City Hall: Council Oversight Committee Approves Library Fine Resolution

The Legislative Oversight Committee of Philadelphia City Council met on Nov. 20, 2019, and approved resolution 190775, which encourages the Free Library of Philadelphia to eliminate fines and cancel the debt of those who currently owe fines to the library.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker introduced the resolution, citing inspiration from a similar initiative in Chicago. 

“In just the first month of implementation, [Chicago’s] decision to eliminate library fines has triggered over a 240% increase in book returns,” Parker said. 

Parker also said less than 1% of the library system’s budget comes from fines. 

Pamela Dembe, the vice chair of the library’s board of directors, said the Free Library began looking into eliminating fines over a year ago but did not implement the practice due to budgetary and material concerns. 

“I know you say [fines make up] only 1%, but we were looking at having to make up a $400,000 hole in our budget,” Dembe said. ““Most of which was going to come out of materials.”

Sioban Riordan, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, said that 14% of active card holders do not or cannot pay their fines, sometimes resulting in a loss of materials. 

“One, these customers tend to stay away from the library believing that they are barred from accessing all of our services, even though they can still use our public computers and Wi-Fi and attend programs,” Riordan said. 

A more contentious issue at the meeting was the library system’s plan for diversifying its hiring practices. 

Riordan said the library is focusing more on addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating a strategic plan. 

Councilmember Cindy Bass said she was appreciative of the work the library had undertaken in regards to diversity but that more still could be done. 

“I’m not sure when we’re moving at the pace that we probably should be moving,” Bass said. “I think that we might want to think about what else can we be doing around diversity inclusion, because it matters.”

Bass said she is concerned that young people who visit the libraries are not served by people who are representative of the community. 

Riordan said the library system is in the process of hiring consultants who will perform a cultural assessment, and the library has a diversity committee that meets monthly. 

Riordan said the library is looking at ways to open management positions to all staff, including a program with Drexel University to create a certification for those looking to become a librarian. 

Resolution 190775 was approved. 

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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