Library Commission punts fine-free initiative amid Covid-19 uncertainty

Nina Hernandez

The Library Commission pledged to keep working on its Fine-Free Libraries program Monday, with the understanding that it may take a year or more to win City Council’s approval due to the budgetary uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

“I think there is somewhat of a sense that maybe now is not the time to continue this effort,” said Chair Catherine Hanna. “We don’t want to abandon it, particularly as citizens of Austin undergo the same budgetary hit that lots of us are seeing. Now might actually be a good time.”

However, she expressed concern that Council might have too much on its plate to properly consider the matter. “I happen to believe that City Council might not have the attention and focus that we would need them to have to consider this,” she said.

Commissioner JC Dwyer suggested that the commission continue to work out the details over the next year, considering the city’s “muddled” financial situation.

“We could also provide evidence (for the program), as well as give us opportunities to educate on these issues,” Dwyer said.

Austin Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks told the commission he believes the working group assigned to the issue is on the right track.

“We appreciate that effort,” he said. “We have information on what libraries are doing around the country around ‘fine-free.’ It is an equity issue, when it comes to fine-free libraries, and so we hope that that effort continues, because we do know that there are many in our community that cannot use our library services because they owe fines, or they are afraid to become part of the library system because they don’t want to incur fines because they will not be able to pay it back.”

Hanna agreed that the commission will continue to discuss the issue in the future.

“We’ll sort of sit down and think about ways we might be able to support or document the need for this,” she said. “Because there is going to be another side to (the pandemic). Everyone, we have to assume that we’re going to come out the other side and be a vibrant city again.”

Photo by Michael Barera/CC BY-SA.

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