The East Side Library didn’t have the best year in 2010. At one point it was listed for closure when the Spokane Public Library had to make budget cuts, because not enough people used it.
A loosely formed neighborhood group called the East Side Library Access Project got together to try and help the library by, among other things, raising money to give amnesty to children whose cards had been blocked because they hadn’t paid outstanding fines.
Money to pay off the fines and reopen the cards was donated by neighbors and East Central businesses, and another 147 cardholders will receive a letter soon saying that their fines have been paid by their neighbors.
“Somehow donations continued to trickle in,” said Pat Partovi, director of the Spokane Public Library. “We had $1,500 left, after we had paid off a couple of hundred dollars of fines, so we decided to select some kids’ cards and pay those off with that money.”
The 147 are all under 18 and opened their original library account at East Central Library.
“We went back to June of 2010 and paid off all the fines and fees for these children who had incurred fines in that time period, but had not been sent to collection,” said Partovi.
The East Side Library Access Project has also had a positive effect on the total number of library visitors.
Compared to all other Spokane Public Library branches, East Side is the only one that has shown an increase in the number of visitors. It’s up by 4.3 percent compared to last year.
“The number of people who come in to East Side to use the computers is up by 17.1 percent compared to last year – all of the other branches are down on Internet use, compared to last year,” said Partovi.
Louise Chadez, who’s been with the Access Project since the beginning, said the group’s approach clearly worked but it’s not clear what will happen next.
“We are not sure how much we are going to continue with this,” said Chadez, explaining that the group would like for the East Central Neighborhood Council or a similar group to take over the Access Project. “Perhaps we’ll do a winter fundraising event like we did last year.”
The somewhat unusual idea of offering amnesty for library fines has not been tried anywhere else in Spokane and it has not paid off all the fines. When the Access Project started, the East Side Library was owed $26,177 in outstanding fines within the 99202 ZIP code. Of that, $5,854 was owed on juveniles’ cards. A library card is blocked if there is more than $10 in fines on it, and children of parents and guardians with blocked cards can’t open their own cards.
Partovi said the Spokane Library is willing to work with any other branch that’s interested in doing something similar.
“I think it worked for East Side because it was citizen driven, it came from the neighborhood,” said Partovi. “We didn’t raise any money, it didn’t come from the library and down, that’s why it worked.”