St. Paul mayor suggests forgiving $2.5M in overdue library book fees

Published 5:18 pm Monday, September 3, 2018

ST. PAUL — St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is proposing a clean slate for the 51,000 delinquent library cardholders who owe money for overdue books at the city’s public libraries.

Carter’s proposal would forgive more than $2.5 million in accumulated library fees and eliminate fines for overdue books altogether, the Star Tribune reported.

He’s asking the City Council to approve $215,000 in extra library funding for next year. It would replace revenue collected each year in fines. Library users will still have to pay for lost or damaged items.

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“That will unlock the doors to our libraries, so that we can truly say that everyone in our community is welcome at the St. Paul Public Library and that everyone in our community can afford to check out a book from the St. Paul Public Library,” Carter said.

The mayor proposed a $20 million total library budget for 2019, which is a 3.2 percent increase from this year.

The St. Paul City Council will decide on Carter’s plan in October. If approved, St. Paul would join other cities outside Minnesota that have already eliminated late fees, such as Salt Lake City, Nashville and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

St. Paul Public Library staff members have considered eliminating fees to make the library more accessible for years. Nearly one in five St. Paul library cardholders is restricted from checking out a book because of overdue fines, according to staff research.

“Between the covers of a good library book every single child in every single part of our city can travel the world — from the bottom of the ocean to the edge of the galaxy, and back. For free,” Carter said. “But, you know what? That’s not really the case.”

Local library workers said many families have had to choose between paying library fees or other necessities. The issue hits low-income families the hardest, said Antwan “A.J.” Ragland, who works at the Arlington Hills Library.

Ragland said the mayor’s proposal “will change lives in a way that I don’t even think we can understand. This will be so incredible.”

Library users would still be asked to pay for lost or damaged items.