Guest Op-Ed: Encouraging Lifelong Learning by Eliminating Late Fees for Youth at Our Public Libraries

By Mayor Martin J. Walsh

In the City of Boston, we believe every child deserves an equal opportunity to succeed. We’re investing more than ever in our public schools, building out universal pre-kindergarten, providing free community college, helping students experiencing homelessness, and giving free T passes to all Boston students in Grades 7-12. We are dedicated to breaking down any barriers that exist between our students and the quality education they deserve.

Over the past five years, we’ve also made historic investments in another educational asset: our public library system. Our 26 library locations are precious neighborhood resources. They often serve as an extension of our schools, and they encourage learning after school and all year long. 

We recently announced a new policy that will help make sure all our young people have access to the services our libraries provide. On November 1, all Boston Public Library locations eliminated overdue balances for those under the age of 18 who have a Boston Public Library card. While youth cardholders will still be required to return any overdue books in order to check out additional materials, they will no longer face fines for late returns. We believe this will encourage more young people to take advantage of the educational resources our libraries provide. 

Many young people might struggle to pay off their overdue balance and feel ashamed returning to the library. I remember worrying about that when I got an overdue notice when I was a kid. I felt like I had committed a crime and I was afraid to go back. I don’t want any kid or teenager to feel that way, because a library is a public institution that is meant to serve as a resource for everyone. If a child is seeking out more ways to learn, or a safe place to spend time after school, we don’t want them to avoid libraries because of fear over late fees. 

Eliminating late fees isn’t the only way we’re encouraging young people to visit our libraries. We’re also renovating our library buildings to make them more modern, welcoming, and supportive of the kinds of programming people in our neighborhoods want. Our new capital plan includes a $127 million investment in our libraries, including $10 million to renovate the Roslindale branch, $18.3 million to renovate the Adams Street branch in Dorchester, and several other improvement projects throughout our neighborhoods. We’re installing new technologies, public artwork, and creating more spaces where communities can gather. 

The Boston Public Library is the oldest free city library in the United States. Our city has a long legacy of investing in cultural resources and public education. The BPL’s motto is “Free to all.” That means that our 26 library locations belong to the people of Boston. They exist to serve all people, of all backgrounds and income levels. Eliminating late fees for youth under 18 is our next step toward that goal. With more than 150,000 youth library cardholders in the City of Boston, I believe this change will make a significant positive impact. We hope there will be additional benefits, too: some other American cities that have eliminated library fines have seen significant increases in return rates. 

This is one of the ways we’re investing in our neighborhoods and inspiring the next generation to follow their interests, seek out knowledge, and become engaged in their communities.

Martin J. Walsh is the Mayor of Boston.

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