It’s one of our favorite institutions, with such a noble mission, generally solid history and world-renowned reach and quality, but this week the Queens Library let us down. It did so by jumping aboard the equity express with the city’s other two library systems and barreling straight past personal-responsibility station into free-lunch, do-what-you-want, the-collective-has-you-covered terminal.
Presto! With a virtual tap of the delete key, the library has done away with all outstanding fines for overdue material. And there won’t be any more fines in the future. Keep that book or movie as long as you want. There’ll be no price to pay. Want to make a reservation for some really popular book before it even comes out? Go ahead, and then keep it as long as you wish. Don’t worry about the other bookworms who reserved it, maybe seniors living alone. You don’t have to be considerate of them. You got yours; who cares?
The library seems unconcerned about the message this sends young people, not to mention everyone else, which is somewhat surprising since President and CEO Dennis Walcott served as schools chancellor in the Bloomberg administration, when the city insisted on high standards and came down brutally on schools that didn’t make the cut. Now he’s encouraging irresponsibility and low expectations? And he doesn’t even have the excuse of working for Mayor de Blasio today; the library is independent, though most of its funding comes from the city. A small amount, less than $950,000 a year, comes from the fines now being nixed. Good thing the taxpayers are loaded and can cover that no problem.
Apparently young people, especially in less-wealthy areas, tend to rack up a lot of fines and get scared of going to the library or even get blocked from its services if they owe enough. We don’t want that happening any more than Walcott does. But there are answers other than dropping all fines. There are amnesties, which the library periodically has offered. It also could raise the threshold for blocking a card from the very low $15 it had in effect to something much higher. Or maybe do something more radical, like making it so that cardholders’ parents or guardians are responsible for late fees until a kid is 18, or maybe even 21. Heck, young New Yorkers can stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 30 now. What’s a library fine by comparison?
This is all wishful thinking because there’s no going back. The fines are gone. Society has found one more way for people to be careless and rude without consequence. It’s a shame.