Public library offers amnesty on overdue books

HARLINGEN — About 10,000 books are overdue — some have been missing for years.

Next week, library patrons will have a chance to return overdue books without paying fines.

The Harlingen Public Library will offer amnesty to patrons with overdue books during National Library Week, which runs April 11 to 17.

“It’s an opportunity for us to show appreciation to our public and it’s an opportunity for us to recover items long overdue,” library Director Dauna Campbell said yesterday.

The program also will help bring some patrons back home.

“It’s a way to reach out to them and get them back in the library,” Assistant Director Joseph Muñiz said.

Muñiz said about 10 percent of the library’s 109,745 books are overdue.

“It goes back for years,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately, some people move out of town and they don’t come back.”

Some books never come back.

Muñiz tells the story of a young man who checked out a paperback in the 1970s.

But the man lost the book.

“He said it was on his conscience. He said he wanted to get it off his chest,” Muñiz said. “He thought it was science fiction but it was a religious book. It so moved him that he became a minister.”

Muñiz said some books are overdue about 60 days.

“I don’t think it’s a very big problem,” Campbell said. “Our public does pretty good at turning things in on time and paying overdue fines.”

But it becomes a bigger problem when popular books like Harry Potter titles are overdue.

Then patrons have to wait for the books’ return.

“It becomes a concern when our most popular books are overdue because it puts everybody else back,” Muñiz said.

Last year, Campbell said, the library held its first amnesty program, giving patrons one day to return overdue books.

In one day, she said, the library recovered 85 books and waived more than $200 in late fees.

“We’re hoping to reach out to more people and give more people time to look for their items,” Campbell said.

For years, the library has charged 25 cents a day for overdue books, capping fines at $15.

“We don’t want it to go on until it becomes an unbearable burden,” Muñiz said.

But library officials also just want some of those long-term missing books back on the shelves.