Yesterday, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle wrote a piece on Crosscut arguing that the mayor’s proposed budget cuts released Monday—"a budget that slashes virtually every program, service, and benefit that families with children utilize and enjoy in our neighborhoods"—proves that Seattle is not a place for kids. Exhibit A: Mike McGinn’s plan to collect fines on overdue library books checked out by kids. “The proposal to begin enforcing collection of fines against kids under 13 for overdue library books is perhaps the ultimate elbow against families,” Carlyle wrote. While Carlyle cites a lack of funding from the city government for several kids programs, this one is the "ultimate elbow" (it bears mentioning that many, many thing have been cut that don't have anything to do with kids, like cost-of-living increases for union workers, and revenue has been tappped from sources paid by exclusively by adults, like parking spaces).
When it comes to library fines, however, it turns out families have been taking the elbow since the Nickels administration. The Seattle Public Library (SPL) approved a rule last summer that took effect October 15, 2009 which says, “Items designated for children 12 and under: Daily fines of 15 cents per item accrue on overdue items.” Before then, books checked out by people under 13 were fine-free.
SPL spokeswoman Andra Addison says that ever since that rule took effect, when kids held past-due books, “overdue notices to juvenile accounts included fines.” The notice would go to whomever was on the account: either the kid or the parent, Addison says. Return rates on library materials for juveniles have improved since then.
Under the change that takes effect November 1 of this year, the library will send a notice to a kid's parents, via the collection agency that handles all library fines, once the fine exceeds $25. Megan Taylor, the SPL circulation manager, says those fines accrued when someone is 17 or under never go to credit reporting. The goal is not to penalize children, Addison says, but to collect the library stock. Before the fines, “people forgot about it,” she says. But the fines and notices encourage “getting the books back faster. It is saving that book budget and keeping popular materials in circulation.”
City council member Tim Burgess is also reportedly opposed to collecting the fines, but his office said it was too early for Burgess to comment.
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus says, “With the cuts we are making to library services, it makes sense that once fines exceed $25 it is acceptable to ask that the fine actually be paid."