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A Fine Way to Encourage Reading

Know I Know: “Imagine a bookstore that worked on a membership program — instead of buying books, you rented them. And instead of paying a per-book rental fee, they baked that cost into the cost of the membership. There are some limits on the number of books you can rent out at a time, but they’re reasonable if not extraordinarily high — so if you’re going on vacation, no worries, you’ll have plenty to read. And you don’t need to be anyone special to join this club; just about anyone could apply for membership.

Seems like a fancy Internetty startup? Nope. It’s your local library. And it’s hard to compete with — membership is free. There’s one catch, though: if you don’t return your books on time, you have to pay a fine. The fine is typically a pretty low one — often less than 25 cents — and typically serves as little more than a reminder (with a tiny bit of bite) that you really should return that book to your local library. For a grown-up, the fines are probably no big deal. But for a kid, and particularly one from a low-income family? Try explaining to your mom why she has to spend $10 because you lost library books. It’s not going to be a fun conversation. And let’s face it, many kids with fines don’t have to have those conversations with their parents — they can avoid the fine simply by avoiding taking other books the library. (And at that point, the library is going to suspend their borrowing privileges anyway.) The result is a lose-lose situation: the kids read less and the library doesn’t get that $10 anyway.

So, the Los Angeles County library system fixed it. They call it the “Great Read Away

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