Most of the white, college-educated, middle-class, similarly-aged people I know have warm memories of their local public library when they were kids. These memories usually involve walking or biking to the library, checking out tons of books, and getting an ice cream cone on the way home. For many Americans, the public library is a personal sanctuary, a haven for knowledge, and a treasure of our democracy.
Not everyone, however, shares those sentiments. When I taught in San Francisco, my students told me over and over again that they had a more complicated relationship with their local public library. It didn’t feel comfortable or welcoming. I asked them why they felt that way, and the No. 1 answer was, They were afraid of library fines.
In a recent New York Times piece, reporter Carol Pogash assails the San Jose Public Library’s policies regarding late fees, lost materials, and checkout privileges. The library faces $6.8 million in unpaid fines. Its late fee is 50 cents per day per item. It prohibits checking out additional materials if people owe more than $10. And it uses a collection agency to recoup debts in excess of $50.
In “In San Jose, Poor Find Doors to Library Closed,” Ms. Pogash does not pull punches. She interviews young people who say their moms don’t allow them to check out books. One mom tells her daughter, “Don’t take books out. It’s so expensive.”
The article goes on to explore how the San Jose Public Library is not alone in its aggressive policies. For example, Texas allows its libraries to take delinquent patrons to court. Though I understand that libraries face tough challenges, particularly when a majority of people do not return books on time, current practice does not seem to be the right way to go.
Obviously, I do have bias because of my interest in the Kindle Classroom Project. Just to be clear, I love public libraries, especially the San Francisco Public Library and the Oakland Public Library. Libraries need to exist, and they do good things. Still, one thing I’ve learned since founding the KCP is how important it is to decrease barriers to reading. (Books are best in young people’s hands.) Rather than keeping track of tons of books each year, students check out and return just two items: their Kindle and their charger. Simple as cake. (Loss and breakage to Kindles is just 3.1%.)
“SAN JOSE, Calif. — When Damaris Triana, then 8, lost several “Little Critter” books that she had borrowed for her sister, the library here fined her $101 — including $40 in processing fees — a bill that was eventually turned over to an agency to collect from her parents.”
Source: http://j.mp/1qkXjdO (via Pocket). You can also find this article in next week’s Iserotope Extras, a weekly email newsletter that includes my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. Feel free to subscribe!