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“I Was Abducted by Aliens…”

February 12, 2011

While browsing an old issue of Harper’s Magazine last night, reading the Harper’s Index, I came across the following statistics:

  • Number of overdue books returned last year to the San Francisco Public Library during a two-week “fine amnesty”: 29,228
  • Number of years a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman had been overdue: 45

Amazing!  And so this morning, I did a little web searching.  For two weeks in May 2009, the SFPL held a Overdue Fine Amnesty Program campaign, “Return the Books.”  The value of the returned materials during this period was nearly $79,000!  To encourage participation, library users were encouraged to submit their own excuses for overdue books.  One reader wrote, “I was abducted by aliens, they just brought me back after 2 months.”

Why spend the money to purchase new materials when there may be a chance that those materials aren’t being returned because of fine accrual?  And why work to get new users into the library when the reason the old users aren’t coming in is because of incurred fines that prohibit usage?

Of course, this isn’t something that could happen on an annual basis.  Users would get too comfortable with the idea that another amnesty would be around the corner.  Sporadically, however, it’s brilliant!

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