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Innovative Library Program Gets Kids Active and Fine-free in Buffalo, NY

Smiling girl holding a lacrosse sprts gear

Approximately 42 percent of youths under 17 in Erie County, New York have Buffalo & Erie County Public Library cards. But nearly a quarter of that total, 18,000 youth, have fines or other suspensions on their cards that prevent them from accessing library resources.

The question was: how to get these library card holders back in good standing while also promoting the value of library cards more broadly?

Under the guidance of Director Mary Jean Jakubowski, the library and its partners designed a sports equipment lending and library card amnesty program called “Play Down Your Fines.” Piloted at the Isaías González-Soto Branch Library, located in an immigrant-rich neighborhood and next to a city park, the program expunged all fines, fees and charges from accounts when children borrow and return sports equipment, such as soccer, lacrosse, and snowshoe kits.

Since the program formally kicked off in July 2019, sports equipment kits have been borrowed 435 times. Of that number, 260 children (more than half of the total participants) under the age of 17 took advantage of Play Down Your Fines, representing the removal of a total of $16,500 in fines/fees from their library card accounts.

This summer, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library plans to expand the program the summer of 2021 to include seven selected additional libraries and the Library’s bookmobile in underserved neighborhoods throughout Erie County, NY.

The Exercise for the Body and Mind – Children’s Library Card Amnesty Program and Sports Equipment Lending Program was recognized in June as the winner of American Library Association’s Penguin Random House Library Award for Innovation. The award, supported by Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade book publisher, recognizes U.S. libraries and librarians who create lasting innovative community service programs that successfully inspire and connect with new readers.  

Read more about how libraries are innovating to meet the changing needs of their communities.

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