Phoenix Public Library seems to have gone out of its way to re-energize the spirit of public service in public libraries, for another year running. For the next fortnight, it’s arranged for library users to pay their library fines in non-perishable food instead of cash, with the … ahem … proceeds to go straight to local food banks and poor relief charities.

Under the “Food for Fines” scheme, “Library customers can pay overdue fees and help restock the pantries of Valley food banks during Phoenix Public Library’s annual ‘Food for Fines,’ April 11-25. During ‘Food for Fines,’ 50 cents will be deducted from a customer’s library account fees for each non-perishable food item donated at any of the city’s 17 libraries. A maximum of $75 can be paid with donated food. Perishable, expired, beyond sell by date and homemade food items will not be accepted. Donated food will be distributed to Desert Mission and St. Mary’s food banks.”

There’s a chance for heavy library over-users to give back a little. “Last year, the program collected nearly 70,000 pounds of food,” according to Phoenix Public Library, which proudly boasts that it is a finalist for the 2015 National Medal for Library and Museum Service – and I can see why.

Phoenix isn’t the only public library running a Food for Fines program by any means. Libraries from Nashville to SFU are operating similar campaigns. I can think of few better examples of using one public service to help out another, while serving the community across the board. Nourish your mind at your public library – and nourish the bodies of others.


  1. Phoenix Library – Purveyor of Fine Comestibles 😛

    From the flippant to the flip side of such a scheme: The point of a fine is to make you regret you transgression and prevent you from doing it again. If the fine is used to help your less fortunate fellow citizens, it reduces the efficacy of the fine – at least for the borrowers who posess a social conscience: “Wanna help feed the hungry? Don’t return that library book!”

    The phenomenon is well known, particularly to incipient non-smokers: Deciding to fine themselves for each cigarette they smoke, they then decide to donate the money to a well-deserving charity, negating the entire concept. To get it to work, they have to give the money to something/someone as undeserving as possible.

    Which raises the interesting question: What/whom should library fines go to to ensure any book-loving person will go racing back to the library to ensure it is returned on time?

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