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Los Angeles Libraries Figured Out the Best Way to Charge Kids Late Fees

L.A. libraries will let kids "read off" their debts so they can use their accounts again.

Library late fees can be a pain in the ass, even when you’re an adult with a stable income. Now, try paying off a fine for a late Judy Bloom or R.L. Stine book when you’re a kid working with a tiny allowance. Not only will you fail, in failing you’ll be dissuaded from checking out more books. That’s no good and librarians know it. Fortunately, the Los Angeles public library system may have finally devised a perfect way to help kids pay off late fees: asking them to “read away” the debt.

L.A. County libraries will no longer charge late fees anymore for readers under 21 thanks to a vote last week by County supervisors. But, for kids with outstanding fines, L.A. libraries will request that they read off accrued debt at a rate of $5 an hour. The “reading away” program, which was piloted starting in June, strikes a balance between encouraging kids to return books and encouraging kids to read. Promoting literacy is, after all, a good portion of the reason we have public libraries in the first place.

An L.A. county’s assistant library administrator for youth services told the Los Angeles Times that since the program started — prior to the official decision to ditch fines altogether– the county library system has cleared 3,500 kids with outstanding fines. “The parents express gratitude and relief,” a children’s librarian at the East L.A. Library added. “It lessens the burden on a lot of families.” She says at least 100 students a week read away their debt at her branch.

New York City public libraries instituted a similar amnesty program earlier this year, which gave a clean slate to about 927,000 youths with $2.25 million in outstanding fines. New York did not, however, institute a program for reading away debt. In other words, the Big Apple needs a longer-term solution. L.A. County’s amnesty and reading program might represent one very good option.