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Glendale libraries close the book on late fees for children

Glendale libraries close the book on late fees for children
All eight of Glendale's public libraries, including the Downtown Central Library (pictured), will no longer be charging late fees for children and teen items. Proponents of the plan see it as a boon for families' equal access to reading and other educational materials. (Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press)

Glendale public library patrons will no longer have to pay late fees for children and teen materials, making the Jewel City the latest municipality to join a growing number of communities across the country that are doing the same or ditching fines altogether.

While the new policy went into effect on July 1, library users of all ages are still expected to bring back books, discs and other materials on time, according to Glendale library director Gary Shaffer said.

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Items that are not returned will incur a replacement charge.

“This will really go a long way in enhancing the overall literacy of students in our city,” said Hala Shonouda, an administrator with the Glendale library, of the initiative that was recently approved by the Glendale City Council as part of its budget process.

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“[Fines were] serving as a barrier to the people who need the access to the material the most,” added, Shonouda, who began working at the Glendale library system about 15 years ago as a children’s librarian.

Prior to the new policy, there was a $.15-cent-per-day late fee for children and teen materials, including books, paperbacks, cassettes, CDs, DVDs and magazines, with a maximum fine of $2.50 for each item, according to a city statement.

Previously, if a library card holder reached $20 in fines, they could no longer check out anything, Shonouda said. Now, families who can’t pay fines that high will still be able to check out books for their children.

Montrose resident Rick Dinger, replying to the news via Twitter, voiced skepticism about the change.

“Maybe a little accountability is not the worst thing?” Dinger, a former Glendale City Council candidate, tweeted. “Maybe have the kids or teens work in library to pay back their fines?”

State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) responded to Dinger’s tweet, explaining why she supports the initiative.

“I don’t disagree, but most parents make sure kids return books,” Friedman tweeted. “Fines hurt poor families the most. Anyway, at the rate kids are reading vs. watching screens, I wonder if we are better off just giving them books if they want them. Anything to get them reading.”

Echoing Friedman’s sentiments, Shonouda said most families made an effort to return materials.

However, with children often checking out stacks of 20 or 30 short books, fines could quickly add up if a parent accidentally forgot to renew them for just a day or two, she said.

A $.25-cent-per-day late fee will remain in place for most adult materials, with a maximum fine of $5 for each item.

Library patrons who lose or damage adult or children’s items must still pay the cost of the item in addition to a processing fee or penalty, depending on the type of item.

According to Shonouda, Glendale librarians had been talking among themselves for roughly a decade about how beneficial removing fines for young people could be.

At the time, she said they weren’t sure it was a feasible idea, even though libraries across the country began implementing similar initiatives between then and now.

“We’re certainly not the first library to do this, but there are still plenty of libraries that do charge fines for [children’s materials],” Shaffer said.

According to Shaffer, he implemented the policy at a previous library he headed and saw an uptick in usage of materials.

While the library will lose revenue as a result of the initiative, Shaffer said he thinks “the benefit of having greater access far outweighs the fiscal impact.” Children’s fines amount to $4,822 annually, Shaffer said.

Some library systems have gone even further, eliminating all fines and fees. A little over a month ago, the Oakland City Council voted to do just that. Also going into effect July 1, Oakland is joining the Bay area counties of San Mateo and Contra Costa, which have already done away with fines, and a similar proposal is pending in San Francisco.

Northern California’s push to eliminate fines is part of a national movement, with public library systems in San Jose, Denver and Nashville already fine-free.

Discussions within the Glendale library system have only centered on children’s material, Shonouda said.

Four of Glendale’s neighborhood libraries — Casa Verdugo Library, Library Connection @ Adams Square, Montrose Library and Pacific Park Library — reduced their hours, beginning July 1.

That’s after several community libraries expanded their hours in 2015 during the two-year renovation of the Downtown Central Library, according to Shaffer.

Since 2017, the Downtown Central Library has been open seven days a week for a total of 72 hours, according to the statement, which adds that, now, some of the neighborhood libraries are collectively reducing operations by 18 hours “to rebalance operating hours.”

Glendale’s library department includes the Downtown Central Library and Brand Library & Art Center, as well as six neighborhood libraries.

For a detailed list of service-hour changes, visit glendalelac.org.

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