Philly Mayor Kenney calls on library to eliminate fines for overdue materials

The Free Library of Philadelphia (Flickr Commons)

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PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney on Thursday called on the board of trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia to remove fines for overdue books.

“The punitive practice of late fines for overdue books is a century-old practice that not only creates a barrier to use, it also frequently prevents patrons from returning materials that belong to the Library and should be used and enjoyed by more Philadelphians,” said Kenney.

People are denied access to materials and resources over fines as little as $5, Kenney said.

The board is scheduled to vote on the action at its upcoming meeting on Dec. 11, where library officials will testify.

Demographics and neighborhoods affected by library fines and debts will be on the table, along with other issues.

“How many readers, young readers, families does [the library] lose because people get discouraged when they know they can’t afford to pay those fines?” asked Councilwoman Cherelle Parker.

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The District 9 councilwoman sponsored a resolution in October calling for a hearing of the legislative oversight committee to examine the library’s late fee policy. That hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Library and city officials have been exploring all options for introducing a fine-free policy for the past year, according to Kaitlyn Foti, a spokeswoman for the library.

“We have been in conversation with the managing director [Brian Abernathy] and Mayor’s Office about these matters, and welcome the conversation with City Council to bring more people to the table discussing this possibility,” Foti told the Tribune in October.

Major cities like Chicago, San Francisco and Salt Lake City have rolled out fine-free policies, and have seen a significant number of overdue books returned during the process.

In the proposed updated policy for the Free Library of Philadelphia, patrons still would be required to return overdue books or pay for lost books in order to gain access to new materials.

Other details still need to be hammered out, including the start date.

James Jackson is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.