Omaha Public Library

Alex Hall reads to his daughter, Harper Hall, 3, while son Maverick Hall, 1, peruses the books on his own at the Millard branch of the Omaha Public Library in 2017.

People get busy and forget. They check out movies or books and don’t bring them back on time.

But fear of fines shouldn’t keep people away from the Omaha Public Library.

Library Executive Director Laura Marlane and the Library Board want to extend a fine forgiveness program that she started in Omaha in 2017. Marlane operated a similar program in the library system in Providence, Rhode Island before coming to Omaha in 2015.

The Omaha City Council is expected to approve a five-year extension of the program on Tuesday. It would run one week each year from 2019 through 2023.

Under the program, people who owe fines can bring in canned food for people in need. Each can knocks $2 off a person’s fine balance, up to $20. The food gets donated to a local food bank.

Library staff works with people on arrangements for any remaining balances.

The library currently has 53,350 members who owe a combined $225,421.18 in fines, according to library records.

Marlane said the Omaha library system just wants to get its lost materials back and bring people back to its libraries. Young people can already read to reduce fines.

“It is a program we want to have every year because I think it’s an important opportunity to give people the chance to come back to the library,” she said. “Instead of feeling guilty, feeling nice.”

Libraries in Rhode Island hold their can drives the same week every year, Marlane said. It has become a routine way for people to get back to the library.

The Omaha Public Library tried the program in 2017. A total of 1,135 people brought in enough cans for the libraries to waive $8,346 in fines, officials said.

It ran the program again in 2018. Almost 600 people brought in enough cans of food to waive $3,996 in fines.

The library has planned this year’s fine forgiveness week for Oct. 6-13. People are asked to bring in non-expired canned goods and other nonperishable foods.

Omaha’s 12 branch libraries drew 1.7 million visits last year, and patrons checked out more than 3.3 million items.

Marlane said public libraries should help as many people as possible access information. This program gets more people through the doors, she said.

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