Last week, I solicited signatures outside the Southdale Library in Edina for a petition to the Hennepin County Commissioners urging them to abolish library fines. One passerby, who identified himself as a member of Friends of the Library, ragefully sputtered that "anyone who can't or won't pay overdue charges shouldn't use the library." Another, similarly outraged, announced that if Hennepin County Library lost its late-fee money, it would "go under." And so would any other library that did so.
Well, the evidence — studies, surveys and firsthand accounts — unequivocally shows that library fines do not result in materials being returned on time. Indeed, the return rates in libraries that charge late fees and those that don't is about the same. And in some cases, non-fine libraries report even quicker return rates. So why charge fines, if not to promote "responsibility" among borrowers? It's to make money, to supplement the budget from nontax sources. If everyone returned their borrowed books, DVDs and CDs on time, a library like HCL would not accrue an annual $600,000 in fines ("Library may eliminate overdue fees," Aug. 10). However, the loss of this revenue stream in the more than 60 fine-free libraries nationwide has decidedly not made any of them "go under." In fact, the director of an Illinois fineless library has declared that "dropping fines was the best thing we ever did." (Incidentally, filling the fiscal fine gap can variously be achieved by slightly raising mill rates or levies, transferring funds from elsewhere in a city or country's budget, establishing a special taxing district, trimming the usually bloated ranks of upper management, and saving the costs of bill-collecting and inefficient use of staff time.)
So, apart from its pointlessness and wastefulness, as well as the frequent friction that's engendered between circulation workers and library users, is there another compelling reason to trash fines? Yes: Because they manifestly discriminate against poor people and communities of color, effectively excluding thousands of citizens from the library (for example, St. Paul Public Library had blocked about 50,000 people from borrowing privileges). Abolishing library fines is an admittedly small, yet direct and practical way to reduce our region's awful economic and racial disparities.
For copies of the petition, contact the Committee for the Abolition of Library Fines at 952-925-5738.
Sanford Berman, Edina
The writer is a former head cataloger at Hennepin County Library.
It's risky and warrants legislation
In recent weeks, there has been an alarming number of cases of vaping-induced lung injury among teens. The Minnesota Department of Health is currently investigating over 17 cases linked to vaping, and we've been taking care of them.
As pediatricians, we are seeing previously healthy teens struggling to breathe and rapidly requiring life support. In clinic, we see vaping devices as small as flash drives or hidden in the strings of a sweatshirt hood. Our patients describe seventh graders vaping in the classroom when the teacher leaves the room. Across Minnesota, buying vaping supplies is as easy as walking into a gas station and even easier to access online. Surveys show that 20% of Minnesota high schoolers routinely use e-cigarettes. We know nearly all smokers start before they're 21 and that nicotine is harmful to developing brains. We don't yet know the long-term consequences of vaping, but the recent death of an Illinois teen shows the short-term injury can be deadly ("Illinois patient's death is first in U.S. tied to vaping," Aug. 24).
So far, 40 Minnesota cities and 18 states have comprehensive legislation to limit the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. It's time for our state to follow suit.
Do you know if your child is vaping? Ask tonight. Talk about the risks. Does your legislator support tobacco regulation? Call and find out.
We must do more to protect Minnesota children.
Drs. Erin McHugh, Heidi Moline, Jessica Hane and Emily Borman-Shoap
The writers are pediatricians with the University of Minnesota.
After border crisis ends, then what?
I've heard of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Is there a "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Human Children"?
If no, what to we do with someone who puts toddlers and nursing infants and developing children into a cage in the desert and simply throws away the key? Does that person simply get away with mass torture because he has an aversion to families with brown skin?
What should society do with such a person, and what do we owe the victims?
Kay W. Hensgens, Minneapolis
EPSTEIN AND JUSTICE
Time to topple untouchable elite
The horrific Jeffrey Epstein sex-abuse story is fading from the headlines. Honestly, even the allegations against former U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Garrison Keillor seemed to be given more media coverage than this very ugly glimpse into a segment of the seemingly untouchable elite in our society. This case demands investigation.
Where is public and corporate media on this after all of their trumpeting of women's welfare? Where are the women in Congress? Where is the "Me Too" movement, for goodness sake?
According to the Star Tribune, a judge in New York City gave the victims of Epstein who have come forward a chance to vent in his courtroom ("Epstein accusers get day in court," Aug. 28). It can't end there. Why hasn't Epstein's named accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, been criminally charged?
Coming so soon after the disaster of "Russiagate" and the Mueller investigation, many Americans are angry and disillusioned. This is very dangerous to our democracy.
Grace Heitkamp, Lonsdale, Minn.
Commitment to stakeholders can be codified, if CEOs so choose
Maybe I missed it, but in all of the debate over the Business Roundtable's new statement on corporate mission and governance, no one has referenced benefit corporations, also known as B corporations.
In several states (including Minnesota), by organizing as a B corporation, a business has the legal and financial authority to do exactly what the Business Roundtable advocates: operate in a manner that benefits all of its stakeholders. Shareholders are no longer primary. Employees, customers, suppliers and communities get equal, maybe more, consideration.
The commentators wonder how the Roundtable and the CEOs who signed its statement will be held accountable for acting consistent with it. A good first step might be for the signers to convert to B corporations. This is not only an affirmative step, but also one that insures they have the legal authority to do exactly what the Business Roundtable statement envisions.
Converting is not easily done. It requires shareholder approval. But what better way to test management's leadership and shareholder support for those leaders?
Bill Blazar, Minneapolis
The writer is a former senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
We want to hear from you. Send us a letter to the editor or a commentary.