Saturday, August 1, 2020

Removing a Stumbling Block

In March I packed up anything from my classroom that belonged to me and loaded it into my car. It joined the other teacher items that normally live in my car: dancing scarves, egg shakers, stretchy bands, pom poms. I drove away with enough materials to outfit a small classroom: paper, washi tape, acrylic paints, sharpie markers, collage materials, loose parts, science materials, books from my personal collection. 

I didn’t know when I would be returning but I did know that my school was going to be deep-cleaned in reponse to the coronavirus and my classroom needed to be as empty as possible. You would be amazed at what a classroom looks like once all the materials purchased by the teachers are removed.

One more category of items that has been sitting in my car: library books. I’ve been using library books to augment our science units this year. Since March I’ve had about twenty sitting in my car, waiting for word that the library was ready to accept returns. This week I got a notice. I’m excited to bring them back.

This week also marks the announcement that the Howard County Library System will no longer charge overdue fines. Here’s the article by Jacob Calvin Meyer in the Sun.

While there are a few exceptions (materials from the Art Collection and DIY items) the new policy covers everything else. In May, Library System President and CEO Tonya Aikens decribed the rescinding of fines in the context of the pandemic:

We’re not looking to reinstate fines even when we open our facilities because we’ll still be in this economic recession caused by the pandemic. We don’t want to place any barriers on our customers that would limit their ability to access our resources and recover themselves.

Nationwide, there’s a growing trend to abolish library fines. In this piece for NPR, Emma Bowman describes how library fines primarily target poor and vulnerable communities, setting up barriers that prevent them from accessing library materials and services. 

'We Wanted Our Patrons Back' — Public Libraries Scrap Late Fines To Alleviate Inequity

Acknowledging these consequences, the American Library Association passed a resolution in January in which it recognizes fines as "a form of social inequity" and calls on libraries nationwide to find a way to eliminate their fines.

A recent study of what happens when libraries do away with library fines shows the following benefits:

1: Librarians and staff can provide better service to patrons

2: Being fine-free is more aligned with the real mission of the library

3: Libraries seeing an increase in item returns

4: Libraries can use their resources better

5: Eliminating fines can lead to a renewed appreciation for the library (or at least provide some good PR)

The Baltimore Sun article states that library fines have accounted for two percent of the library’s budget. Not a lot, but still an amount that represents funds that support the library’s mission. In difficult economic times, that decrease is probably not going to be made up by the County. So here’s a thought: join the Library’s Friends and Foundation organization. Make a donation. It doesn’t need to be large. Perhaps it can be a gift of gratitude for all those overdue fines you won’t be paying. Or maybe a vote of confidence for the library’s decision to put low income residents and children before income.

No-fine libraries are the wave of the future, and for good reason. The Howard County Library System is yet again choosing to put relationships with communty first. I love that about them.

Check out the new website for the Friends and Foundation of the Howard County Library System.  They’ve started a new blog, as well. As Mickey Gomez, Chair of the Friends and Foundation of HCLS says in her letter to the community:

Each and every one of us are touched by and benefit from our remarkable Howard County Library System. Together, we are all Friends of the Library.

Show your friend some love today. And you can return those books now, too.

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