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Santa Monica City Council Poised to Eliminate Library Fines for Youth
By Jorge Casuso
January 19, 2018 -- Santa Monica Public Library cardholders who are 18 and under would no longer have to pay fines when materials are overdue under a proposal the City Council will consider Tuesday.
The proposal from staff also would erase the outstanding fines incurred by 766 of the library's 7,100 young cardholders. The fines total an estimated $12,627, staff said. Lost or damaged items would still be subject to fines.
Those who owe $5 or more in fines cannot access databases, checkout materials or use the internet, which are "resources needed for developing literacy skills, building homework support, and other educational pursuits,' staff said.
"This effort reflects the City Council’s goal to invest in learning opportunities at all stages of life through the Learn + Thrive strategic goal as well as ensuring the wellbeing of youth through learning and their success later in life," staff wrote in its report.
"The City could make no better investment," staff said.
Other library systems nationwide, including including the Altadena Library District, the City of Los Angeles Public Library and the LA County Library have adopted similar measures.
"A robust nationwide movement is afoot in support of fine-free public library services," staff wrote. "There is no indication, according to current data, that fines serve as a deterrent or promote return and use of library materials.
"With increasing frequency, libraries point to the value of fine-free accounts, especially for youth."
The recommendation -- which was endorsed in November by the Library Board -- comes during a "notable downturn" in materials checked out by children and teens, staff said.
The downturn, which became apparent in 2012, is likely due to easy access to information on line, the adoption of a non-resident fee and a decline in the City's youth population from 14,057 in 2000 to an estimated 13,340 in 2016, staff said.
Fines on overdue materials also could prevent youth from using the library regularly, staff said.
"Anecdotally, it has been reported that patrons stop using the library when cards are blocked due to fines," staff wrote.
Outstanding fines on Youth cards, which date back to 1998, are "minimal," staff said.
The current fine for outstanding children's materials is 15 cents per day and 25 cents for teen and adult materials. Fines for outstanding DVDs are $1 per day.
Library and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District are developing a program that ensures all students receive a library card to support their success all through school, staff said.
"Removing fines for youth is a first step in the process," staff wrote.
If Council approves the recommendation, library revenues from fines would decrease by $24,000 a year and approximately $50,300 in outstanding fines would be removed, staff said.
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