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Once in a Blue Moon Fine Amnesty Campaign

Chicago Public Library, IL

Innovation Summary

Chicago Public Library offered its first fine amnesty in 20 years in 2012. In order to highlight the rare occurrence, CPL scheduled it to coincide with the blue moon in August. ”Once in a Blue Moon Fine Amnesty” campaign proved a fun and successful one, creating much goodwill, participation and press attention.

Problem Statement

Fine amnesties are not unusual in many library systems, but Chicago Public Library had not offered one in two decades. CPL wanted to welcome back patrons who had been prevented from using the library due to fines in a non-judgmental way, but also present the amnesty as something rare (and not for patrons to assume will happen again soon). By creating a fun and whimsical campaign with graphics including a blue full moon, the Library attracted a great deal of attention from patrons, as well as press. By capturing stories of what was being returned to our branches (which included a rare copy of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” due back in 1934) and patrons’ stories of how long they had been blocked from using the library, CPL was able to keep the campaign alive in the press and on social media for the full three weeks of the amnesty and create much goodwill among CPL patrons and supporters.


Timing the amnesty to the celestial Blue Moon occurrence was key in creating the campaign. Capturing – and sharing – stories of what was returned helped make the amnesty a much bigger story, which garnered great interest from the press. Tracking how many items were returned in an average week was important information before we started the campaign. This allowed us to know how successful the amnesty was, in the increase over the average number of times we were getting back. Tracking how many items we received each day proved to be important as well, as press starting asking for data once the campaign captured their imagination. We also set up a special email address, administered by the Marketing Department, to which library staff and the public submitted stories of what was being returned, excuses public shared or stories of not being able to use the library because of fines. Those stories were shared with the press as well as on the Library’s social media. These efforts allowed us to keep the story alive in the media over the full three weeks – with data showing the success and with personal stories. The Chicago Tribune did weekly updates, and several television outlets did in-library interviews with the Library Commissioner and patrons about the amnesty. The story of the rare copy of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” being returned 78 years overdue was picked up by media around the world.


New, replaced or updated library cards: 37,509 Number of items returned under the amnesty: 101,301 The due dates range from a few weeks overdue to the book due back in 1934. Most were between 3-5 years overdue, but we were surprised by how many items came back which were due in the 1970s and 1980s! Almost every item returned was able to be put back out into circulation within a few days, so that other patrons could check them out. Estimated value of the items returned: $2,035,473