Lansing School District Waives Library Book Fees

LANSING — For years, fees for lost or damaged books have kept students in the Lansing School District from using school libraries.

These fees — which keep students from perusing extra books and may prevent them from walking to graduation — have worried officials for years. More recently, they were flagged in a district equity audit that found library fines disproportionately hurt students of color.

But since last week, they are a thing of the past.

Continued:Black students are twice as likely to be suspended from Lansing School District, audit finds

The Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to waive more than $92,300 in library fees and scrap future fines, which critics say unfairly discourages literacy for low-income students. The board voted immediately after reviewing the diversity audit.

“My job is to get kids to read, and I’d rather kids read and come back and keep reading than be so preoccupied with a book,” said Joy Currie, teacher librarian at Everett High School.

There are currently 5,437 books missing from Lansing schools, according to Sarah Odneal, the district’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The majority of fines were issued last year when schools in Lansing were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes 1,300 fees totaling $24,000 to Everett High School.

Students borrowed many books before leaving school to learn remotely, and many books never returned, Currie said.

She expected to see a lot of missing books when Lansing returned to in-person learning this fall. In the early days of the pandemic, she ditched payment limits and encouraged students to take what they needed, knowing they would be stuck at home for the foreseeable future.

Even absent a pandemic, attaching fees to book rentals makes what should be an encouraged activity scary, Currie said.

“It gets scary,” she said. “Not just our library, but libraries in general.”

Increasingly, librarians are considering positive reinforcement for returning books, such as giving students candy if they borrow a book and are on time. Other librarians entered students into sweepstakes for doing the same.

School librarians need to be more empathetic, not “the creepy guardian of books,” Currie said.

Capital District Libraries announced similar measures in July, choosing to eliminate late book fees. However, CADL still prohibits people from checking books if they have one more than 10 days late, and charges a replacement cost and $5 fee for books that are more than 30 days late.

The books students borrow from school libraries are an important part of their education, and students shouldn’t fear the library, Currie said.

Without library fees, the district will adjust its budget to compensate for lost books, Currie said. Officials plan to meet after spring break next week to begin drafting new rental policies.

“We have extremely talented teachers across the district, and our librarians want to center this work as a way to support our colleagues and our families,” Odneal said. “We know from research that certified librarians have a direct positive impact on reading scores in a school, and the more time a student can spend on a text, this will leverage the teaching and learning that our teachers work so hard to provide.”

Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.

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