No late fees at Chicago public libraries: Overdue fine amnesty program runs through Sept. 7

August 20, 2012 4:02:46 PM PDT
This is a good day to return an overdue book to a Chicago Public Library.

A special amnesty program is under way at the city's libraries. It is a chance to return overdue books, CDs, DVDs, tapes or other materials without paying a late fee.

The amnesty period for Chicago Public library overdue materials began Monday, August 20, 2012. It lasts until September 7.

No matter how overdue the materials, there will not be any late fee. Since January 2011 alone, Chicago's 79 public libraries are owed $1.4 million on unpaid fines on overdue materials valued at more than $2 million. The average outstanding balance is about $14.

"Really, it's about getting two things back, one is our patrons, and the other is materials," said Chicago Library Commissioner Brian Banmon. "We want them here in the library; we don't want fines to be a barrier to access."

This is the first time in 20 years the library is offering this program. Library officials are calling it a "Once in a Blue Moon" amnesty to let everyone know that it probably won't happen again any time soon.

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The effort also allows students like Maya Rodriguez to start the school year the right way.

"Just being able to have all the resources available to me when I need it, and they're usually here all the time, it helps a lot," said Rodriguez.

Because late fees will be waived on all materials no matter how overdue they are, the checkout counter has become a bit of a confessional.

"People... love to tell us their stories," said librarian Scott Drawe. "'Oh, I found it under the seat of my car.' -- We even heard, last week, 'Oh, it was in my vegetable bin in my refrigerator.' So you never know where people are going to find their lost items."

Patrons who have lost items will only have to pay the replacement cost. Library officials say it is not so much about the money, but to make sure that they get people back using the library.

The last amnesty for Chicago public libraries was in 1992; before that, it was in June 1985. At that time 77,000 books were returned worth about $1.5 million.

Amnesty programs in other cities have resulted a increase in library card registration and circulation.

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