Saturday, August 23, 2014
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Children's Library Fee Bill Defeated

A Council committee defeated a bill Wednesday that would have thwarted the Free Library of Philadelphia’s plan to eliminate late fees for children – a move recommended by librarians to prevent cutting off poor children from library services.

Children's Library Fee Bill Defeated

David Oh
David Oh

A Council committee defeated a bill Wednesday that would have thwarted the Free Library of Philadelphia’s plan to eliminate late fees for children – a move recommended by librarians to prevent cutting off poor children from library services.

Councilman David Oh, the primary sponsor, said about $70,000 of the $400,000 in late fees collected last year came from children’s books and material. He said individual librarians have the freedom to forgive late fees if they believe families cannot afford to pay – although a librarian who later testified disputed that she had that power.

“I do understand about poverty,” Oh said. “But it seems to me the people who are paying this $70,000 are people like myself, who understand that when my daughter takes something out and it’s late, we’re going to pay.”

Oh, who also called the imposition of fines a necessary life lesson for children, amended the bill Wednesday to dedicate fines collected from overdue children’s books to enhance library technology and youth programming. He said he didn’t understand how the library system could forgo that money, given the budget cuts of recent years.

“Why would the library not collect this money from people who aren’t complaining about it?” he asked.

Oh was the only member of the Parks and Recreation committee who appeared to vote in favor of the bill in a voice vote.

Robert C. Heim, chair of the Free Library’s Board of Trustees, said there needs to be a balance between Oh’s goal to teach children responsibility and the needs of poor children. He urged the committee to reject the bill.

“We have strong concerns about the efficacy, impact and both short and long-term implications of this bill,” he said.

The “front line” librarians in neighborhood branches recommended the change, Heim said, because poor children often are saddled with responsibilities at home, and may be late returning library material for “a myriad of other reasons beyond (their) control.”

Cutting off young readers’ access to library material, Heim said, would be disastrous. Once the library loses a young reader, he said, it is difficult to bring them back to the world of books.

“For many, book and reading books is a pathway,” he said.

Heim also noted that there are consequences for children with overdue books – they aren’t able to borrow more, though they are free to read and use other resources in the library. The policy change has been adopted in New York, San Francisco and other cities.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said her son once didn’t return a book for a year and accumulated a $30 fine, which she took from his allowance. That might not be an option for poor children and their parents, for whom the affect of having a debt can be debilitating.

“The debt gets so high that psychologically they just quit,” she said.

Mayor Nutter has proposed increasing the library's budget by $1 million for 2013-14, including $750,000 to extend services to six days in 12 libraries. Branch libraries have cut back hours and days of operation since the recession hit in 2008.

The library’s annual budget is about $40 million.

A Council committee defeated a bill Wednesday that would have thwarted the Free Library of Philadelphia’s plan to eliminate late fees for children – a move recommended by librarians to prevent cutting off poor children from library services.

Councilman David Oh, the primary sponsor, said about $70,000 of the $400,000 in late fees collected last year came from children’s books and material. He said individual librarians have the freedom to forgive late fees if they believe families cannot afford to pay – although a librarian who later testified disputed that she had that power.

“I do understand about poverty,” Oh said. “But it seems to me the people who are paying this $70,000 are people like myself, who understand that when my daughter takes something out and it’s late, we’re going to pay.”

Oh, who also called the imposition of fines a necessary life lesson for children, amended the bill Wednesday to dedicate fines collected from overdue children’s books to enhance library technology and youth programming. He said he didn’t understand how the library system could forgo that money, given the budget cuts of recent years.

“Why would the library not collect this money from people who aren’t complaining about it?” he asked.

Robert C. Heim, chair of the Free Library’s Board of Trustees, said there needs to be a balance between Oh’s goal to teach children responsibility and the needs of poor children. He urged the committee to reject the bill.

“We have strong concerns about the efficacy, impact and both short and long-term implications of this bill,” he said.

The “front line” librarians in neighborhood branches recommended the change, Heim said, because poor children often are saddled with responsibilities at home, and may be late returning library material for “a myriad of other reasons beyond (their) control.”

Cutting off young readers’ access to library material, Heim said, would be disastrous. Once the library loses a young reader, he said, it is difficult to bring them back to the world of books.

“For many, book and reading books is a pathway,” he said.

Heim also noted that there are consequences for children with overdue books – they aren’t able to borrow more, though they are free to read and use other resources in the library. The policy change has been adopted in New York, San Francisco and other cities.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said her son once didn’t return a book for a year and accumulated a $30 fine, which she took from his allowance. That might not be an option for poor children and their parents, for whom the affect of having a debt can be debilitating.

“The debt gets so high that psychologically they just quit,” she said.

Mayor Nutter has proposed increasing the library's budget by $1 million for 2013-14, including $750,000 to extend services to six days in 12 libraries. Branch libraries have cut back hours and days of operation since the recession hit in 2008.

The library’s annual budget is about $40 million.

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