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New York City's public libraries abolish fines on overdue materials

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. If, hypothetically, you had late fees at the library, if you hadn't brought back your library books for some reason and you live in New York City, you're in luck because the public libraries there are going fine free.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Dennis Walcott is the president of Queens Public Library, one of New York City's three public library systems.

DENNIS WALCOTT: We want you in our libraries, and we want you using our resources that are available to you for free.

INSKEEP: OK, that's good. But without any fines, would people take books and run?

MARTIN: Actually, Walcott doesn't think so. Neither does Tony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library system.

TONY MARX: It turns out late fees for books don't work. They don't bring the books back. Almost all the books come back anyway because people respect that if they are treated with respect and trust, they respond in kind. I know that seems like a very non-New York way of thinking, but we see it.

MARTIN: Plus, if you just totally lose a book, you'll still have to pay the library back for it. But you won't owe any late fees on top of that.

INSKEEP: Now, this is meaningful because New York City is such a big place. There are 400,000 New Yorkers with blocked accounts because they owe more than $15 in late fees.

MARX: Those are vastly disproportionately in the poorest neighborhoods. And that's exactly where we need people using the library.

MARTIN: In Queens, 65% of blocked accounts belong to people who are 17 years old or younger, and that's exactly who libraries want to get in the doors.

WALCOTT: That's the goal, to have our children participate in the American Dream. And the American Dream is through our libraries.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNWED SAILOR'S "AJO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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