A Better Way to Get Kids in Libraries: Stop Fining Them

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Anne Sophie Parigot searches for books for her 3 and 6-year-old children at the New York Public Library bookstore, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.

Over a million kids in New York City have public library cards. But about a fifth of them have blocked accounts due to fines.

It's not so hard to get blocked. Your card gets suspended if you hit $15 in fines. At the New York Public Library, children under 18 years old are fined 10 cents a day per book (that's a 25 cent fine for adults). And all media, like DVDs and tapes, will cost you $3 for every late day. For many kids, they're too intimidated to either talk to their parents or librarians about it, so they just stop going.

New York Public Library President Tony Marx says library access should never be about who can afford to pay the fines.

"We've heard stories of parents saying to their kids, 'We don't want you to borrow books because you might be late with them and then you'll have fines to worry about.' That's crazy!" said Marx.

Marx is currently on the look-out for some creative ways to not fine kids, but still hold them accountable. One idea he's toying with: put a hold on a child's account until they simply return their overdue materials, no fines involved. Five years ago, Marx granted city-wide amnesty to children with fines, and he says they saw 80,000 kids return to the library over time. Now, he's trying to secure a $10 million endowment to get rid of fines in perpetuity.