The Contra Costa County Library System is giving its members a fresh start in 2019 by issuing a general amnesty, eliminating all outstanding fines and clearing the balances of all library accounts, unblocking 118,450 cardholders -- 18% of all users -- throughout the county.
The move announced Wednesday comes after the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted recently to no longer issue fines for the late return of library books and other materials going forward, which they hope will increase community use of public libraries and see the return of missing books.
“No matter how old, no matter why it was late, we want you to bring it back. No questions asked,” County Librarian Melinda Cervantes said in a statement. “These new policies introduce an ongoing amnesty… It allows everyone regardless of age, location or ability to pay, the opportunity to have continued access to the library.”
Amnesty means patrons who previously were banned from renting books, magazines, DVDs and from using their library’s online services will now be able to do so without having to pay a fee.
The decision to eliminate fines was made by the Board of Supervisors last month, in an effort to increase public use of the institutions.
During that meeting, the board found that not only did 18% of the county’s estimated 650,000 cardholders have their accounts blocked due to fines, but 43% of youth accounts owed a debt and approximately 21,000 youth cards were blocked.
“Our libraries are open for the entire community to take advantage of all they have to offer,” Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said in December. “Saying goodbye to fines gives everyone an opportunity to restart their relationship with the library.”
“Families are staying away from the library because it’s simply too expensive for them,” Cervantes added. “We don’t want people to have to choose between putting food on the table and reading.”
While late fees have been eliminated, library staff still expect books to be returned, and a $10 non-refundable processing charge for lost or damaged materials will remain in effect. If a lost book is returned in good condition however, the charges will be removed from the account.
“Yes, you still need to return library materials. That hasn’t changed,” deputy county librarian Nancy Kreiser said. “But when your schedule is hectic or you need another day or two to finish a great book, you can do so without worrying about late fines.”
Missing books that have been returned will be evaluated by library staff on relevance, condition and popularity and reintroduced to their collections as normal.