anti-poverty @ your library

There are things I don’t really like about the American Library Association, but the rest of the biblioblogosphere pretty much has that topic covered. But there are some things I do like, and one of my favorites is ALA Policy 61, the “Poor People’s Policy,” which states

The American Library Association promotes equal access to information for all persons, and recognizes the urgent need to respond to the increasing number of poor children, adults, and families in America. These people are affected by a combination of limitations, including illiteracy, illness, social isolation, homelessness, hunger, and discrimination, which hamper the effectiveness of traditional library services. Therefore it is crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society.

Its first policy objective is “Promoting the removal of all barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges.”

I am happy to report that my library recently made several strides in that direction.

In past years, we have held a food-for-fines program from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. People can bring in a non-perishable food item and have their fines waived. Many people donate additional items so that we are able to waive the fines of every patron (some patrons already depend on the goods they receive from the Community Cupboard, and I am glad that we are able to make donations on their behalf).

First, we lowered the fines on all children’s materials from 10 cents a day to 5 cents a day. It has always seemed to me that library fines are particularly regressive toward children, who are often among the poorest of our library users. A child may take out a whole stack of picture books, whereas a grown-up might take out only a couple of books, yet the fine on the child’s ten picture books will be five times that on the two novels the adult got. In a family with several children, the fines double, triple, or quadruple quite easily.

Neither lowered fines nor waived fines help if a patron has lost a book. It breaks my heart to see a kid unable to use the library because of a lost book she cannot pay to replace. In my branch, we recently asked the Friends if they would be willing to pay for just such a lost book, and they said yes. In the course of discussing this at a staff meeting, we decided to start a small, separate donation fund just for that kind of occasion.

If you’re looking for more ideas on poverty and libraries, please check out the Homelessness, Hunger, and Poverty Taskforce.

2 comments

  1. Anne Tanner

    Laura, this is such a neat idea. I have a batch of calls to make to patrons of the (ahem!) Trinity Church Library, and I think I’ll tell many of them that I’m fining them one donation to Crisis Center. I hadn’t thought about the multiplier effect of fines on children’s books, but that’s certainly true.

    While I have your ear, your mother did her usual splendid job of running the Shelter House Book Sale a couple of weeks ago. Almost goes without saying.

  2. Satia Orange

    Laura and Anne, thanks for the reflection on services to an important group of users in libraries. Hopefully your readers will also share their success stories, as a new toolkit to support library staff on serving poor and homeless library users will be available in June. Ideas and success stories may be shared also by sending to olos@ala.org. Thanks again.