Anonymous donor pays overdue fines for young patrons of Lewiston library

Andrew Rice, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
·2 min read

Feb. 20—LEWISTON — An anonymous donation to the Lewiston Public Library will pay overdue fines for children and teenage customers, allowing those with blocked accounts to again check out items.

According to library officials, the $1,000 donation from a "loyal library patron" is more than what is owed in overdue fines on child and teen library cards, meaning any funds left over will also go toward any fines issued over the next several months.

The donation came after the City Council signaled its support for a proposal to do away with overdue fines starting July 1, but the change has not been formally approved.

Library Director Marcela Peres said if the city moves forward as expected, "this donation essentially eliminates overdue fines for child and teen library patrons now instead of July."

Peres and the city's library board told city officials that overdue fines have a disproportionate impact on youth and low-income families, and eliminating them has led to increases in library patronage in other communities.

In Lewiston, the library begins charging 10 cents per day for books and $1 per day for audio/visual items after an amnesty period of seven days past the due date. Accruing charges of $5 or more on a library account results in a block from checking out materials or using computers, including for schoolwork or job searching.

Peres told the City Council earlier this month that nearly one-third of the 625 accounts blocked belong to children or teenagers.

"In the pandemic especially, when families are hurting economically, access to free books and computers can make a huge difference in their everyday lives, and it's very important to us as public librarians to do what we can to preserve that access," Peres said. "But if circumstances are tough and the choice is between spending $5 on essentials or $5 on overdue fines, that choice is clear. It's then really heartbreaking for us to have to tell a child or a family that because life happened and their book came back late for whatever reason, use of the library is now out of reach. This donation changes that, and we are so grateful."

Peres said the library is contacting each affected child or family individually, and looks forward "to welcoming back folks who we haven't seen in a while because of the barrier of unpaid fines."

Peres has said that eliminating overdue fines would not change the borrower's responsibility to return library materials. Borrowers still receive multiple overdue notices, and if an item is six weeks overdue, they are sent a bill for the replacement cost.

Peres said the library is owed $24,000 between replacement costs and fines, but only $3,700 of that is fines.