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LIBRARY REAPS OVERDUE REWARDS

In boxes, bags and bundles, the overdue books trickled -- and then poured -- in.

By the time the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library's "fine amnesty" period was over Saturday, the library had collected nearly 58,000 overdue items -- including the record-setting overdue book, which was checked out before World War II.

Yup, that's right -- someone in Cheektowaga returned "French Leave," a novel by Janette Philips Gibbs that hadn't been inside a library since 1930.

"The positive response from the community was overwhelming," said Library Director Diane J. Chrisman. "Many individuals took advantage of the fine amnesty -- clearing their accounts as well as their consciences."

The 13-day amnesty period -- which will be the last one for the library, because the system is now turning to a collection agency to collect its fines -- easily beat the previous record of 10,219 overdue items returned during an amnesty period in 1982.

Among other things, the amnesty included:

Patrons who brought in large numbers of overdue books, including one man who discovered 61 books in his basement that had been borrowed in 1976.

Cost-conscious patrons who took advantage of a matching offer by the library, in which old fines -- those incurred on books dropped off at the library in the past but never paid -- were matched by the library, up to $25. Even with the matching offer, fines collected at the Central Library increased by 4 percent during the two-week period as patrons cleared up their past-due library accounts.

The number of patrons making overdue payments of any kind at the Central Library increased by 63 percent overall.

Nearly 6,000 of the returned items were borrowed more than 90 days ago, meaning sizable fines had started to accumulate on the items.

The amnesty turned out to be a financial success for the library, even though many fines were waived, library officials said.

"The amnesty program was a win-win situation for all involved," said Deputy Director Kenneth H. Stone, the library's chief financial officer. "Not only did the library continue to generate a consistent revenue stream on the overdue charges, but more importantly, the amnesty encouraged many people to revisit their library and hopefully return as an active borrower."

The fact that these long-overdue items were returned is especially good, library officials said, because the library is starting a new practice of turning its overdue accounts over to a collection agency for retrieval.

Overdue accounts exceeding a certain threshold will be turned over to the agency in coming months.

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