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Library amnesty period helps patrons start new year with a clean slate

By Staff | Jan 4, 2019

Shepherdstown Elementary School third grader Evelyn Osantowske selects a book from the shelves in the Children's Department of the Shepherstown Public Library. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — As the New Year starts, the patrons of the Shepherdstown Public Library will also be able to start their year out fresh.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 26-29, the Shepherdstown Public Library offered amnesty on overdue items and prior fines, rather than charging fines for the amount of time the items were overdue. This period is the second of two extended ones offered by the library throughout the year, the first of which is in April during National Library Week. A shorter period of no overdue fines being given is held every Friday, according to Assistant Children’s Services Librarian Anne Eden.

“Every Friday is a fine-free day here, and that really is from Thursday at 7 p.m. when we close and people can drop items into our book return. On Friday, we check all of the books in with a ‘fine-free Friday’ setting. That means from Thursday at 7 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Fridays,” Eden said on Saturday morning, as she worked in the Children’s Department.

According to Eden, the library offers this amnesty period to help its patrons, who might otherwise avoid going to the library because they don’t want to deal with paying fines. However, along with these amnesty periods, Eden said the library also help keep fine costs down, for those who return overdue books on other days of the week.

“Here, the maximum overdue fine is $5. [At other libraries in the Eastern Panhandle], I’ve seen a fine in one day of $64,” Eden said, mentioning the library will work with patrons who don’t have the money they need to pay their fines throughout the year.

“We do bend over backwards to help our patron,” Eden said, mentioning if patrons lose their library books, they are expected to pay for replacements. “We’ll take partial payments of fines; we’ll try to really work with people so they won’t avoid the library because of their overdue fines.”

According to Eden, the one thing the library cannot give amnesty for is lost books. If patrons lose their library books, they are expected to pay the library, so the library can purchase a replacement.

As Eden checked in books upstairs, Assistant Adult Services Librarian Lance Dom was keeping busy at the main desk, helping patrons who were returning and checking out books from the Adult Department library shelves. Dom, who has worked for nine years part-time at the library, said the library hopes less frequent patrons with overdue books will take advantage of the extended amnesty period.

“Our consistent users are the ones who are aware we have the amnesty, but they are also the ones who are the most compliant. It’s the very occasional borrowers who fail to get their books back to us, and they are the ones who tend to not know we have this amnesty period,” Dom said.

Although the library doesn’t receive a large number of overdue books during amnesty periods, they hope those who have books that are long overdue will feel comfortable slipping them into the book return after library hours.

“Getting some long-standing overdue books back is great,” Dom said, mentioning the library does have books that have been missing for years.

“We don’t sit there to watch and see which books are overdue. What this is nice for, really, is that one person whose books we’ll never get back otherwise,” Dom said. “When those people realize there is the amnesty period and bring books back we haven’t seen for a year or a year-and-a-half, it’s great.”

For mother of four and Jefferson County Parks and Recreation board member Kathleen Osantowske, the fine-free Fridays have helped simplify her family’s weekly visits to the library.

“I love that it’s offered. It’s definitely a perk of small town libraries that we enjoy,” Osantowske said. “We have had to turn books in late, after they are lost or hidden under the bed — they slip under the bed very easily.”