When Rahm Emanuel first became mayor, he didn’t think public libraries were so important. At the beginning of this year, he actually closed them on Mondays. That lasted less than a month, until complaints from parents forced him to reopen the libraries for a half day. (They’re now reopen for a full day.)
And now, the mayor who was trying to squeeze every dime out of the libraries is willing to forgo $1.4 million. That’s the amount in unpaid fines the library will forgive in its first amnesty in 20 years. From August 20 to September 7, you can return any overdue item and not pay a fine.
Emanuel, who does everything for the children, says his amnesty program will prevent children with deadbeat parents from being losing access to books.
“This program will allow parents and children the chance to start the school year with a clean record and enable them to check out materials that will help with their studies and classes,” the mayor said.
The mayor may be finally realizing that, even though we live in a post-paper, post-print era, libraries are more popular and more important than they were when they only distributed books. Libraries are where the poor log on to the Internet. Without a valid library card, you can’t reserve time on a CPL computer. In 2012, the library is more crowded after school than it was in 1992.
The first time the library tried this, in 1985, patrons returned 77,000 books, worth $1.5 million. This time, the outstanding materials are worth over $2 million. So the library should actually make money on this deal. And the education mayor can show he’s serious about education.
By the way, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest library fine ever paid was levied right here in Illinois. Emily Canellos-Smith returned a book to the Kewanee Public Library 47 years late, after finding it at her mother’s house. At 2 cents a day, Canellos-Smith had to pay $345.14.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $2.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.