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Amnesty approved for SF Library’s overdue books

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The San Francisco Public Library has revoked more than 55,000 library users’ borrowing privileges because of overdue books. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Those harboring overdue library books and racking up fines are in luck after an amnesty period was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

That means fines will be forgiven if books are returned between Jan. 3 and Feb. 14. The last amnesty period was eight years ago.

SEE RELATED: SF Library owed $4.5M in overdue fines; amnesty period proposed

More than 55,000 library users have had their check-out privileges revoked because they owe at least $10.01, the threshold for when book borrowing privileges are suspended.

All told, there are more than $4.5 million in fines and fees accrued from overdue library materials and 155,000 library patrons with overdue items.

“We are hoping that this six-week program will be even more successful in helping us not only reduce the obligation but also bring back folks that we want to be able to use the library,” City Librarian Luis Herrera told the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee earlier this month.

Peter Warfield, who heads a group called the Library Users Association, thinks the library should do away with the fine system altogether.

“Fines and fees can have a big impact on usage, aside from making people feel bad or guilty, and of course hurting the poorest people the most,” Warfield said in a recent email to the San Francisco Examiner.

The library collects about a half millions dollars a year in fines.

No fines, however, begs the question of how will the library ensure materials aren’t just walked off with forever. Warfield said the library should “send reminders, encourage cooperation with other library users — and at some point restrict further borrowing until the overdue books are returned.”

Warfield agreed “we don’t want people walking off with them without consequence,” but emphasized “for many people, losing a book can be the end of their borrowing career.”

For instance, there could be some penalties worked into the borrowing system but with patrons being able to work off the value of a book if it’s lost, such as through volunteering.

The library projects to recover between 9,459 to 44,178 overdue items out of a total 106,533 overdue items.

“The fact that thousands of books come back during amnesties means that the fine was what prevented their return,” Warfield noted.

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