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Manchester libraries eliminate overdue fines for children, teen books

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 02. 2018 9:18AM
Katana Boudreau, 3, of Manchester looks for books with her mom, Crystal, at Manchester City Library on Monday. Starting today there will be no more late fees on children's books and videos. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- City librarians won’t be depleting children’s piggy banks anymore, after city leaders announced that they have eliminated fines as of Monday on books and other library materials designated for children and young adults.

City library officials said they made the change after speaking to parents who said they weren’t library users because they were unable to pay fines. City leaders also said the elimination of the 25-cents-a-day fine should help encourage literacy and learning.

“No child should be unable to engage in learning because of their family’s income level,” Mayor Joyce Craig said in a statement.

Manchester is not the first library to take such a step, according to the New Hampshire Library Association. Libraries in Goffstown and Salem have eliminated fines for children’s materials, said NHLA President Sylvie Brikiatis.

Libraries in Bow, Stratham and Windham have gone further and eliminated overdue fines on most materials, with a few exceptions — DVDs, e-readers or specialty items such as telescopes.

Some libraries in northern New Hampshire have never charged fines for overdue material, she said.

“The small amount we’re losing in fines we’re gaining in goodwill,” said Brikiatis, who is also director of the Nesmith Library in Windham. She said a few patrons have made small donations when the librarian told them they didn’t have to pay a fine. And there’s been no significant increase in overdue books.

In Manchester, fines no longer apply for some 20,000 items designated for children and young adults. That includes books, DVDs of children’s movies such as Harry Potter and Disney, and video games including sports and Lego games.

Kids just won’t be able to walk away with library materials, according to Karyn Isleb, head of youth services at the library. Children or adults must still check out items. After 60 days, the library card holder won’t be able to check out additional materials until the items are returned or replaced.

Of the 10,000 youth library accounts in Manchester, nearly a third — 3,200 — owe fines of $10 or more and have had their account frozen, Isleb said. They will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, she said.

“We’re taking down a barrier to kids who are unable to come to the library,” Isleb said.

During the previous budget year, fines on children and teen materials generated $8,000 out of an overall $28,000 in overdue fines, she said.

Kids aren’t the only ones who don’t pay their fines.

Alderman Keith Hirschmann said aldermen routinely write off fines, fees and bills that people can’t pay, mostly because of bankruptcy. They include fire alarm fees, building permit fees and charges for hiring an off-duty police officer on construction sites.

Hirschmann said he grew up poor and wouldn’t want inability to pay to prevent a kid from getting a book.

“I want to be compassionate about it,” he said.

But aren’t children losing a valuable lesson about responsibility and deadlines?

Isleb said children still learn responsibility because they have to return their books. And it was parents, not children, who paid the fines most of the time, she said.

“I’m not sure as a library we’re responsible for teaching children that. That’s up to the parents,” Brikiatis said. She said the lesson is still there; that the children are borrowing a community resource and they’re expected to return it when they’re done.

“Children don’t control their own destiny,” Brikiatis said. “They can’t drop off books themselves.”

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