Brent Gayton, 12, visits the Center Street Library, 2727 W. Fond du Lac Ave., every day to do his homework. A few years ago, Brent lost some scary movies he checked out of the library, so he was barred from taking out any library materials.
“The first thing I would do [at the library] is try to check out some books and movies, but since I couldn’t do it I felt upset and mad,” he said. “It kind of made me feel determined to look for the movies.”
Although he found two of them, the others remained missing. So Brent went with his mom to the library to have his fines forgiven as part of the Milwaukee Public Library’s Fine Forgiveness Campaign. He then used his library card to check out more scary movies.
“It felt like a privilege and it just makes you feel good to check out the things you love at the library,” he said.
Through Sunday, Oct. 9, people with fines on their Milwaukee Public Library card or fees for materials owned by the library can visit any Milwaukee library location and ask a staff member to have their fines and fees forgiven. More than 4,500 people have participated and more than $100,000 in fines have been forgiven since the campaign began on Sept. 26, according to spokesperson Eileen Force Cahill.
Zenaida Mendez and her son Juan Padilla, 15, visited the Forest Home Library to renew Padilla’s library card.
“We are very interested in bringing back more of our lost users into the library system,” said Joan Johnson, library deputy director of public services. “We want to have as many people that can possibly be using the library to help advance themselves. One way to get people back is to reduce barriers like fines and fees on your card.”
Milwaukee Public Library policy states that library users with more than $5 in fines are blocked from access to library materials. This $5 fee threshold was established by the Milwaukee County Federated Library System, which includes the Milwaukee Public Library and Milwaukee County suburban libraries.
“For some families the $5 cost for fees can be significant,” Johnson said. “This is an effort to temporarily relax our policies so we can provide an opportunity for people who want to come back to the library to do so.”
Individuals with materials or fines from a Milwaukee County suburban library are not eligible for the Milwaukee Public Library fine forgiveness program. Johnson said this is because suburban libraries have their own governing boards, which make decisions on policies such as fine forgiveness.
Fines or lost materials from a suburban library can also bar people from access to Milwaukee Public Library materials, since Milwaukee city and and county libraries have a shared catalog, Johnson explained.
Marquita Wilson, 18, visited the Forest Home Library, 1432 W. Forest Home Ave., recently to ask to have her library fines forgiven and to get a new library card.
“When I was 16, I owed about $30 for books. I haven’t had a library card since then and figured I should get one again,” she said.
Wilson plans to use her library card to read more books and use library computers.
“I’m going to keep this close,” she said about the new card.
Zenaida Mendez and her son Juan Padilla, 15, visited the Forest Home Library to renew Padilla’s library card. Mendez said she appreciates the library’s forgiveness campaign. Padilla owed $2 for a late fee.
“Sometimes the child forgets about their materials and talks to us very late, saying ‘I need to return that,’” Mendez said. “Then we (parents) have to pay and not them … So I like this.”
Johnson emphasized that people who are interested in participating in the fine forgiveness program must come inside one of the Milwaukee Public Library branch locations and speak with a staff member. If people want to return lost, overdue or damaged library materials as part of the campaign, they should not leave the materials in a library book drop.
“The goal is to make sure everyone we talk to in the campaign is going to leave with a fully activated library card they can use right away,” she said. “Our hope is that they will come back again and again after this.”