Rules Committee Considers Library Fee Amnesty Program

San Jose Library patrons collectively owe more than $6.8 million in late fees, according to the city. The past-due amount is divided among 187,000 accounts—that’s 39 percent of all cardholders. And children account for more than $1 million of that debt.

Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio wants to give those book-borrowing scofflaws a fresh start. He’s asking the Rules and Open Government Committee on Wednesday to consider a two-week amnesty in hopes of luring them back.

“Many of these youths need the resources the library provides,” he wrote in his proposal, “particularly in the summer months.”

Similar debt amnesties have helped other cities get books back on the shelves and patrons back in the libraries.

Chicago’s public library system retrieved more than 100,000 overdue items in the course of a three-week amnesty in 2012. The value of the items—$2 million—reportedly outnumbered the $641,820 in fines. Meanwhile, 40,000 patrons got their library cards re-instituted.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the city offered another three-week window last month. The program, called "Welcome Home," includes humorous "wanted" posters and videos of librarians begging patrons to bring back overdue materials.

“Historically, the value of the returned materials during an amnesty program outweighs the late fees,” Oliverio said.

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for March 2, 2016:

  • San Jose police will lead a study session on human trafficking the afternoon of March 14. “While human trafficking and prostitution have always been priority issues,” police Chief Eddie Garcia wrote, “the police department and city leaders have recently received an increase in complaints from residents and businesses impacted by street-level human trafficking and prostitution which is prompting the need for this study session.”
  • A San Jose resident is imploring the city to keep police disciplinary sessions private. In a letter to the public record, Sue Cox defends Officer Phil White, who got fired and then reinstated after a threatening Twitter tirade directed at the #BlackLivesMatter movement. “Yes, I agree it was poor judgment for a public official and a reprimand would have been in order,” she wrote. “Are we firing policemen now because of poor judgment of words, based on their right to express themselves, that did not harm anyone? This whole incident was blown out of proportion BY THE PRESS. Things are reported in a way that is incendiary, not in specific context.”

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. “San Jose Library patrons collectively owe more than $6.8 million in late fees, according to the city. The past-due amount is divided among 187,000 accounts—that’s 39 percent of all cardholders. And children account for more than $1 million of that debt.”

    The entire $6.8 million in late fees should be vigorously pursued by the city. Remember, property owners have on their parcel tax structures-compelled funding for the Libraries.

    Now, due to sub-standard management by the Office of the City Manager, with special reference to allowing the aforementioned $6.8 million amount to accumulate; without any publically stated mechanisms to deter such conduct and to recover public monies is wholly unacceptable. Why should property owners be compelled-via parcel tax to fund Libraries only to also be compelled to incur and or subsidize malfeasance?

    Providing “Amnesty” only enables and encourages a total disregard for personal responsibility with reference to the assented contractual return of public property.

    As to those that owe Library fines (adults are responsible for their children’s debts)-pay your debt promptly and pray the city does not add; interest, property liens and requisite collection services to your current debt.

    Councilmember Oliverio’s proposal is objectionable on the grounds it places an oppressive and unnecessary burden upon the taxpayers and to the special agonizing detriment of property owners; who are compelled by a temporal variation of force majeure; to fund the Libraries and to subsidize sub-standard city management.

    David S. Wall

    • I’m quite certain that the reason there are so many fines is due to the automatic check-out system that allows you to check out books even if you have a fine on your account! How dumb can a software program be? Don’t allow someone to check out ANY books if they owe ANY money. Simple. I can remember back when there were actual humans that you had to go through to check out your books. They would say, “you have a fine on your account. you will need to pay your fine in order to check out any new items”. And then…guess what…yep, that person would pay the fine. Problem solved.

      I also can remember walking into Pearl Ave. library in January of 1999 and returning my mom’s books that were six weeks over due. My mom died and when we were cleaning out her room, we found the checked out books. Guess what? When I went to return them, I said these books are overdue. My mom died and that’s obviously why she did not return them on time and has fines. The woman was as sweet as pie and said, “I’m so sorry about your mom. The fine will be $_____ (I can’t remember the amount). I paid it and didn’t begrudge paying it at all. My mom LOVED the library and it was almost a way to send a last thank you off to it. My mother would never want her debts to be unpaid even if she had the best excuse of all.

      In short, pay your fines. My goodness, take responsibility for being late.

  2. Late fees are primarily for items that have already been returned but not on time. So the idea that the value of the items make it worth forgiving the fines is not correct because the items have already been returned. The only advantage to this is so that people who have too many late fines and have their card blocked can have it unblocked.
    The other bad thing about this is patrons then start to expect this and don’t return stuff or pay for it in anticipation. But this is a feel good thing and will probably happen, in a city and a library that is woefully lacking in funding….

  3. I was told by a library employee that no action to collect late return fines takes place until the fines exceed $10.00. It takes a lot of $10.00s to get to $6.8 million. In PC SJ you’ll never get approval for a system that denies further check outs if there are outstanding fines because they will say it penalizes the underprivileged, who we used to call poor people but can’t any more because it decreases their self esteem or something. In fact such a rule would treat everyone who fails to return a book on time equally. Remember the video stores? You paid your late return fee or you were unable to rent another video. Why can’t the library do that instead of sticking taxpayers with the bill? If that $6.8 million in fines had been collected as they were incurred, perhaps the city would not have had to cut back library hours during the Great Recession.

  4. Wow I thought this was a sanctuary city. Right up till it cost a city department some money.
    Alright I’ll bring back the Dr. Seuss collection!

  5. Why stop at over due books? The city should provide amnesty for other un-civil offenses such as parking and traffic tickets. Think of the money saved by not having meter maids/personnel or waste cop time writing up that speeding/red light violation. There are certainly more ways to save money by providing amnesty for civil violations. Cripes we half way to being un- civil – ized – – lets cut everybody a break – – on everything.

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