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Equity concerns lead San Diego to waive juveniles lost library book fees

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(The Center Square) – The San Diego City Council approved a new policy that will no longer send overdue library accounts of juveniles to the city’s collections department and will start a program that allows the youths to have a library foundation pay off their debt.

The city staff said the fines of the of the consequences barred the youths from having access to the library and was not aligned with the city’s goals of equity for all students.

The public library previously made the change of eliminating fines for returning materials late to accessing a “material charge” fee for replacing the materials. The parents or legal guardian are barred from taking out any other materials once the juvenile’s account goes to collections.

“Removing these accounts from collections and returning them to the Library Department means all juveniles have equal opportunity to access library services,” a staff memo stated.

The City Treasurer would waive about $70,000 in collection fees due to the 2,779 juvenile accounts that are in arrears. The city said 64% of those accounts are from underserved areas. And the Library Department would collect the $175,500 in material charge fees from the San Diego Public Library Foundation, which has agreed to pay off those costs, according to city documents.

Now, library staff will work with individual juveniles with how to restore their access to the library. The juveniles will also be able to submit an application to have the San Diego Public Library Foundation pay off their fees in what is called a “Fresh Start” Program. If a juvenile racks up fees a second time after participating in the Fresh Start program, the library will not grant a second waiver of fees.

The San Diego Public Library has revenue of about $2 million and expenses of $73.2 million in 2024, according to city documents.