Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Read or Die

That was the summer-reading-club theme once proposed by a group of blackhearted children's librarians in my Chicago Public Library days; I thought of it today when I saw on PUBYAC a query about "read for fines" programs, wherein children can work off their overdue book fines through time spent doing some sustained silent reading in the library.

Speaking as someone who became a librarian in order to get a handle on the overdue fines I've been accumulating since I was five, I would have appreciated this approach. But its logic completely confounds me. Reading as a penalty is right up there with reading for money (as in, read seven books for a McDonald's gift certificate, a horror show of a reading club I had to run one year) as an extremely mixed message about the value of books. And while reading-for-fines does offer an alternative for those who can't afford to pay, it faces off children with money versus children who read instead. Euw.

Even if I were an Ayn Rand kind of pro-fine librarian, I would have trouble getting my mind around what this policy says about fines, never mind reading. By allowing children to substitute the very activity which resulted in the fine for the fine itself, you undermine the punitive and, hopefully, deterring nature of the penalty. You're winking. Because of course you're not saying that the reading-for-fines is punitive: that would make the rest of your workday a lie. Or not, in which case get out of here.


Lisa said...

The library where I have worked for my entire working life has never charged children fines for overdue books. It makes me shudder to think that some libraries penalise children for reading for longer than the allocated time. Talk about missing the point.

Lynn said...

"Read or die?" LOL! When I worked at a public library we had to use the summer reading theme provided by the mother ship, especially if we wanted the freebies accompanying the theme.

My current library employer (academic)is the first where fines have been waived for faculty and that grace period is only extended to books we own. Anything borrowed via the statewide consortium is fair game. I did not consider the no-fine aspect when job searching ... what was I thinking (smile)?

I never considered fines as penalty for reading longer than the circulation/check out period allows. Most libraries offer at the least one renewal. You borrow on an honor system and bring back books so other's may enjoy them as well. Speaking of which, I just got an email overdue notice, guess I should renew my 48 kids books.

thommy said...

This is a hard one for me. I have always had big problems with Accellerated Reader type programs, because they characterize reading as a chore, without inherent value, useful only as a means to acquire some tangible reward with actual appeal, like, say, a cheap plastic yoyo. Reading off fines gives me the same sort of pause.

At the same time, I work for a system serving a particularly bureaucratic city fixated on ethics and equity. In the abstract I believe ethics and equity to be laudable values. In the concrete, their interpretation means we must impose fines, as stewards of publicly-owned collections, and we must assess them to all customers equally, regardless of their age. So, we end up with lots of kids, more often than not kids whose families can't afford to pay their fines, who lose access to the collections. Reading off fines programs may do some damage to the reputation of the book, but they also represent a means to restore access.

My job, put simply, is to help kids love books. Success depends upon celebrating and honoring the written word. But it depends, just as much, on providing access to those words.

As it happens, I'd need to move a couple of mountains to institute a fine forgiveness program here, so it becomes a moot point. But I do see both sides of the issue.

jess said...

In my experience, when parents rack up too many fines they switch to their childrens' cards. If childrens' cards didn't collect fines, I shudder to think of what some parents would do.

lori said...

I work as a children's librarian in a system that uses the reading-for-fines program, and I was surprised at your view of it being punishment. When I tell a child about the program, they have the choice to participate or not. They can choose to pay the fine if they want, and some do. But most of the ones who choose to read can't believe how lucky they are that they can avoid punishment (fines) by reading. It is impossible to avoid the parents that treat the program as a punishment for their children, but we are lucky to have few of those. And as for facing off children with money versus children who read instead, I've never seen anything like that at all. We certainly don't announce or post a list of those who are reading away their fines. And since the reading is done in the library, it's pretty hard to tell the intentions of those who read.

rindambyers said...

Oh, come, come, come WHERE are all our imaginations here? Surely there are enough remnants of imaginations left, adult though we may be, that we can think up OTHER ways to work off fines than READING?

I'm HORRIFIED, I, who have probably racked up more fines and overdue books and costs for books with splashed coffee on them than anyone in this COUNTY...that children should be made to read to pay off fines! EEEH!

What about cleaning the restroom? And DUSTING? And picking up all the books on the floor of the children's book department. And learnign to sort and shelve a few things? Or create posters? Or help old people with too many borrowed books like me to get through doors. Landscaping work? Or readign stories to little ones who cannot read? Or helping younger ones with homework, etc., etc., etc. ?

Roger Sutton said...

The most punitive, fine-wise, place I ever worked was the Pomona P.L. in California, where fines were assessed up to the price of the book, and if you had lost the book, you were charged both for replacing it and for fines accruing up to the date you reported the loss. If you didn't pay up, even for books that had been returned, we sent you to a collection agency and smacked your credit rating around.

The best place was the Zion-Benton library in Illinois, where there were no fines, but an overdue book would cause a block to be put on your card so that you couldn't check out anything more until you returned the ones you had.

I don't know how you see reading for fines as anything but punitive. It might be a work release program but it's still punishment.

Alex Flinn said...

Interesting thought. Early in my career, I did a free gig at a local library. At the end, the librarian who'd invited me said, "I wish we could have paid you." I said, "Well, you could forgive my library fines."* And they did!

And yes, I have a problem with reward programs. As someone whose kids both read well above grade level and can't find AR books which match both their reading and interest level at the same time, I have a HUGE problem with requiring Accelerated Reader. I used to read the same books over and over as a child because I loved them so much . . . and we know what the AR Police would think of that ("Not challenging herself enough," they'd snort). That said, my younger daughter is probably the reader she is because of a combination of her competitive spirit and a first-grade teacher who was positively rabid about winning the school's AR competition . . . so I know it can work for some kids. I just wish they'd stop with the stick-and-carrot method with kids who already do read. I am so sick of having to find 5 books per quarter that my daughter wants to read, that are on her level and that the media center happens to have tests for, when she has read a dozen books or so books that don't have tests, etc. (and that happen to be newer, better, more exciting books).

I really shouldn't get started on this. Too late.


*In my defense, they were all for my kids' books, and I used to have a cleaning lady who would shelve library books on the kids' shelves in the middle of the (hundreds of) books they own, so we could never find them when it was time to return.

Lynn said...

Just a thought ...

Isn't it up to the child to determine if they feel reading-for-fines program is punishment?

I am not saying I particularly like the idea, there are soooo many ways it could backfire, but if a child chooses to spend an hour or so in the library doing something they enjoy anyway (heck, they could finish the book, turn it in, and lose the fine all in one fell swoop) where is the harm?

Anonymous said...

In my country (Finland) all children's books are exempt from fines. This means that people like me, who read a lot of books from the children's/YA-section, don't have to pay when we return books late either! Yay! Also, you can order books form other libraries to the one closest to you, which costs a small sum per book. Children's books again, however, are free. I think it is an excellent system, and not just because a scatterbrained adult like me benefits from it.
Maria, Finland