By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 26, 2022 at 8:02 AM

Although Milwaukee Public Library doesn’t charge late fees on children’s books, there are still ways that kids can accumulate fees – late or lost DVDs, books borrowed from other libraries in the federated library system, lost books – and those fees can often keep young readers from using their libraries.

So, American Family Insurance has, in partnership with MPL, paid off $10,000 in fines owed by 227 Milwaukee children. The fines were typically for lost items.

“We know the pandemic exacerbated disparity in a real sense,” said Jilly Gokalgandhi, Equity in Education strategist, American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact.

“When we looked at the library being a point of access for underserved and under-resourced communities, and saw the fines become unmanageable for some families, we wanted to focus on those areas where the dollar-to-dollar impact was going to be exponential.”

The effort is part of the Free to Dream Initiative to which American Family has committed $105 million over five years to help close equity gaps in communities like Milwaukee.

“We are very grateful for the American Family Institute,” says Milwaukee Public Library Community Relations & Engagement Director Eileen Force-Cahill.

“What we were able to do with this donation was provide a fresh start for 227 students from over 50 of our LibraryNow partner schools. We focused on students from under-resourced zip codes."

The money was apparently well-spent, as MPL has seen some of those kids return.

“It is a stigma to not be able to come into the library because you don’t have the resources to take care of your fines and you may feel some judgment where we’re a no judgment zone. Some children may feel some heavy, you know, concerns and it was out of their control,” Joy Zanders, the children’s librarian at the King Library, told AmFam storyteller Adam Schrager.

“We’ve started to see more children come in and we’re starting to see more people upgrade the library cards and use checkout more items or items going out on holds. So it’s a wonderful gesture. Wonderful. I’m just really happy that they’re coming back in.”

Here's a video with more info...

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.