S.F. Library Amnesty Period Reclaims More Than 29,000 Overdue Items, Including Book Due Back During Johnson Administration

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Returning library books on time can be tough, and everybody has their reasons. In fact, as part of the San Francisco Public Library's most recent amnesty campaign, those who returned items were asked to give their best excuses.

It turns out, a second grader named Vanessa was too busy learning about and assisting sea creatures to return her books. A man named Gil was sabotaged by his sister, who checked out the Babe DVD under his name, hid it, and left town.

A lesbian named Gretchen said she began dating a Jewish woman in 1994, which prompted her to check out The Jewish Book of Why.

"Fifteen years and three Jewish girlfriends later, I still don't have the answers," Gretchen reported upon returning the book.  

In total, the period of amnesty, which allowed overdue items to be returned to the library in exchange for the cancellation of late fees, brought 29,228 items back to the shelves between May 3 and 16. The total value of those items was about $730,000, according to library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers. Those who returned items saved themselves $55,165 in overdue fines -- and more than 3,000 people wound up with a clean record.

Those numbers greatly exceeded those of the last amnesty periods. Although the library granted amnesty for a week in 2001, only the return of items that were more than 60 days overdue were recorded. (There were about 5,000 of those items brought back). In 1998, when more thorough records were kept, the total number of items returned was 11,958, Jeffers said.

In the recent campaign to create amnesty awareness, dubbed Free2Return, local celebrities including

Josh Kornbluth, Beth Lisick, W. Kamau Bell, Marga Gomez, and Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recorded video public service announcements about their overdue materials. "I've had this book out since 1986," Bell explained. "In a couple of years it will be renting a car and returning itself back to the library."

Library management doesn't allow amnesty on a regular basis because that might encourage borrowers to avoid their late fees. But this particular period of forgiveness, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, had a special purpose.    

 

"Library management decided it was a good time to do it," said Jeffers. "With the economy the way it is, it made sense to remove any obstacle for people who might not be coming to the library when they most need it."

   

Another obvious reason for granting occasional amnesty is to bring more items back for public circulation. Among the older items returned was a copy of George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, which was more than 45 years overdue from the Presidio Branch Library. The book, which had been reprinted 1947, bears a due date stamp of Jan. 29, 1964, and it will soon be on display at the branch.

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