In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In the age of video games, smart phones and the internet, public libraries across the country are getting creative to draw people in. We saw how one Southern California county is letting young readers work off their fines – by opening up a book.
At the East Los Angeles Library, even the youngest patrons have to pay their dues – but not the way you think. Card holders 21 and under can literally read away what they owe in late fees at a rate of $5 per hour, reports CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas. It's a new chapter for Los Angeles County, a program called "The Great Read Away."
"We're not really concentrating on what they're reading so long as they're reading," LA County Library Director Skye Patrick said. He said the idea came about after the library noticed an unsettling trend: Many kids who racked up debt on overdue books or movies would stop coming to the library altogether.
"Ten dollars, absolutely, for some people that's a huge barrier," Patrick said.
"And those are the kids that you want in the library?" Yuccas asked.
"That's exactly it, so this program is really to invite them back into the library, to make libraries accessible to them and their families," Patrick said.
We found 8-year-old Jaylene Robles working off her late fee while also catching up on the popular "Judy Moody" series.
"When you didn't have to pay money for your fines, and you could read away your fines, what did you think?" Yuccas asked her.
"I was surprised… I thought everyone in the library or someone that has a fine, they have to pay," Robles said.
Children's librarian Xuemin Zhong said she sees kids reading away fees daily.
"I've seen as low as a couple of cents to as high as a couple hundred dollars," Zhong said. "And I've seen kids read that away because they have the commitment to do so."
Since the program launched last year, LA County said its more than 80 libraries have logged more than 50,000 reading sessions and reinstated more than 13,000 previously blocked accounts.
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