Community

Nearly $30k in fines waived in library fee amnesty

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.

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

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  • Ann

    Let’s see. How many hundreds of dollars do I pay for City Library Service each year after the cost was taken off General Fund expenditures. (Property owners in Berkeley could be counted on to vote for a tax to run the libraries? ) And the librarians want me to BUY a new card on the very rare occasions I use the Berkeley public library. Now I get to pay overdue fines because some users – most likely not Berkeley tax payers – cannot remember to return items?

  • Neighbor

    Berkeleyside comments, the most bitter place on earth.
    Anti-library, huh? You just can’t please some people.

  • http://www.omnivorousfox.com/ Mfox327

    Library cards are free. $28,000 in waived fines amounts to 25 cents per resident. I don’t understand what you’re talking about…

  • The Sharkey

    But what percent of Berkeley residents are homeowners who get charged annal taxes for the libraries?

    While I’m not as upset about this as Ann it does seem odd that the library is essentially throwing away 30 thousand dollars.

  • http://www.omnivorousfox.com/ Mfox327

    They’re not really throwing it away because they never had it. Fines are hypothetical. The objective of library fines is not to make money, it’s to prevent book theft. All the library wanted to do with their amnesty program is get any missing books back. If everyone brought their books back on time, there would be no fines, and therefore not money to “throw away.”

    That being said, since it is Berkeley property owners that fund the library with their taxes, I could understand providing amnesty only to Berkeley residents. Or, perhaps non-residents should have to pay a nominal fee for Berkeley library membership (or not be allowed to use the library as is the case with the tool lending library).

  • Neighbor

    Many of these are fines that may not have been paid anyway. Also throwing away money in hand is not quite the same as waving a fine or fee.

  • Ann

    All Berkeley residents who own real property in Berkeley have to pay annual taxes. Included in the tax bill is the tax for library service.

  • Ann

    I*f I do not pay my property taxes, a fine is assessed and if I continue to not pay, a lien will be placed on my property. There is a system set up to make sure I pay. The Berkeley public library does not have a similar system. It should. I suggest people who do not return items within a certain amount of time and refuse to pay the fine be banned from borrowing again. Certainly they do not know the definition of the word “borrow.”

  • Ann

    I was told I had to pay because my library card was not in prime condition. I refused to get a new card. Perhaps the rules have changed since you got your card.

  • The Sharkey

    Good points, Mfox327, all of which are why, like I said, I’m not upset about this at all.

  • Neighbor

    Clearly you do not know the definition of “forgive”, or “compassion”, or even “friendliness” or “nice”.
    Do you yell at the kids playing baseball in front of your house, too?

  • http://www.flickr.com/parksdh D. H. Parks

    According to this webpage

    http://berkeleypubliclibrary.org/borrowing/index.php#finesloanspayment

    there are such mechanisms.

  • The Sharkey

    Is it really the place of a publicly-funded institution like the Berkeley Public Library to be practicing forgiveness? Will the City of Berkeley forgive my property taxes if I just don’t pay them?

    Just wondering.

  • Tizzielish

    You seem to wrongly believe, The Sharkey, that rental residents do not pay property taxes. Landlords pass off their property taxes to their renters. All Berkeley residents pay property taxes that feed the library.

    When did this society forget that communities share — the commons and community are connected. The library is part of our shared commons, our shared intellectual and creative wealth. The Berkeley library and the Berkeley community gained from this $30K.

    as Mfox327 points out, the Berkeley library bought good will for the whole community for only twenty five cents per resident — all residents, one way or another, pay property taxes. Well, maybe not the homeless ones, but all renters pay property taxes when they pay rent. Geez, let’s keep that in mind and stop fostering the idea that homeowners should have more privilege and deference.

  • Neighbor

    >The objective of library fines is not to make money, it’s to prevent book theft. All the library wanted to do with their amnesty program is get any missing books back.

    Not quite the same thing as taxes.

    Yes, I do believe in mercy, even from publicly funded institutions. Especially since many of the people having their fines revoked are also Berkeley taxpayers. Wrap your head around that one!

    I would hope, The Sharkey, that if you were in distress and unable to pay your property taxes at some point, for some reason, that the official you were dealing with would show you some leniency and compassion, and not be a hard-ass. I prefer people to be human about situations.

    In this situation, with a library, we are encouraging public literacy, and education of the general population! I would think that perhaps these considerations might occasionally come before money.

  • Tizzielish

    Geez, looks like The Grinch and Scrooge are alive and well in Berkeley as the holidays arrive.

    Whatever happened to good will? to shared bounty? to the same tide lifts all boats? When did we splinter, as a culture, into “i’ve got mine, and the rest of you have to get your own?” Move to New Hampshire where the state motto, on every car license plate, is “live free or die”. As far as any human knows, thus far, we’ve just got this one planet and its resources to share with all humans born on this planet. We’re all in this life together. How about ‘that which you do to the least of your brethren, you also do unto me?” Geez, I am glad people use the library.

    And guess what else, Ann? People don’t have to be Berkeley residents to use the Berkeley library for free!!!! Some of those waived fines very likely were waived for non-Berkeley residents. And guess what, Ann? You can use public libraries in other cities, too!!! it’s part of our commons, our shared, communal heritage.

  • Tizzielish

    I actually agree that it is wrong for the library to charge library users to replace worn-out cards. So because you were asked to pay a piddling fee, for something that actually does cost the library something — the library has to pay for the cards and for the system that makes them usable — you begrudge building community spirit, which builds our shared communal wealth — wealth is not just measured in dollars, right? happiness is part of human wealth, right? and education, art, thinking, socializing are all part of our human wealth right? Geez, maybe we oughta find a way to make non-homeowners pay to breath.

