Two teenagers read a book at the newly opened Teen Library in the Central Library. Photo by Scott Ball.
Debt from late youth books checked out from the San Antonio Public Library will be forgiven under a new program implemented this month. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Public Library has launched a program eliminating overdue fees for all materials classified as “juvenile” or “young adult.”

The SAPL Fine Free Pilot Program started June 3 and will extend through spring 2020. Community feedback will be used to determine whether to end, extend, or permanently implement the program.

After conducting an equity analysis prompted by City Council’s Community Health and Equity Committee, SAPL noticed many of the outstanding overdue fees were from libraries in low-income areas.

The library aims to increase access for children living in these areas whose families rely on library resources but cannot afford the overdue fines.

“If you are living in poverty, [paying the fees] cannot be your first priority,” said Dale McNiell, assistant director for public service at SAPL. “These fines were disproportionately affecting families in poverty, which, of course, was never the intended effect.”

Caitlin Cowart, community and public relations manager at SAPL, said the demand for children’s books is higher during the summer. The launch of the program was intended to coincide with the season and the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club.

“We wanted to make sure that our resources are as available as they can be for families during the summertime,” Cowart said. “It is the most used time for children, and it is also a very important time for children to read so they don’t fall back in school.”

SAPL’s operating budget will not be affected because it is solely dependent on appropriations from the city. McNiell said the program will not significantly impact SAPL’s revenue budget and general fund contribution since it will only apply to a small selection of materials.

“One reason we are doing the pilot is to see how much it will cost,” McNiell said. “Neither for the City or the library is this flow of revenue from fines on children’s material a very significant part of that stream. I think it is far more important that we encourage children and families to use the library and to eliminate this unintended barrier.”

Laura Morales is a freshman studying journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and a contributor to The Daily Texan.