The Berkeley Public Library at 2090 Kittredge St. Photo: Anne Holmes

A recent effort by the Berkeley Public Library to encourage patrons to return, and get back misplaced items, was, according to library staff, a success.

“We’re really pleased with how the Fines Amnesty went. More users came back to the Library, we recovered lost materials, and I think it generated a lot of goodwill right before the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Douglas Smith, deputy library director, via email.

The amnesty program took place for about two weeks in November; patrons had to go into the library or otherwise speak with staff to get overdue fees waived. (Patrons were still held responsible for fees for missing items, damaged materials and the like.)

The library waived $28,139 in fines, and collected about $4,300 in fees not subject to the amnesty, such as replacement charges for lost or damaged books.

Smith said some patrons insisted on paying their fines despite the program.

“We said, ‘But there’s a fines amnesty going on right now,’ to which some replied, ‘But I love to support the public library so I want to pay my overdues.’ So, in order to avoid the so-called ‘Canadian standoff’ type back-and-forth (lest this offend a Canadian, I confess to stealing this expression from a recent Ros Chast New Yorker cartoon), we gladly obliged and accepted their payments!”

Smith said he was very pleased to see that many patrons who may have been avoiding the library “came back to ‘clean up’ their user records as a result of hearing about the amnesty incentive. I can’t help but see this as a two-fer: more folks back using the public library, and the library was able to recover books and other materials that had been out of circulation for extended periods.”

One patron, in particular, stood out.

“My favorite story was how, on one busy recent morning, our check-out desk staff received a phone call from a soldier on duty in Afghanistan asking about the amnesty,” Smith said. “We were able to waive all of her overdue fines, and then she sent us a check to cover a small amount of fees for lost items. Needless to say it was heartwarming to everyone here to see how far the Library’s reach extends, and to know that in some small way we were helping out a Berkeleyan now stationed in a land very far away.”

Smith said the last amnesty took place in early 2008 when the library forgave nearly $35,000 in fines. The amnesty efforts generally are not announced too far in advance so as to retain an element of unpredictability.

10 days left to escape Berkeley library overdue fines [11.08.12]

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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...