  • The Sharkey

    I would hope, The Sharkey, that if you were in distress and unable to
    pay your property taxes at some point, for some reason, that the
    official you were dealing with would show you some leniency and
    compassion, and not be a hard-ass. I prefer people to be human about
    situations.

    First, based on my other dealings with our City government I don’t think that’s very likely at all.
    Second, even if they did their “leniency” would simply consist of creating a payment plan – I would still be required to pay the full amount.

    And with the parcel taxes in Berkeley and the unfunded pension liabilities we’re saddled with money should be the first consideration when it comes to any project in Berkeley that’s funded with taxpayer dollars.

    Like I said, I think something like this amnesty program is fine since it helps the Library accomplish the goal of getting back lost media, but Ann makes some good points.

  • Neighbor

    Which we VOTED on, and decided to do as a community. Get over it.

  • The Sharkey

    Landlords pass off their property taxes to their renters.

    Didn’t you say that you live in subsidized housing, Tizzie? Would you mind showing me a copy of your lease agreement that shows that your landlord is allowed to raise your rent in excess of the menial percentage allowed by the Rent Board in order to cover new parcel taxes? None of my rental agreements in Berkeley ever had such language, so I’d be really interested in seeing it.

  • The Sharkey

    Did we vote on Library Amnesty Day? I don’t remember doing that.

  • Neighbor

    We voted on paying for the libraries. Maybe you weren’t here then, in which case, I can understand the frustration. But, still

  • Neighbor

    I’m not saying that it’s likely, just that I would support that for you as well.
    Plus, remember we are talking about overdue fines. That means the library already has the materials. There is -0- cost to taxpayers here.

  • Guest

    I would not recommend showing *anyone* online *any* of your personal information, TizzieLish. (you probably already know this, but just in case)

  • The Sharkey

    I neither want nor expect her to post such information. I’m just asking the question to make a point, because I know her lease doesn’t say that. B’sides, Tizzie is a lawyer, she knows better.

  • The Sharkey

    Sure, but I think Ann is just complaining about Amnesty day, not the library in general? I suppose I should let her make her own case though.

  • Charles_Siegel

    This discussion is missing the point of the amnesty. Libraries have generally found that people with large accumulated fines do not pay the fines and do not return the books. An amnesty on fines encourages people to return books that they otherwise would not have returned, so the library ends up ahead financially on the deal: it saves the money it would have had to pay for replacement books.

    The article says this in its first sentence:

    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.

  • Neighbor

    Well, if you insist on looking at it rationally. It’s ever so much more fun to pick things apart and get huffy.

    Berkeleyside comments: the most bitter place on earth.

  • The Sharkey

    Yeah I mean who cares that all parties discussing this have already acknowledged that point multiple times, right? Clearly all discussion on an article must stay 100% on topic with only what is within the article and not evolve at all.

    :-P

  • anon

    Actually, reading through this tempest in a teapot, I am thinking that “Ann” is trolling you, guys.

  • anon

    Obvious troll is obvious ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  • Jane Stillwater

    I HEART paying library fines. Those fines are the universe’s way to telling me that it’s time to pay forward for all thousands of wonderful reading experiences that the BPL has provided me over the years.

  • NewEngland transplant

    Wait wait don’t tell me? It’s okay to use the xenophobic ‘Canadian standoff’ becaue a cartoonist/illustrator used it in another context?…how…progressive…

  • Charles_Siegel

    Sharkey, you wrote
    “it does seem odd that the library is essentially throwing away 30 thousand dollars.”
    which shows that you were missing my point that
    “the library ends up ahead financially on the deal: it saves the money it would have had to pay for replacement books.”

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are right. There is an immense amount of bitterness in the comments lately. You have got a good motto, which I will repeat in the future:
    “Berkeleyside comments: the most bitter place on earth.”

  • Charles_Siegel

    Right, it is xenophobic to imply that Canadians are polite and considerate.

    Berkeleyside comments: the most bitter place on earth.

  • The Sharkey

    Many hours and much discussion passed between those two comments, Charles, not to mention that I was responding to the comment made by “Neighbor” and not your comment.

    The discussion threading of the new Disqus format is confusing, as is the way that it changes the order of comment threads seemingly at random rather than sorting them chronologically. It’s going to create a lot of confusion and make discussions tread the same ground over and over and over again.

  • guest

    I agree. I don’t like change either.

  • withak30

    Running away to Afghanistan to avoid library fines seems pretty extreme.

  • Berkeley Councilmaven

    Library fine amnesties, like tax writedowns, may be financially practicable but are morally hazardous for individuals and contribute to the erosion of shared responsibility for the common good. Lazy and selfish individuals keep books out of public circulation, confuse library management and inventory practices, and selfishly refrain from paying what they rightfully owe. I pay $340 annually for the Berkeley Library plus any fines I may sporadically incur. I suspect that most of the amnesty beneficiaries get library privileges for free; and people tend not to appreciate what they don’t pay for but to which they feel entitled anyway. I do not appreciate subsidizing these folks even at a cost of only 25 cents annually. Instead of amnesty, their library privileges should be revoked for some period of time. We are better off without their patronage and corruption of a community service. This may sound petty to some but to me it is symptomatic of much that is wrong in our society.

  • Informed Library Patron

    That already happens. Once your fines reach $10, your card is unusable until you pay the fines down below that limit again.