Patrons who need a replacement card can choose from among four designs. See all of the design options here. Photo: Berkeley Public Library

Starting this week, the Berkeley Public Library is forgiving overdue fines for patrons with outstanding bills and items. The amnesty program, in effect through Saturday, Nov. 17, is a way to bring back books and boost circulation, officials said.

“The reason we’re doing this is not only to try and recover materials that people have been hanging onto for fear of the large fines they’ve accrued,” said Douglas Smith, the library’s deputy director. “We also want to let the community know, people who have been borrowers in the past, that they’re welcome to come back and we miss them. We want people to use the library and not let overdue fines create fear that prevents them from using the resource.”

Smith said the last amnesty took place in early 2008; the library forgave nearly $35,000 in fines at that time. 

“Libraries do this with some regularity, but we don’t want to be too predictable,” he said.

Patrons still will be held responsible for fees for missing items, damaged materials and the like. To have overdue fines forgiven, patrons must talk with library staff either in person or by phone.

Smith also noted that overdue fines for DVDs have dropped from $1 a day to a quarter a day.

Scroll down to read a list of frequently asked questions provided by the library and reprinted here with permission.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q – What kinds of fines are subject to the amnesty?
A – Overdue fines.

Q – What is not covered by the amnesty?
A – We will not be waiving fees on billed or missing items, damaged materials, collection agency fees, or any other miscellaneous fees. That is, we will be waving only those fees accrued by having kept a book past its due date.

Q – What if I have a book that has been billed and I return it?
A – Even when we are not having an amnesty, the only fines that remain after returning a billed item are overdue fines. Materials have a maximum late fee of $5. We will be waiving these overdue fines upon receipt of lost items during the amnesty, but it always pays to return billed items.

A normal bill looks like this:
Lost item – $40
Processing fee – $10
Billing fee – $5
Total of bill – $55

If a patron were to return the above billed item, the cost of the item, and the processing fee would be waived even under normal conditions, leaving only $5 in overdue fines! Again, during the amnesty we’ll waive the $5 as well, but it is always cheaper to return materials…always!

Q – What if I’ve lost my library card?
A – There is no charge for replacement of a lost card during the Amnesty.

Q – When can I get my fines cleared?
A– The amnesty began on Nov. 5, and it will end on Nov. 17. To get your fines waived you must contact us during that period.

Q – How can I get my fines waived?
A – You must interact with a staff member. We’d like to see you in person, but you can call if that is your only option.

If you have further questions, call the Berkeley Public Library at 510-981-6100.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...