The Enoch Pratt Free Library is waiving all fines for overdue library materials returned this month to any of the city's 28 public library branches.
Amnesty is a prelude to a stricter approach to fines, officials say.
"We're going to start getting tough. We're going to hire a collection agency in January to collect overdue fines," said Pratt spokeswoman Judy Cooper. "This is our last chance to clear people's records. We just want to get the books back."
So far, response hasn't been great, she said.
About 34,000 of all items checked out last year were not returned. Failure to collect fines means less money for the various library branches.
"If you take those 34,000 books and multiple them by $20 [the average cost of a book], that's close to three-quarters of a million dollars. That's a significant loss," Cooper said.
The library took in about $215,000 in fines last year, Cooper said. Fines are 20 cents a day for a book and $2 a day for a video. But Cooper said most patrons don't seem to realize there is a cutoff of $6 on adult books and $3 on childrens' books. Video fines are cut off at $26.
Library patron Crystal Banks, 28, who has yet to return a few books she checked out three or four years ago, said she would make an effort to do so now.
"If that's it, no strings attached, then I'll bring them back," Banks said.
Dave Eberhardt, 57, a frequent library visitor who dropped off a stack of books a day late Friday afternoon to the Cathedral Street central library, said he didn't mind paying late fees.
"I check out so many books that I have ones that I bring back on time and ones I bring back late," Eberhardt said. "I've been very glad to pay all the fines I've had over the last 10 years."
Eberhardt said he has paid at least $100 in overdue fines over the last 10 years.
Cooper said she hopes the "Centennial Clearance" amnesty will bring more customers back to libraries.
"What's worse than losing the books is losing the people," she said.