Starting on or before March 1, 2014, the Garfield County Public Library District will no longer charge overdue fines on library materials classified as Easy books. This includes all items with a call number that begins with the letter E; including picture books, board books and beginning readers in Spanish and English. Why take this step at this time and why Easy books? The answer lies in the library district’s desire to follow the lead of several other public libraries around the state, and the nation, to place fewer barriers between young readers, families and the public library.
A recent study by the Colorado State Library found that parents of young children are more likely to use the library and check out more books when there is not a penalty for overdue materials. Known as Project SPELL (Supporting Parents in Early Literacy through Libraries), the State Library is encouraging public libraries to drop overdue fines as a way of making the library a more welcoming place for young children and their families. Fear of forgetting to return a book on time, damaging or losing a book can keep some parents from using the public library as a source for their child’s early education. Libraries are rich resources when it comes to books for young children, and no one should feel that they can’t risk accessing these materials because they can’t afford the potential fines.
How important is it that children are read to from the start? Research has shown that young children who are not exposed to reading and books often arrive at kindergarten without the academic and social skills they need to succeed. Despite major public and private investments in early childhood education over the past few decades, more than 80 percent of children in poverty nationwide are not reading at grade level by the third grade. This sets at-risk students up for failure in the later grades, fueling achievement gaps and dropout rates.
The Garfield County Public Library District has been invited to be a partner in the second round of Project SPELL and opted to embrace the recommendation to make fines on Easy books a thing of the past. In conjunction with no overdue fines on children’s Easy items, the library district will also waive lost or damaged charges on board books, and will adopt a more flexible policy for damaged or lost picture books. The library district believes the financial impact will be small, but the impact on children will be immeasurable.