We have sought to understand and shed light on New York City’s library fines, a complex and systemic issue that disproportionately affects thousands of young people from low-income communities.
We uncovered that over 200,000 youth had accumulated $15 of library fines, resulting in blocked library cards for these children. Without working cards, the youth could not borrow library books, research materials, and other media (including, in some cases, a computer) essential for homework or research projects. Most children in the five boroughs also do not have in-school libraries, and thus have no ability to take books home from any sources. This problem disproportionately affected low-income communities.
We disclosed these findings to the three New York City library systems and to media sources — leading to This New York Times article and a foundation coming forward to fund a citywide fine forgiveness program that provides for the forgiveness of fines and releases library card blocks for all patrons ages 0 to 17.
We further recognized that a one-time loan forgiveness program did not address the long-term problem of the accumulation of library fines or the disproportionate impact on poor kids who would be deprived of library use in the future as further fines accumulated. In short, no existing program dealt with helping children to avoid future fines.
So, we worked with Dr. Ben Castleman of nudge4 solutions lab at the University of Virginia to fund a Three-pronged nudge intervention With the Brooklyn Public Library system (BPL) aimed at both avoiding fine accumulations and supporting youth patrons and their families to actively engage with the library system and its youth-targeted activities.
The interventions involved:
This funding moreover catalyzed the three-library systems goal of becoming a fine-free library for all of its patrons by Fall 2021 – that has now happened, as described by The New York Times (scroll down to: “Libraries say goodbye to overdue fines”).