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The Scarlet & Black

Students donate food, library forgives fines

On Tuesday, the Grinnell College Libraries wrapped up a two-week campaign entitled Food for Fines. This new program was an opportunity for students to donate nonperishable food items in order to reduce their library fines.
Students could bring food items to the desks at Burling Library, Kistle Science Library or the Listening Room. Each food item knocked $1 off of a student’s library fines, with a limit of ten donated items per student.

Although such an idea was new to Grinnell, similar programs have taken place at many other libraries, both public and academic. Beth Bohstedt, the Manager of Access Services for the Library, was one of the organizers of the program.

“As we [Library employees] go to library conferences and read library literature, this type of program pops up every now and then,” she said. “It seems to be a popular idea.”

While this program gives students a chance to help others while also helping themselves, contributions to this semester’s Food for Fines were fairly low.

“This first time, we didn’t have a huge participation, but we did have some students that did participate,” Bohstedt said. “[However,] I would consider it successful even if it was a small number of students who brought things in.”
One possible explanation for low levels of donation is that, because most library materials are due only at the ends of semesters, many students—like Sammy Huang ’13—don’t actually have any fines to cancel.

“I do think it’s a gnarly idea,” Huang said. “It’s a creative way to help people, so I would definitely consider it if I did have fines.”

Most fines that Grinnell students rack up are actually from Reserve or Listening Room materials, which are due a short time period after a student checks them out.

While donation levels weren’t high, some students did see the Food for Fines posters around campus, discover that they had fines and brought in non-perishable foodstuff in to remedy the situation. A display of donated goods was put up in Burling, consisting mainly of ramen, cans of green beans and macaroni and cheese.

Nadia Hasan ’13, who works at Burling and helped with the program, pointed out that a food item often costs less than the dollar that students are saving in fines.

“It’s basically a win-win situation,” Hasan said. “It’s a great deal for students, who get to pay off their fines, and obviously for the food shelf, which receives more donations.”

Library staff will take the donated food to Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), a local organization that has a food bank located in the Community Center across from Saints Rest.

“At this time of year especially, you think about helping people who have it a little harder off,” Bohstedt said. “We also like to help people be aware of their fines and of returning library materials on time, so a little bit of library awareness was built into this, as well as helping others.”

Semester after semester, students will continue to forget about their library items and build up fines, so such a program has potential to be repeated soon and often. Workers at Burling and Kistle Libraries are very interested in continuing Food for Fines and building it up to raise participation in future semesters.

“We’d love to get feedback from people and suggestions on how we could make the program better, or on what they would like to see,” Bohstedt said. “We’d be very open to trying the program again.”

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