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Food for fines: Library’s Amnesty Month benefits pantry

NORTH LIBERTY— It happens. A person checks out a book from the library, with every intention of returning it on time. But then, something comes up and the book sits, and sits, and sits some more until a fine accrues.
Director Dee Crowner and her staff at the North Liberty Community Library have a novel way to pay-off sin of remissness.
Through the month of January, patrons can bring in non-perishable food items in lieu of cash. The food is then donated to the North Liberty Community Pantry. Each item is worth $1 off the patron’s fine. The food drive is a key element of Fine Amnesty Month.
Throughout the year, patrons can pay up to $10 of their fines with food items, which the Pantry picks up once or twice per month for distribution to needy families in North Liberty, Oxford, Shueyville, Solon, Tiffin, and the surrounding area. Any amount above $10 is then paid either in cash or hours of service to the library (in $7.25/hour increments).
In conjunction with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day and a national call to a day of service, staff members Elaine Reitz and Jennie Garner sorted, packaged, and delivered donated food to the pantry. A large plastic tub was nearly full, the harvest of nearly two weeks of donations.
Not all food items were there as restitution, the ladies noted; some patrons bring in donations just to help out. The staff is also willing to “barter” with patrons. As an example, a man paid to send a fax with a food donation. Another library user made a New Year’s resolution to pick up an item for donation with each trip to the grocery store.
Crowner said she would like to make a budget proposal to the City Council whereby all fines would be paid in food.
In addition to helping the pantry and the greater community at-large, Crowner has another concern.
“We just want our materials back.”
The law stands ready to back Crowner up in the recovery of library materials. According to section 714.5 of the Iowa Code, having an item overdue for more than two months is considered “evidence of intent to deprive the library of its property.” After a period of sending registered letters, the police department can be involved. Sometimes, all it takes to get materials back is a call from an officer. Other times, charges may need to be filed. The dollar value determines the level of charges filed (misdemeanor, felony, etc.).
Crowner obviously hopes it doesn’t go that far.
“We try and try to work with them,” she said. “It’s really inconvenient when an item is on-hold for somebody else; it’s not fair to others.”
Fine Amnesty Month is a golden opportunity to clear your conscience while cleaning your shelves of overdue library property. For more information on Amnesty Month, call the library at (319) 626-5701. For more information on the North Liberty Community Pantry, call (319) 626-2711.