Ten cents a day is typically the overdue fine at the Berkshire Athaneum, the public library in downtown Pittsfield. But when Ron Latham took over the job as the organization’s director in 1992, he brought with him a popular program from the library in Millford, Massachusetts where he worked before: “Food for Fines.” Patrons may donate a non-perishable food item to clear up overdue fines. The food-to-fine ratio is pretty informal, he says – anything from a single bag of Ramen to armful offood will do.
”The food that we get is not just from people with overdue fines, but it’s a chance for people to drop food off because they know it’s going to go to a good purpose.”
This type of program is not unique to Pittsfield—Forbes Library in Northampton, Masschusetts did the same in January—but Berkshire Athaneum also extends the program to the entire month of November. Last fall, Latham said, the library collected three thousand pounds of donated food.
The popularity of the program can lead to unexpected consequences, he says.
“What I do hear from the folks on the street is, is ‘When’s your next Food for Fines drive?’ It almost becomes an incentive not to come back to the library, they want to come back when they can ease themselves off the hook.”
The Food for Fines program in Pittsfield runs through Saturday. For New England Public Radio, I’m Jeremy Goodwin.