Approach

Brooklyn Public Library

Problem

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.

Brooklyn Public Library is one of the borough’s most democratic institutions, providing free access to books and programs for children and their families. Heckscher’s support helps to ensure that young patrons will continue to come through our doors, maintaining the Library as a welcoming place for all.
Linda Johnson
President & CEO, Brooklyn Public Library

Solution

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:

  • Capitalizing on when patrons visit the library to nudge them to stay on top of fines and to make it easy for them to pay fines that have already accrued. This involves enhancements to self-checkout kiosks through which the majority of BPL patrons manage their books in circulation.
  • Using text messaging and revamped email communication systems to nudge patrons to return books on time, manage fines, and increase their library engagement.
  • Making improvements in fine repayment options; BPL will incorporate third-party payment systems like Venmo or ApplePay into the BPL website, mobile app, and checkout systems, and incorporate the ability for enhanced kiosks to accept cash and credit card payments.

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”).

Brooklyn Public Library | Back to Targeted Problem Solving