Fine Amnesty Brings Patrons Back to Law Library

Library Director Mark E. Estes said, “I want people to use the library; checking out books is one of the ways people can use the library. But, if you have outstanding fines or fees you can’t checkout books. So, during our amnesty period, return the overdue books, get the fines waived and checkout more books – just bring them back on time.”

The fines/fees amnesty period from Tuesday, January 18 to Friday, February 4, 2011 was the first in the library’s history. The library began in 1893 in Oakland. Most of the overdue books had been returned earlier, but the fines were not paid. The libraries are currently not open on the weekends, but the book drop at the building entrance at 125 Twelfth Street in Oakland and outside the Hayward Branch are both very convenient places to return books. The largest fine waived was $300.00 for two law books. The smallest fines forgiven were $1.00. Fines are $1.00 a day because law books are expensive, but the fine is never more than the replacement cost of the book plus a processing fee. A book checked out in 1991 by a non-lawyer was the book missing the longest, it was replaced years ago. Its borrower relied on the classic excuse, “My dog ate the book”.  Another book was checked out in 2004 and found back on the shelf in 2010.

Inventive, creative excuses were sought on the libraries’ web site at for why the books were returned late. Some books were returned to a nearby general public library. A judge borrowed a treatise from an attorney and shared it with her colleagues. An attorney was in Los Angeles working on an urgent federal death penalty habeas evidentiary hearing for six months. A book had an earlier due date than the other books he did return on time. An attorney moved out of Alameda County.

The fine amnesty program successfully returned many borrowers to good standing so they can check out books again. Library staff up dated patrons’ records to show that they moved permanently or temporarily to someplace else in California, to another state or even another country. Attorneys no longer have to live or work in Alameda County to borrow library materials. Many lawyers from Contra Costa and other nearby counties check out books, attend MCLEs and book conference rooms in the Alameda County Law Library.

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