Victoria City Council to consider amnesty period for library fines

Jacqueline Ares reads to her sons in January at the Victoria Public Library. The library might create an amnesty period during which card holders could ask for fines and fees on overdue items to be forgiven.

Victoria’s City Council will consider an ordinance Tuesday that would allow the library to forgive fines and fees accrued on overdue items.

The proposed ordinance would put Victoria among a growing group of municipal library systems that use amnesty periods, where fines are cleared if overdue materials are returned, or other methods to reduce the financial burden of a longstanding overdue library book.

The ordinance would allow the director of the Victoria Public Library to create an annual amnesty period during which fines can be forgiven. Library card holders can ask for their fines to be waived for items that they returned before or during the amnesty period.

Library director Dayna Williams-Capone said the library was hoping to test out using an amnesty period with the community to see if it encouraged cardholders to return materials.

“We see the benefit to those people who have lost materials but now have them and want to return them to us, but maybe there’s something like fear that’s blocking them from doing that,” Williams-Capone said in a phone interview.

Between March 2017 and August 2018, some 1,900 items have been checked out of the library and not returned, according to the library’s data.

“How do we still make it important to our community to get (materials) back so the next person can use it?” Williams-Capone asked. “We don’t know exactly how to make that happen on just the honor system, so this is just an incentive.”

Previously, an overdue library book in Victoria could cost not just a hefty fee but even a warrant and a court date. In rare cases, overdue books even resulted in jail time. In 2014, a former Victoria resident spent the night in jail after he was charged with failure to return property and failure to pay a fine. The charges stemmed from three overdue items that weren’t returned to the library.

Victoria’s municipal court stopped prosecuting library cases in 2017.

Amnesty periods and other methods of fine forgiveness are becoming increasingly popular in municipal libraries across the country.

As of Oct. 1, the Austin Public Library does not charge overdue fines on children’s books that are returned late. Last year, the New York Public Library created a one-time amnesty period, lifting overdue fees for all kids and teens with library cards.

Also Tuesday, the Council will discuss a resolution to annex about 250 acres to city limits. The land in question includes portions of Placido Benavides Drive, the new road the city is building in the north part of Victoria.

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions, tips, or ideas? Please get in touch: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

(2) comments

Ciara McCarthy Staff
Ciara McCarthy

Hi readers! Advocate reporter Ciara McCarthy here. Just wanted to post some links to stories about other library systems that are adopting fee amnesty or forgiveness policies that I learned about during my reporting:

Denver is actually considering completely eliminating all library fines and fees in their 2019 budget: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/09/13/denver-budget-no-more-library-fines/

Austin's public library no longer charges overdue fines for children's books: https://www.statesman.com/news/20181001/austin-public-library-ends-overdue-fines-on-childrens-books (Although card holders will still be charged for lost or damaged items.)

And last year, the New York Public Library system wiped clean all fines for cardholders under the age of 18. Before the change, 160,000 kids were unable to check out books because fines accrued had caused a hold on their library cards. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/nyregion/new-york-city-libraries-amnesty-childrens-fines.html

Laura Garcia

Sounds like a good idea!

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