wasn’t a better way to solve the issue at hand.
Just after Thanksgiving, the library set up a display of wrapped gifts decorated with paper ornaments – 169 were initially put up . Each represents a fine accrued by a juvenile patron. Accounts are blocked after they rack up more than $10 in fines, which means those children can’t check out materials. The highest library fine on the display was $193.
“The gift people are paying for here is library access for kids,” Jessica Paulsen, the library’s access services manager, told an SJ-R reporter last week.
Lincoln Library now only charges fines on overdue adult materials, and for damaged or unreturned items. But before July, a children’s or young adult book would incur a 25-cent fine for every day it was late; 50 cents was charged daily for late DVDs.
The initiative aims to get those accounts paid off (donations can be made through Dec. 30), so the library can let those kids know they are free to resume checking out materials.
It’s a well-intentioned idea, but there are problems with the execution.
For one thing, there are different reasons why a kid might have racked up the fines, and the Angel Tree doesn’t differentiate the circumstances. Is a $15 fine for a kid who just wanted to keep a DVD he checked out, so he didn’t return it? Is a $50 fine from a girl who was visiting a sick parent in the hospital and returned books for a school project a few weeks late? What about a younger child who’s being punished for the irresponsible actions of a mother or father who didn’t make time to take them to the library?
There are older kids and teenagers who could return books on their own, and it’s frustrating that under this good-hearted idea, they would not be held accountable for their actions. They are borrowing resources from a taxpayer-funded facility; by returning them late, or damaged or perhaps not at all, they are depriving other patrons from using those items. How will they learn to be responsible if a stranger wipes out their debt and frees them from the consequences of breaking the rules?
We’d prefer to see older kids with fines invited to volunteer at the library in a trade to erase their fines. They could shelve books or read stories to younger children. One of our readers suggested the kids with excessive late fines write an essay on why libraries are needed in the community. These approaches would help kids learn to be responsible, while being held accountable for the mistreatment of the library’s resources.