New York City Public Libraries Announce Citywide Fine Forgiveness for all Youth
One-time amnesty gives hundreds of thousands of kids and teens a fresh start
OCTOBER 19 – The city’s three library systems have announced a citywide fine forgiveness program that will give hundreds of thousands of New York City students a fresh start, bringing them back to their libraries for free access to the institutions’ unparalleled collections, resources, and programming.
At a press conference this afternoon, the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library announced that as of today, all kids and teens ages 0 to 17 have had their library fines automatically forgiven, and blocks on their library cards lifted. High school students ages 18 and up can also have their fines cleared in person through November 2, 2017.
This one-time amnesty – made possible by a generous gift from The JPB Foundation – aims to welcome kids and teens back to their local branches so they can utilize the libraries’ wide array of free books, programs, and services.
The amnesty will also help eliminate a known barrier to access for many New York City families: of the 927,000 regular youth library cardholders in New York City, 161,000, or approximately 20 percent, have suspended borrowing privileges due to accumulated fines of more than $15 (these statistics do not include fine-free MyLibraryNYC cards for students and teachers in eligible New York City schools). Of those children and teens with blocked cards, nearly half come from branches in high-needs neighborhoods.
For example, at The New York Public Library’s Countee Cullen branch in Harlem – where this morning’s press conference took place – nearly 40 percent of households report incomes under $25,000 and, before today, about 30 percent of the branch’s total kids and teen cards were blocked.
And once a card is blocked, it’s difficult for some families to ever recover. In the Brooklyn Public Library system, where 42 percent of blocked youth cards are located in the poorest neighborhoods, only 8 percent of blocked cards ever become unblocked -- meaning 92 percent of those kids remain unable to check out materials.
In the Queens Library system, 41 percent of the blocked cards are in the most economically distressed/lowest income zip codes in Queens.
“I have three kids. They all want different books. And when we come we get a bunch of books. When you have 15 books for kids one could get misplaced. So many things happen that even being responsible, adding a special corner for library books in my home, I still have a book or two that I'm missing,” said Nia Keita, who uses the Melrose branch of The New York Public Library in the Bronx, and at one time accrued $200 in fines because books were left behind when her family needed to move quickly from their home. “My kids really felt bad about it, not only upset because they cannot get a book, but because, oh my God, who am I, what did my mom do, why don't I have the money to pay for it? And it feels bad . . . Releasing the fines on the library books will allow children and parents to feel less guilty number one, but have access again to books that are not only pieces of paper and cardboard. They really are an opening to the world for them."
“It is unacceptable that families have to choose between dinner and using the library, but we know that this is a reality for many New Yorkers,” said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. "This is a real issue in our city and across our country. Libraries are for all people, including and especially our most vulnerable citizens. But for many, they are shut out over a few dollars. Today’s amnesty, made possible by the generosity of our partners at The JPB Foundation, is a positive step to ensure that no one faces a financial barrier to access libraries. We hope that this second chance brings kids and teens back to our branches to learn, grow, and open doors of opportunity."
“Brooklyn Public Library is one of the borough’s most democratic institutions,” said Brooklyn Public Library President and CEO Linda Johnson. “We must ensure every child has access to our vast collections and is able to participate in our programs for infants through teens. We are grateful to The JPB Foundation for generously supporting this effort, which will allow us to welcome back many of our young patrons.”
"By restoring borrowing privileges and wiping out fines on youth cards, we are saying to children, ‘You are wanted, you are welcome and you belong here,’” said Queens Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott. “We understand there are sometimes circumstances that prevent cardholders from returning books on time, but they should know our staff will always work with them to ensure fines are not a barrier. We are grateful that The JPB Foundation has made it possible for kids to come back to us, and we look forward to serving them in our libraries.”
Without The JPB Foundation’s gift, the fine amnesty program would not be possible. The three Library systems estimate that with this one-time amnesty, they are forgoing about $2.25 million in collected fines. Fine revenue is used for library operations, including staff, books, and programming. After this one-time amnesty, fines will begin accruing again on any items due after October 19.
The fine forgiveness program is part of a broader mission at libraries across the city to ensure that no one -- regardless of beliefs or background -- faces any barriers to learning, growing, and strengthening their communities. Programs such as wi-fi hotspot lending, ESOL and citizenship classes, early literacy programs, and so on all aim to offer opportunity to all.
“This is a great day for the families across the five boroughs who use our libraries,” said Mayor de Blasio. “They will benefit enormously from this amnesty for fines at all three of our public library systems. With a clean slate, our children can focus on what our treasured libraries provide them – a safe and convenient place to study, and access to books and information that they need to learn.”
“For a child or family with few other luxuries, access to library materials can be the difference between a lack of inspiration and an inspired future,” said NY City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This fine forgiveness initiative will welcome tens of thousands of young people back into our library systems, and ensure their continued exposure to literature, media, and educational offerings across the city. As a longtime partner of the libraries serving the five boroughs, the City Council thanks The JPB Foundation for its generous contribution.”
“Libraries are places of opportunity and equality, especially for children. To deny library access to young people who are without the resources to pay back fines is an injustice that often ends up turning those individuals away from the public library system for good. This fine forgiveness program will assure that young people feel welcome to come into our libraries and use the resources that are available and helpful to them,” said NY City Council Majority Leader James Van Bramer. “The books on the shelves of libraries throughout our City have the power to change people’s lives. We should do everything we can to make sure that people, especially our youth, have access to this power.”
“The New York City public libraries are a key partner in educating our City’s students, and the new fine forgiveness program is exciting news for students and families," said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. "In our public libraries, our children gain not just access to the information within books and resources, but also a love of reading and learning. We are taking a big step forward by expanding access and reducing barriers for students and families across all five boroughs.”
To celebrate fine forgiveness, libraries in all five boroughs will host special events welcoming families and children back to the library, highlighting all the books, services, and programs available to anyone for free. Kids and teens are encouraged to attend, and to return any late materials.
For more details on fine amnesty at each library system, and to find a full schedule of events in each system, visit: nyclibraries.org/newstart.
Brooklyn Public Library
Fritzi Bodenheimer | 718.230.2402 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The New York Public Library
Angela Montefinise | email@example.com
Elisabeth de Bourbon | 718.990.0704| firstname.lastname@example.org
About Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is an independent library system for the 2.5 million residents of Brooklyn. It is the fifth largest library system in the United States with 60 neighborhood libraries located throughout the borough. BPL offers free programs and services for all ages and stages of life, including a large selection of books in more than 30 languages, author talks, literacy programs and public computers. BPL’s eResources, such as eBooks and eVideos, catalog information and free homework help, are available to customers of all ages 24 hours a day at our website: www.bklynpubliclibrary.org.
About The New York Public Library
The Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.
About Queens Library
Founded in 1896, Queens Library transforms lives by cultivating intellectual and personal growth and building strong communities. With a long history of innovation in serving the most diverse county in the United States, Queens Library – one of New York City’s three public library systems -- comprises 61 community libraries, a Central Library, seven Adult Learning Centers, a Teen Library and two Family Literacy Centers. In addition to its core library services of collections, archiving and research, Queens Library offers a comprehensive range of literacy, educational, vocational, employment, health, cultural, recreational and social services programming.
About The JPB Foundation
The Foundation’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in the United States through transformational initiatives that promote the health of our communities by creating opportunities for those living in poverty, enabling pioneering medical research, and enriching and sustaining our environment.