Reading between the lines: The 2018 St. Paul Library Budget Proposal

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I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember going to the library in my hometown to get a book on Computer hacking. As I brought my book up to the counter, I was greeted by a smiling face and the sour information that I had late fees in the total of $85 – a fortune for a kid.

Apparently, I had checked out a couple books on raccoons a few years earlier and never returned them. Thinking fast, I struck a deal with the librarian. She took mercy on me, and I spent three weeks shelving books and picking dandelions out of the grass around the building to clear my debt – and get back to reading.

This is a unique experience, however, and one that may never happen again – at least not in St. Paul: On August 29th, during the 2019 Library Budget Address, Mayor Melvin Carter proposed an investment of $215,000 to eliminate the library’s reliance on daily late fines.

He also announced the forthcoming expansion of “Read Brave Saint Paul” program, featuring books centered on housing challenges.

Eliminating late fees and fines

One of the bigger proposals in the budge eliminates late fines on library materials with an ongoing $215,000 investment to stabilize technology and collections funding. After much research from the mayor’s staff, it was found that late fines can pose a significant barrier to library use for many. The impact of the mayor’s proposal rids the library’s dependence on daily late fine revenue, and, by eliminating the need for late fees, 50,000 people will again be able to check out materials and use the other library services without fear of punishment.

The average patron debt is $33. While many library patrons incur late fines, the ability to pay them depends greatly on income. Mayor Carter had this to say about the removal of late fees, “Moving away from late fines will make our libraries more accessible and welcoming for all of our residents. I look forward to welcoming back all of our library users who have been blocked because they couldn’t afford to pay a fine.”

Users who can pay their fines are able to continue using the library, whereas those left with unpaid balances are eventually blocked when they get too high. Library Director Catherine Penkert echoed the mayor’s comments on late fees, saying, “Late fines are, in many ways, opposite to our values as a public library system. We want our community to associate libraries with friendly staff, welcoming service, and useful information – not with guilt and shame over late fines. We’re excited by Mayor Carter’s proposal and its potential to make libraries radically more open to our entire community.”

St. Paul is also not alone: The proposal to eliminate late fines at SPPL follows a national trend. Libraries across the country are going fine-free, including Salt Lake City Public Library, Nashville Public Library, Eau Claire Public Library, and others.

For more information on eliminating library late fines and the new program, visit sppl.org/fine-free.

Expanding the Read Brave Saint Paul Program

The second proposal in the mayor’s budget is the expansion of the Read Brave Saint Paul Program, which is going citywide in October. The Mayor’s library budget builds on the legacy of the successful reading program with book-based discussions of relevant and critical issues. The expanded program will fund an inter-generational selection of books to foster conversations about housing challenges. This will be done with $10,000 allocated from the proposed 2019 collections investment. Affordable housing is a critical topic in Saint Paul and was the centerpiece of Mayor Carter’s proposed 2019 Budget.

Mayor Carter spoke to the subject matter of the Read Brave Program, detailing the initiative: “Thousands of people in our community face serious housing challenges. Adding on to the success of Read Brave and lifting housing as our theme will help us develop common understanding about our housing crisis and its impacts on our collective future.”

To learn more about the Saint Paul Public Library’s Past Read Brave program, click here.

These two proposals will go in front of the Saint Paul City Council for a vote in December.

Above information sourced from this press release.

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