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Heckscher Catalyzed NYC Public Libraries to End Overdue Fines

10.19.2021

New York City’s public library systems will no longer prevent access to those that have overdue fines. (see “Libraries say goodbye to overdue fines”). The Heckscher Foundation for Children was instrumental in making this happen.

Five years ago, Heckscher uncovered that over 200,000 youth had accumulated $15 of library fines, resulting in blocked library cards. Without working cards, youth could not borrow library books, research materials, and other media (including, in some cases, a computer) essential for homework or research projects.

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.

This funding led to many improvements that increased timely return of library books by 10% and increased family engagement with the libraries.  And most importantly, catalyzed the ending of late library fines altogether: “We do want to use fine free as a tool to find and retain new library card users. We do want to create engagement with our collections and services.”