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Some kids in LA no longer have to pay their library fines — as long as they read

Jesus Ambrosio/ KPCC

Last week, Los Angeles County Supervisors voted to create a student library card that waives overdue fines for patrons under 18 years old. They were trying to target patrons like 7-year old Aliyah Clafy.

“My kids are here every week getting books. I think that’s a really good idea,” said Clafy’s mother, Adriana Chavez, outside the county library system’s Lakewood branch.

Mother and daughter had just returned 15 books – mostly in the "Mr. Putter" and "Fly Guy" series, Clafy’s favorites – but this family, like many others, sometimes doesn’t return books on time and gets charged overdue fines. That’s what brought them here on the day after Christmas.

“I didn’t want any late fees,” Chavez said.

The creation of the student card, coupled with a six-month old program to clear fines and fees through reading, is part of an effort by the 87-branch L.A. County Library system to remove barriers that might keep youth from using library resources.

“We find that when kids get charges on their account, they just stop using the card,” and that keeps them from using the library’s educational material, said Darcy Hastings, assistant library administrator for youth services at the L.A. County Library.

The student card will be available mostly through Los Angeles County school districts, Hastings said, but library branches will also process the new student card, which is different than existing county library cards. Signing up for the new card doesn’t erase any previous library fines or fees. The library suspends library privileges after a patron has racked up $10 or more of fines and, or fees.

That’s one of the reasons L.A. County library officials created The Great Read Away in June. A patron can work off any outstanding fine or fee by reading at any county branch. Library staff will cancel $2.50 of debt for every 30 minutes of reading.

Hastings said she didn’t have a count of how many patrons have taken part in this program but she does have one telling statistic: since June, the library has reinstated more than 3,500 suspended library accounts.