I just read an awesome blog post about ways school librarians can reach students living in poverty. I work in a Title I school, and most of our students are below the poverty level. I was able to gain a new perspective on ways to reach my students, but I was glad to see that some of the practices I have put in place this year are being utilized outside of my district. One of these strategies is not collecting overdue fines.
I started in my current position in September 2014 when I was fresh out of library school. When I was seeking my degree I had no plans to be a school librarian, but that was the position available when I graduated. I had not taken any course work in education, so all of my training was relevant to university level education, archives, and public librarianship. I relied quite a bit on the way things had previously been done in this school.
That included overdue fines. The principal was a strong champion of this policy so I was all for following it. I quickly learned, however, that overdue fines were detrimental to my circulation. While statistics are important, what really suffered was student learning. Because many of our students live in poverty the are not able to afford overdue fines. This policy actually led to students refusing to check out books because they were afraid that they would incur fines that thy would not be able to pay.
Let me be the first to say that I understand overdue fines can help foster a sense of responsibility. However, economically challenged students are often already at a disadvantage due to living in print poor conditions. Schools are designed to educate children, and the school library is designed to promote and aid in that mission. School libraries exist to promote literacy and education. When we have children who are already at a disadvantage in access to print materials, can we really afford to adopt policies that negatively impact their willingness to read books?
This year I have removed the overdue fines from our library policy. I have retroactively removed all overdue fines that had been assessed in previous years. The result? Our circulation has increased 125%.