For the first time in 20 years, the Chicago Public Library is offering a fine amnesty program to encourage all patrons to return overdue materials and not allow fines to discourage students from taking advantage of the full resources offered at the library.
“This program will allow parents and children the chance to start the school year with a clean record and enable them to check out materials that will help with their studies and classes,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Regardless of the reason for not returning an item, students with overdue materials can start fresh and take advantage of the Library and its extensive resources for their studies.”
Coinciding with the astronomical phenomenon taking place on August 31, the Library is naming the program the “Once in a Blue Moon Amnesty,” reinforcing the fact that it is not a regular occurrence.
From August 20 through September 7, late fines will be waived on all books, CDs, DVDs and other materials, no matter how long overdue. The amnesty will apply to all patrons and if an item has been lost, they will be responsible for paying only the replacement cost.
“In conducting this amnesty, we expect to recover thousands of outstanding items, the value of which will most likely exceed the lost revenue in fines. This will recoup the City’s investment in the materials and, most importantly, make them available for other patrons to use,” said Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. “This program aligns with our commitment to lowering the barriers to library use for all Chicagoans, especially those most in need of our services.”
Dating from January 2011, the Library is currently owed $1.4 million in unpaid fines from overdue materials with an estimated worth of more than $2 million. The Library collects approximately $2 million a year in revenue from fines.
The last fine amnesty Chicago Public Library conducted was in 1992, in which juvenile cards were wiped of fines once materials were returned. There was also a one-week fine amnesty in June 1985 for all library patrons, at which time 77,000 books were returned—representing approximately $1.5 million worth of materials.
Similar fine amnesty programs have been very successful in other cities in the past few years. Washington, D.C. conducted a two-month amnesty at the beginning of 2012, recovering 21,075 items and updating more than 34,000 patron accounts, most of which had been inactive for more than three years. When Boston waived fines owed by 57,000 kids, their young adult card registrations went up 85 percent and circulation increased by 10 percent.