Rochester library program removes barriers to reading and help boost literacy earlier during the summer of 2017. The pilot program could be extended into next year. Wochit
The Rochester Public Library is in a pretty forgiving mood.
Looking to help boost reading by children and young adults, the entire Rochester Public Library system is forgoing overdue fines on books through at least the end of June. It's the continuation of a pilot program that started last summer.
"We're kind of getting the word out more about it," said Sally Snow, assistant director Monroe County Library System. Rochester's libraries have taken to social media this week, using the power of Facebook and Twitter to let people know about the program. "We're sending out bookmarks, and have posters up to let our users know this is something they can take advantage of."
The aim is to give people — particularly young ones — one fewer reason to not read. Snow said library officials noticed significant numbers of city users were hampered in their ability to use the library system by blocked cards. As it stands now, accumulate $5 in overdue fees and your library privileges are shut off.
"And we noticed a lot of those fines were for children's materials," said Snow. "But we want to get kids out there reading, because literacy is so important. This is all about trying to remove barriers."
Eliminating the fines is part of Mayor Lovely Warren's 3 to 3 initiative, which focuses in on setting kids between age 3 and third grade — particularly those from low-income families — on the best course for their future education. Data shows that kids who can read at grade level by third grade have the best chance of successfully completing high school. According to the National Research Council, poor readers have more behavioral and social problems too.
According to Warren's initiative, while the national average for third-grade reading proficiency rate is 14 percent for black students and is 19 percent for Latino students, just 4 percent of the Rochester City School District's black students and 3 percent of Latino students in third grade are proficient.
Studies in other library systems across the country where fines were eliminated — including those in Illinois, Massachusetts, California and Ohio — show increased library use by children, and Rochester hopes to see similar results.
Rochester's fines are 20 cents per day overdue, with a maximum of $5 per item, at which point patrons are charged a replacement fee. If the item is eventually returned, the replacement fee is waived and only the $5 maximum is charged. A 2012 policy brief from the American Library Association on enhancing library services to the poor recommended removing barriers to library and information services, particularly fees and overdue charges.
Rochester will still charge fines for lost or damaged books.
Snow said so far, the Rochester library system is seeing some positive results. For example, she said, circulation of children's materials in January 2016 was 17,277 items while circulation for children's materials in January 2017 was 19,841 items.
In terms of budgeting, Snow said, eliminating the children's fines shaved about $25,000 from the library branch budget and about $20,000 from the central library budget. The library's total operating budget in the 2016-17 fiscal year was $12 million.
Snow said a final decision hasn't yet been made on whether to continue the pilot program past the pilot expiration on June 30, but said that the budget proposal for the 2017-2018 fiscal year includes the potential revenue loss.
"I think we're going to keep looking at the situation, and analyzing the data as we look to extend the program," she said. "We are leaving the door open."