In January, patrons of the Santa Maria Library will be able to bring back overdue books and have their fees waived.
The program, Library Fine Amnesty Month, runs through the month. Organizers say they hope that patrons, especially children with blocked cards, will come and start using the library again.
Librarians say they are waiving the overdue fees because it has been shown that people are afraid to return overdue books because of them. Often, they just keep the materials instead.
Library Fine Amnesty Month will welcome people back into the library, and may bring some books back too.
"We want to help our community. It's been shown that fines hurt people of low income, and we want to do something that relieves the stress of having to pay and overdue fee at the library," Gillian Speicher, a librarian at the Santa Maria Public Library, said.
She says that the waived fee does not apply to damaged or lost items.
The library estimates that the value of the returned items would be worth more than $12,000.
The San Luis Obispo Library stopped charging overdue fees before the pandemic.
San Luis Obispo County librarians say that the benefits of removing fees are that patrons don't have to worry about financial stress, and library staff do not have to worry about processing fines and chasing down accounts.
"We haven't really been able to measure an impact because it's a little more complicated when you look at folks' accounts. There are so many different factors for capturing that data," Erica Thatcher, Engagement and Marketing Coordinator at the San Luis Obispo Public Library, told KSBY.
She said that some people were worries that without the fees, people wouldn't bring books back on time—but that may not be the case.
"I know some patrons feel like maybe they're waiting for materials to come back because there aren't fines as a punitive measure to get materials back, but we really haven't seen that as the main source of longer wait times," Thatcher said.
The library expanded its services, which has helped them bring in revenue that was lost, without overdue fees.
One service the library offers is passport applications.
"We take appointments at our three regional locations, and so those are popular where we're moving into more of the passport services," Thatcher said. "Not just in dropping off your documents. You can have your photo taken."
Most of the San Luis Obispo County library staff is deputized to do passport transactions.
The library is planning to provide notary services in the future.
The library is the only county government entity in San Luis Obispo County that offers passport services. People can choose between the library or the post office.