08/07/2012 11:54 am ET Updated Aug 07, 2012

Chicago Public Library Amnesty Program Waives Overdue Fees For First Time In 20 Years

Chicago Public Library book deviants who've been avoiding their overdue fees by avoiding the city's expansive literary collection altogether are about to get a reprieve: for the first time in 20 years, the CPL is offering an amnesty program where late materials can be returned, free of charge.

The program is being dubbed the "Once in a Blue Moon Amnesty" program because the event, which runs from Aug. 20 to Sept. 7, coincides with the Aug. 31 lunar phenomenon, the Associated Press reports. During that period, fines will be waived on all overdue books, CDs, DVDs and other materials, regardless of how long they are overdue. Patrons can also pay replacement costs for lost items without facing additional fines.

Since January 2011, more than $2 million worth of materials are overdue at Chicago's 79 public libraries, racking up an astounding $1.4 million in unpaid fines owed to the city, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. In many instances, patrons with long-overdue materials keep them rather than face steep late fees, depleting public resources in a way that hurts Chicagoans and the library system.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the move could relieve Chicago Public School students who may have been avoiding the library to avoid overdue fines, allowing them to get the best start the the school year, Fox Chicago reports. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon told the station that the value of recovering thousands of outstanding items "will most likely exceed the lost revenue in fines," and make more resources available to the public.

Money has been tight in the library system after Emanuel slashed $6.7 million from this year's budget, resulting in reduced hours and staff layoffs and closures of all but two branches across the city on Mondays. After an outpouring of community opposition to the closures, Emanuel announced weeks later that enough money had been "scrounged up" to reopen for half days on Mondays .

Last month, the city announced that its libraries would reopen on Monday mornings, just in advance of the new school year beginning.