Got Library Fines? A New Program Lets Kids Read Them Away

Los Angeles and Santa Monica students read books instead of paying late fees

Any parent who has fished an overdue library book out from underneath the sofa knows the pain of late fees. When library fines add up, they can even take the allure out of reading, which is the last thing any of us wants. So here's the good news: Los Angeles County Library, Santa Monica Public Library, and even LAPL are changing the game with awesome new programs to make late fees vanish.

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Both LA County and the city of Santa Monica have laid out multiple ways to make sure that library fines no longer stop kids from using their local libraries. For starters, the LA County Supervisors voted a few months back to create a new student library card that is never subject to late fees or fines and allows kids ages 17 and under to check out up to three items at a time. This means that going forward, young readers never need to worry about accruing fines at any of the county library branches—ever.

But what about existing fines? County library cardholders age 21 and under can get rid of library fines just by cracking open a book as part of The Gread Read Away. For every hour spent reading in the library, $5 in fines will be removed from the child's account. Given that $10 in fines suspends a reader from checking out books, this is a great way to get back on the reading train. And since that fine-free card is only good until age 17, this allows older teens and college students to catch a break as well.

The process is simple. All young readers need to do is go to a branch of the LA County Library and ask a staff member to register them for The Great Read Away program. Then, when they want to start chipping away at their fines, they just sign in with a librarian and start reading in the library. The librarian tracks time spent reading, and the fees "read away" are waived. 

Santa Monica Public Library has entirely stopped charging overdue fines to young cardholders when they return books and even other materials late. Like the county, Santa Monica began the year with a plan that allowed young card holders to read away their fines, but as of July 2, 2018 the beach community has done away with all late fees for anyone age 18 or under—and that includes wiping out past fees.

In Los Angeles, students in the LA Unified School District now receive a Student Success Card, which is a card to use the LA Public Library fine free. Students should automatically receive this special city library card, which doesn't accrue overdue fees and allows students to check out up to three books at a time. The library is trying to reach all LAUSD students through school mailing lists, including all affiliated and non-affiliated charter schools. If you have a student who has not received a Student Success Card in the mail, the children's librarian at your local branch can get you one; if your entire school has not received the cards, then the school should approach the librarian for help. Distributing the new no-fine cards has been a slow process, and information is not always clear, but Cathie Chenoweth, the liaison for the new program, can sort out any problems at 213.228.7483.

Note that the city of Los Angeles does not currently have a read-away program, so if your plan is to read away old fines, make sure you know whether your local branch is a county or city library.

If you are bringing your kid to read down fines at a county branch, there are a few caveats to The Great Read Away: The program doesn't erase the cost of lost items or replacement fees, so if your kid has forever lost that copy of Olivia, you still need to pay for it. And of course children only get credit for reading if they have fees to erase; there is no cash reward for reading (unless you have change you want to hand over). A parent can also read to a child to get read-away credit, but kids can't watch movies or do non-reading activities to participate in The Great Read Away (after all, then it would be called something else). A kid who doesn't want to read a book, however, could read a newspaper, magazine, or graphic novel. Alas, avid young readers cannot read away anyone else's fines (not even Mom's, sadly).

If your crew have fines of their own, though, head to your nearest county library and tell the kids it's time to join The Great Read Away. The trip is not only good for them, it pays for itself. 

Top photo via Bigstock