Fine forgiveness does present a dilemma, said Susan Nimitz, director in Ramsey County.
Fines are an incentive to bring materials back on time so they can go out to someone else, she said.
“We want the incentive for children to bring their materials back. Often when you have no consequences whatsoever you are not necessarily creating the right behavior.”
But offering “read-downs” every first Saturday of a month encourages children to read, Nimitz said.
“We don’t want to create policies that prevent them from reading. What you really don’t want to do is create a barrier for low-income people to use the library.”
Anoka County is in its second year of offering a monthlong read-down in June as a way for anyone 17 or younger to work off fines, said youth services manager Maggie Snow.
Hennepin County has a 5-cent-a-day fine on overdue children’s and teen materials up to a maximum of $1 on each book or DVD. It is planning a fine waiver for teens during a special event in October.
Otherwise the library prefers to talk case by case with youths or families about overdue fines, said Janet Mills, library services director.
By contrast, the Washington County Library has never had daily overdue fines, director Patricia Conley said.
“Opponents of fines see them as discouraging library use … especially discouraging use by the young and the poor.”
St. Paul does not charge overdue fines for children’s materials, but children and teens take out adult materials as well and rack up fines that way, Kolb Peterson said.
While finding ways to help children regain the use of their library cards, librarians also take pains to explain how the library works: “ ‘You borrow a book, and you return it so it’s here for the next person.’ We haven’t just said, ‘Oh, take anything you want,’ ” Kolb Peterson said.
But the programs to reduce fines are well worth it, she said. Kids respond much better to librarians “when we are seen as people who are helping them regain the use of a privilege rather than someone who is keeping them from something they need.’’
Tara Bland of Eagan, visiting the Wescott Library in Eagan on Wednesday with her grandchildren, said:
“It’s a good thing to encourage children to read,” and she would approve forgiving the fine if parents are not able to pay, as long as the materials are returned. “Sometimes children are powerless and should not be blamed for things not their fault,” Bland said. “We have all kinds of programs for people who don’t have means, and there ought to be something in the library that speaks to that.”
Alex Do, a 15-year-old from Eagan volunteering this week at the Wescott Library, said he has a fine on his card of $3.50 that he intends to pay.
“I have always turned my books in,” he said. “Kids reading books is really good for them,’’ but there should be a limit on the fines that are forgiven, otherwise kids could take advantage of it.