By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new policy of the Philadelphia Free Library to forgive overdue book fines for students came under the microscope in City Council.
At issue before Council’s Parks and Recreation committee was a new policy of the Free Library system: children who have overdue books will no longer be charged late fees or fines. The only penalty will be that they cannot take out other books until the overdue ones are returned.
Robert Heim (right), chairman of the library board, said the new policy will encourage students in low income families to keep coming.
“They have to return the books before they can take out another. In this way we made sure that there are still consequences for no longer complying with the library’s rules. It is simply no longer a financial penalty, a financial means of enforcement,” Heim explains.
Objecting to the policy was Councilman-at-large David Oh, who called the hearing. He said the Library system needs the annual $70,000 brought in by fines each year.
“When you no longer collect a late fee from my daughter, that I pay, that my wife pays, that we’re happy to pay, it does not help fund the Free Library,” he says.
Moreover, Oh argued that eliminating late fines sends the wrong message.
“Taking it out and returning it is a habit we all learned at the Free Library; to take out material, to be conscious of it, to return it, so that others may use it,” says Oh.
But Heim argued that the fines often result in children staying away from libraries.
“It is no easy task for the child to produce even a small amount of money to pay a fine. As a result, because of poverty or other circumstances in which the child lives, the library loses a young reader,” says Heim.
Oh’s colleagues on the committee agreed and sided with the Library officials, soundly rejecting Oh’s proposal that the fines be re-instated.