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New York public libraries end late fees, and the treasures roll in

NEW YORK >> Some gadgets, checked out many years in the past, arrived with apologetic notes. “Enclosed are books I have borrowed and kept in my house for 28-50 years! I am 75 years old now and these books have helped me through motherhood and my teaching career,” one patron wrote in an unsigned letter that accompanied a field of books dropped off on the New York Public Library’s principal department final fall. “I’m sorry for living with these books so long. They became family.”

Three DVD copies of “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day,” a 2009 motion movie about Irish Catholic vigilantes in Boston that has a 23% score on Rotten Tomatoes, had been returned to a few libraries in three completely different boroughs.

When New York’s public library methods introduced in October that they might be eliminating all late fines, the aim was to get books and folks again to the greater than 200 branches, in addition to analysis facilities, throughout town after a yr and a half of restricted hours and entry.

The aim was achieved: A wave of returned overdue supplies got here crashing in, accompanied by a wholesome enhance (between 9% and 15%, relying on the borough) of returning guests.

Since final fall, greater than 21,000 overdue or misplaced gadgets have been returned in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, some so previous that they had been not within the library’s methods. About 51,000 gadgets had been returned in Brooklyn between Oct. 6 by way of the tip of February. And greater than 16,000 had been returned in Queens. (Libraries are nonetheless charging substitute charges for misplaced books.)

Some books had been checked out so way back that they needed to be returned to completely different addresses. In December, Flushing Library in Queens acquired a package deal containing “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” a novella by English novelist James Hilton, that had been checked out in July 1970 from an tackle that’s now related to a procuring plaza.

Billy Parrott, who runs the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown, town’s largest circulating department, mentioned that the majority overdue gadgets are returned by mail or e-book drop, quite than in individual. This is smart: Late books is usually a supply of disgrace. But librarians insist they aren’t judging.

“We just care about the books,” mentioned Parrott, who has labored for the New York Public Library, one among three methods within the metropolis (the others are in Brooklyn and Queens) since 2004.

Before the change in coverage, New York’s public libraries had charged overdue fines for the reason that late 1800s. Early on, the speed was 1 cent per day. In 1954, it elevated to 2 cents, then 5 cents in 1959. The most up-to-date charge was 25 cents a day in New York City (apart from Brooklyn, the place it was 15 cents) for many supplies, 10 cents a day for youngsters’s books and a few {dollars} a day for DVDs. (Fines had been decrease for patrons 65 and older and people with disabilities.)

After 30 days, a e-book can be deemed misplaced and a substitute price can be charged. Fines didn’t accrue endlessly, however anybody owing $15 or extra in charges can be blocked from testing supplies. In 2019, the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries collected greater than $3 million in late charges, in response to Angela Montefinise, the vice chairman of communications and advertising and marketing for the New York Public Library.

When Tony Marx joined the New York Public Library as president in 2011, it was his mission, he mentioned, to remove fines for good. Amnesty applications had been put in place and, in Brooklyn, a examine was carried out on the effectiveness of fines and the limitations that patrons confronted in returning books.

Then, in 2017, the general public library in Nashville, Tennessee, eradicated fines, and people in Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco adopted two years later. It wasn’t till the pandemic hit, and fines had been briefly suspended in New York, that Marx noticed a transparent alternative to vary town’s system completely.

“We learned that we could adjust our budget to do everything we needed to do and cover the lost revenue, because we’re not in the revenue-generating business,” Marx, a former president of Amherst College, mentioned. “We are not in the fine-collection business. We’re in the encouraging-to-read-and-learn business, and we were getting in our own way.”

For some metropolis residents, the fines had been notably discouraging. Dominique Gomillion mentioned she stopped going to her library in Jamaica, Queens, after books she had taken out for her 8-year-old daughter, Ariel, left her with greater than $50 in late charges — a considerable sum for her as a single guardian.

“It’s just me and her,” Gomillion, a 32-year-old supervisor at UPS, mentioned. “There’s not really much other support that we have.”

A number of months in the past, Gomillion tried one other library, the South Hollis department, to see if she might clear her identify.

“I was already ready to put the books back,” she mentioned. “And then Reggie came, the librarian, and he was like, ‘I got something better for you.’ And then he was like, ‘There are no late fees anymore.’”

Montefinise recalled one patron at a department in Dongan Hills, Staten Island, who, upon returning some late kids’s books, couldn’t consider the information and requested for a receipt to point out his spouse as proof.

“I can’t tell you how stressed out these fines made our customers,” mentioned Tienya Smith, a librarian who runs the department in Long Island City, Queens. “Not having these fees erases all of that.”


This article initially appeared in The New York Times.





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