Children can ‘read down’ library fines

OKEECHOBEE — If fees accrued for overdue library books are keeping your children from using the public library, there is help in sight.

At the Thursday meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission, the commissioners approved four ways that library patrons can clear their unpaid fines from their accounts and start using the library again.

According to the staff report, library fines have traditionally been used to encourage patrons to return their items on time, but have never been intended as a means of earning revenue. When a patron has fines, he or she is not allowed to use library services until their account is clear.

For the youth patrons, ages 5 to 17, the parent/guardian who opened the youth account is responsible for paying the fines.

The “Read Down Your Fines” program, and “Be Kind, Pay a Fine” program, will help youth patrons eliminate their fines, either by “reading off” their fines or having an anonymous patron paying their fines for them.

Reading off their own fines encourages literacy, as well as a sense of independence, as they’re clearing their account themselves, explained Kresta King. For every 15 minutes a young person reads in the library, $1 of fines will be waived, she said.

Ms. King said the young people can read anything they wish. Friends of the Library volunteers will monitor the readers with a timer to document their reading time. She said this encourages the children to spend more time reading, which improves literacy.

The “Be Kind, Pay a Fine” program models generosity when an anonymous patron clears a youth patron’s account for them so that they can again use the library services.

The “Fines for our Furry Friends” and “Blood Drive” programs will allow patrons to give back to the community while clearing their accounts, so they can again use the library. These programs will apply to both youth and adult accounts.

Fines for our Furry Friends allows library patrons to bring in receipts for donations and the library will waive their library fines. Donations could be made to County Animal Control Shelter, the K-9 Unit, the Okeechobee Humane Society or to domestic violence shelters that allow clients to bring their pets with them.

For the Blood Drive program, the Big Red Bus will be at the library during National Library week, and library fines would be waived for those who donate blood.

These programs are available for both youth and adult patrons.

Over the past five years, more than $17,000 in fines are outstanding for young library patrons, while only $250 have been paid, said Ms. King. This means those young people are not allowed to use the library services.

The fine forgiveness program will only apply to late fees.

The late fees are 25 cents per item per day, she said. The forgiveness program will not apply if the patron still has the books borrowed from the library.

In other business Thursday, the commissioners approved the new job description of the Driver Engineer for Fire/Rescue. The creation of this position was part of the Union Contract with Local 2918 of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) approved on August 25, 2015.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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