ELKHART — In an effort to avoid taking patrons to small claims court over unpaid overdue fines and fees, the Elkhart Public Library is offering a chance to return overdue materials in good condition and have all fines waived from Monday, March 4 through Saturday, March 30.
Deb Stewart, the library director, said this is the first time the library is offering amnesty from fines.
“The Chicago Public Libraries did this a few months ago with varying amounts of success,” Stewart said. “This is a chance for people to get their record cleaned up.”
The total amount of outstanding fines and fees owed by library patrons is approaching $1 million with some people owing over $1,000, Stewart said.
“People check out lots of books or expensive materials and between the cost of the materials and the (late) fines, they can owe quite a bit,” she said.
Most books are checked out for three weeks and audio-visual materials are checked out for one week. When an item is six weeks overdue, the library begins sending overdue notices, followed by long-overdue notices.
If they don’t recieve a response and the overdue fines and the cost of the material exceed $75, the case is sent to a collections agency.
A patron loses borrowing privileges if he or she has an account balance of $10 or more.
Next month, the library will begin taking the debts to small claims count.
“We’ve never done this before and there are too many people to take all of them to small claims court,” Stewart said. “At this point, we’re really hoping to get the materials back before we even cross that bridge.”
“Just bring your stuff back. That’s all we’re wanting,” Stewart said.