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New York City’s Libraries Just Forgave All Overdue Book Fines for Children

The children of New York City just received a priceless gift: free books.

While the New York City Public Library is, of course, free to all users, more than 160,000 children throughout the city’s boroughs were unable to check out books because of overdue late fees, according to the New York Times.

That is, until now.

Last week the city’s three library systems announced they would forgive all late fines for children under the age of 17 and those still in high school, NPR reported. That included the 20% of kids whose borrowing privileges were suspended because their fines totalled more than $15.

“We want you back, and we want you reading,” said Anthony W. Marx, the president of the New York Public Library.

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The one-time amnesty program for kids, which ran for just one day last week, was an experiment to see if the library system can eliminate fines altogether, Queens Library President Dennis M. Walcott told the Times. It applied to books, DVDs, and any other library materials that been lost or late.

But it wasn’t a cheap experiment. The bill for all of the unpaid late fees, for all of the kids across the five boroughs, added up to some $2.25 million, according to NPR. Adult borrowers are charged 25 cents for every day a book is overdue; for children, the charge is 10 cents per day,  according to the New York Public Library’s website. DVDs carry a heftier charge of $3 per day, regardless of the age of the borrower.

That bill will be paid for by the JPB Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that supports anti-poverty programs, along with environmental advocacy and medical research. The organization made the kid-focused debt-forgiveness program possible.

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Other cities and towns have also experimented with eliminating fines for kids. Since 2010, libraries in Illinois, Massachusetts, California, and Ohio have eliminated fines, according to Slate.

San Francisco offered a six-week amnesty program for all users this year and got back a book that had been overdue for 100 years, while Washington, D.C., readers under the age of 19 aren’t penalized for late or lost books at all anymore, according to the report.

“We didn’t want the reason you didn’t come to the library to be fear that you owed money,” said spokesman George Williams.

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In New York, the amnesty lasted just one day, but for some kids, a clean slate may be just what they needed to get back to the business at hand: reading.

Global Citizen campaigns for all children to have access to a quality education, regardless of income level, gender, ability, or location in the world. You can take action here.