Warren, Ohio is deep in the rust belt. What was once a bustling factory town is now deeply impoverished, where every child qualifies for free breakfast and lunch at school each day. For these teens, just one manga replacement charge can render an account unusable. Once a card reaches five dollars in fines, it cannot be used to check anything out, and accounts are placed into collection once the $25 fine threshold is reached.
The Youth Services Manager and I felt this was unfairly punishing our teen population, especially since we don’t offer any way to work off their fines, either through reading or volunteering. All juvenile cards are the responsibility of the parents who signed up for them, and as any member of the family can use the card, oftentimes fines are accrued for items that teen didn’t check out. Personally, it breaks my heart each time a teen wants to check out books but can’t.
Enter the Fresh Start Fine Amnesty, offered each year during Teen Read Week since 2011.
If teens fill out a survey (asking things such as how often they use the library, what they check out, and what they’d change about the library) and take it to our check-out desk, they can have up to $50 in fines waived. This one-time-only deal is a chance for a do-over; everything is waived, including damages, late fees, replacements, and collection agency fees. We place a note in their record (TRW2013) to reflect that they’ve taken advantage of the program, and cannot have fines waived again in a following year. Staff also write on the returned surveys how much was waived so we can keep track of statistics and report back to our library board.
Although they must have a parent/guardian present to get a new card (unless they themselves have a photo ID), we waive the two dollar replacement fee during this week as well.
One of the lasting effects, however, is that if a linked card (another family member) enters collection, this card is still usable for all library services. Sometimes the fine amnesty is used just for that – to free a card from a problem account hold so they can once more check out books.
Most teens have far less than the maximum waived, but for some, the $50 is a good start to getting their card back to good standing. It’s not a perfect service by any means, but as with many aspects of our profession, we’re making small steps towards helping these teens, and that’s a good thing.
Sarah Amazing is the teen librarian at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library in Warren, Ohio. She shares programming ideas & other tidbits over at zen-teen.com