The Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield’s public library, is offering a modified fines amnesty from Friday, November 1, through Saturday, November 30. During this four-week period the library will accept non perishable food items in lieu of paying fines for overdue books. According to Library Director Ron Latham, “This has become an annual tradition at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which has linked an extended food-for-fines period to the Thanksgiving holiday.”
“While overdue fines are intended to encourage people to bring their library books back on time,” explained Cathy Congelosi, Supervisor of Adult Circulation at the Athenaeum, “Sometimes our fines generate the opposite reaction, and borrowers become reluctant to return library books because of the fines attached.” The food-for-fines program is the library’s attempt to create a more positive feeling about getting overdue library materials returned, and to get library borrowers to clean out their bookshelves and bring back library items that have been long forgotten.
“With a Thanksgiving holiday coming up that encourages Americans to reflect on all we have to be thankful for, donating food in lieu of fines is a feel good solution that’s a perfect fit for this holiday,” says Latham. “It’s a win, win, win situation because the borrower wins by clearing up an overdue fine record, the library wins by getting overdue our items returned, and area needy win by getting donated food at a time when the food supply is short.”
Food is collected in boxes located at the Adult Circulation Desk and at the Children’s Service Desk. When “paying” off a fine with a donated food item, a staff librarian should be alerted prior to depositing the item into the collection boxes. Food will be accepted not only for payment of overdue fines for items currently in circulation, but also may be applied to outstanding overdue fines from other transactions. In the Athenaeum’s previous food-for-fines programs, the library only accepted food for books and other borrowed items that were currently checked out but overdue. As before, however, the replacement costs of lost or damaged materials may not be resolved by donated food.
During the amnesty period, in addition to food brought in lieu of fines, the Athenaeum will encourage general donations of food not associated with overdue library books. All donated food will be turned over to the Rotary Club of Pittsfield as part of their annual food collection drive that distributes non-perishable food to area food banks providing services to area needy.