The New York Public Library announced it is doing away with
late fees for tardy book borrowers, hoping to draw more patrons and cut a break
to those with the lowest economic means. One part of me wants to abhor this,
while another part wants to applaud.
Joining some 270 libraries in North America that have gone at least partially fine-free, according to Urban Libraries Council, NYPL will still punish patrons who fail to return a book. They don’t want people stealing books; they just don’t want accrued late fines to deter users.
The NYPL stopped serving library card owners who owed at least $15 in fines. Some 400.000 New Yorkers had been banned. Now the slate has been wiped clean with mass amnesty — and fewer restrictions moving forward.
So, on the positive side, more people will use the library, encouraging book reading and literacy. On the negative side, we are rewarding lawlessness and irresponsibility. Not to mention, libraries will lose millions in fees that people did pay and were reinvested into supporting the very system that has served the community for generations. Taxes will go up and fundraising goals will rise — or services and book collections will not grow or may even get reduced.
So what might happen as a result of this new policy? More books come back late. Books that come back late are gone for longer than usual periods. This means some books get read by fewer people. The library may respond by buying more copies of certain titles, leaving fewer funds to buy other materials. Or libraries, with fewer funds, end up buying fewer books and injure the publishing industry.
It is interesting that e-books were going to replace printed books, said the experts a decade ago. Not so.
They said our smart phones would replace books. They have not.
They said libraries would close. They have not.
Now some say doing away with late fees will hurt libraries. We shall see.
We already have free mobile libraries and pop-up mini libraries that people stock and borrow from anonymously, all on the honor system, so in some ways, this is an extension of that. It is also an extension of the growing trend of decriminalizing offensive behavior across the board. Over the years we have legalized behavior we previously did not tolerate, including certain drug use.
How do we raise a generation of responsible people without the threat of punishment or consequences? Maybe that is exactly how we do it. Remove the penalty approach, and instead, the library shows generosity and opportunity. Guilt over fear. Reward over punishment. Trust over threat.
Time will tell if this proves to be a viable model. It is worth trying and can always be reversed. Anything that encourages book reading is something to be optimistic about.
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Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2021. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America. For more information, please consult: .