Patrons of the San Jose public library system have racked up $6.8 million in late fees for overdue materials. That's a lot of pennies.
While it's not uncommon for libraries to have unpaid late fees reaching into the millions, the situation in San Jose is especially bad, according to Jill Bourne, the director of the library system. "It's not going in the right direction," she said. "We're not offering the right solutions."
What the city thinks might get it back on track is an amnesty program to bring both readers and missing books back, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Late fees in San Jose libraries are higher than in many other cities. Patrons are charged 50 cents a day for overdue materials, with a $20 cap.
In Los Angeles, libraries charge 35 cents a day for most late books (and just 15 cents for children's books).
San Jose City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio said he supports a two-week amnesty program, which would allow patrons to return overdue materials without having to pay the fines they've amassed.
"If we're not collecting the money and you're restricting people from the library, shouldn't we have an alternative to welcome these people?" Oliverio said.
ABC7 News-KGO reports that 40% of San Jose library cards have been suspended for overdue books.
"This is a $28-million facility; it's open six days a week. We want people to use it," Oliverio told the news station. "If you bring those items back, that's worth a lot of money just in that inventory of items."
This isn't the first time San Jose has explored an amnesty program. The idea was floated in 2000, but the city decided not to go forward with it, NBC Bay Area reports.
Similar programs have been tried in other cities, however. The Los Angeles Public Library offered a two-week amnesty period last month, and cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis have instituted amnesty programs in the past.
In San Jose, reactions to the proposed program have been mixed. Juan Diaz, 24, said he supported the program, telling the Mercury News, "Some of the books aren't even worth $20, and people don't want to come back."
Eddie Acevedo, 60, disagreed. "People have to learn the hard way," he said. "Some people have no discipline."