San Jose library has $6.8 million in unpaid late book fines

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Kids typically learn two simple rules about the library when growing up - keep your voices down and bring back books before they're due. (KGO-TV)

Kids typically learn two simple rules about the library when growing up - keep your voices down and bring back books before they're due.

In San Jose, there's a huge problem with patrons following that second rule. The city is now taking action.

This is one payment Steve Hepner would rather forget.

With all you can learn at the library, Hepner says he still hasn't learned to bring back his books on time. "But I always pay up," he said.

San Jose has some of the steepest penalties. The City Council raised them in 2009. "With the recession, I think in San Jose you have to consider that during those years, libraries were actually closing," librarian Jill Bourne.

But now the city has a different problem -- $6.8 million in unpaid library fines.

"It's a huge amount of money. It could pay for an entire code enforcement and anti-graffiti program within the city," councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio said.

If they could collect it. But with almost 40 percent of the city's library cards now suspended for overdue books, it's not likely.

The fines are meant as an incentive to return books but when they really add up, they can become an incentive to stay away.

That means the books stay missing and the people are missing out on their ability to use the library.

"This is a $28 million facility, it's open six days a week. We want people to use it," Oliverio said.

So some city leaders want to give amnesty to people who can find and return their forgotten books.

"If you bring those items back, that's worth a lot of money just in that inventory of items," Oliverio said.

Most patrons like that idea. "I want to see those books back in the library. Some of them are impossible to replace," one patron said.

But amnesty won't help for books that are lost or ruined. There could be alternatives if money is tight.

"Like volunteer at the library and pay down their fines. For kids, some libraries have programs where kids could actually read," Bourne said.

Reading is what they're all about - much easier with a working library card.
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societylibrariesbooksreadingSan Jose
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