A generous donation should let many families indebted to the Davenport Public Library begin new chapters this summer.
The $4,000 grant made through the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend is erasing about $3,800 in library fines incurred by about 300 youth cardholders between June 2017 and January 2018. Each of the juvenile accounts selected currently owes between $5 and $20, a majority of which are late fees, library director Amy Groskopf said.
“We’re hoping families who receive this benefit will take advantage of it and make sure their kids are participating in summer reading,” she said. “We’ve heard anecdotally that fines are a barrier for some folks.”
The gift comes from the John J. and Bette J. Schmid Fund, which was called a “substantial six-figure donation” when it was established in 2003 by the Community Foundation.
Bette passed away in 2012 at age 86 and John passed away in 2016 at age 94, and their four 50- to 60-something children, who grew up in Davenport, now control the endowed donor-advised fund. On behalf of his family earlier this year, Jack Schmid of Dubuque contacted Anne Calder, vice president of development for the Community Foundation, about helping the library.
Calder then connected with Groskopf about the institution’s needs, and they settled on the solution that will clear fines and potentially spur interest in the library’s summer reading program.
“We wanted something that would really move the needle in a positive way,” Calder said. While $4,000 is not a “huge” sum, she continued, “It’s going to take care of a huge problem for a lot of children.”
Bette Schmid served on the Library Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1994, and her children believe this distribution of funds would make her proud.
"She’d be thrilled," said Chris Schmid, one of Bette's daughters. "I'm just grateful we could do it."
“It absolutely resonated with each of us immediately,” added Kathy Munson, another daughter.
Jack is the only sibling who still lives in Iowa. He works for Crescent Electric Supply Company, which his paternal grandfather, Titus Schmid, started in 1919 in Dubuque. Chris Schmid lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, Munson lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and Nan Schmid-Johnson lives in New York City. Although they live in different places, they feel connected to each other and their hometown partly because of their family's Community Foundation fund.
On Saturdays in the mid-1960s, Bette drove her children to McKinley Elementary School, where they could check out reading materials from the library’s Bookmobile.
“It was so special to be able to choose any book we wanted,” Munson said. “We learned responsibility because our mother made us return them on our next visit.
As older children, they visited the downtown library at 321 N. Main St. Schmid-Johnson recalls attending group readings and art classes there, too.
"I remember it being really fun and something I looked forward to each week," she said.
If an item is not returned to the Davenport Public Library by its due date, late fees begin accruing at a rate of 10 cents per day, Groskopf said. Patrons are barred from checking out any additional items if they owe $5 or more.
In fiscal year 2017, the library collected $44,018 from fines, which was deposited into the city's revenue account. There are three library locations, but Groskopf said, "We don't identify fines owed by branch." The library's operating budget last fiscal year totaled $4,808,817.
Users may opt for a fine-free card, which allows them to check out a maximum of four print items at a time.
Other libraries in the region, including the Decatur Public Library, are eliminating fines for overdue materials altogether.
Fines, which aim to instill a sense of urgency in patrons, are issued "to get materials returned so somebody else can get a hold of them," Groskopf said.
Families whose fines will be covered by the Schmid family's donation will receive a notice in the mail within the next week or so.
The Davenport Public Library's summer reading program begins June 2. Several studies show that reading throughout the summer has a major impact on student achievement and prevents children from falling behind their classmates, Groskopf said.