Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Arresting Patrons

In my last post I was trying to poke a little fun at librarians who were more concerned about librarian stereotypes than things that really matter. Judging by some of the comments, some people definitely didn’t get that joke. Oh well, at least some people got to feel self-righteous anger, which probably made their day.

Last week there was some unusual library news. Someone was actually arrested for not returning a library book on time. That can’t happen often.

The arrest happened in Copperas Cove, TX, a city so nondescript that the Wikipedia page doesn’t even boast a list of “notable people” from Copperas Cove that you’ve never heard of. Maybe they can add the name of the guy arrested, because this story could put Copperas Cove on the map, as they say.

First, the sad elements. The book in question had been checked out in 2010. It was a GED study guide, so you know right off this guy has had some problems and made some bad choices probably among bad options. He’s already in the 25% of people who don’t graduate from high school in this country.

That’s right, in case you didn’t know, the U.S. recently hit a milestone, the highest high school graduation rate in 40 years: 75%. That’s a peak.

A goodly percentage of those dropouts must go on to earn GEDs, because by 2011 the percentage of 16-24-year-olds without a high school diploma or GED was 7%. We don’t know if this guy ever managed to do that.

So here we have a man already on the margins of society who was arrested and had to pay $200 in bail for one library book. His future isn’t looking any brighter.

He later returned the book, and his library card was inside it. Another satisfied customer.

On the other hand, the library claims they’re losing a lot of money to replace material people never return, not to mention the lost opportunities of the material never replaced. There’s probably lots of people in Copperas Cove who could have used a GED study guide in the past three years.

What about the costs and lost opportunities? Who should pay for them? After all, you borrow something from a library and never return it, it’s theft. If he’d shoplifted a GED study guide – and what a depressing situation that would be – he would have been arrested.

We’ve got scofflaws borrowing material from libraries, never returning it, and sitting pretty while they thumb their nose at the authority of the library police. So why not arrest them? Throw them in the pokey for a couple of days, make them pay a fine. At least they’ll never check out a book from a library again!

On the other hand, that does seem a little harsh for an institution that’s supposed to be for everyone. Think about it another way. This guy in some way contributed taxes toward the library. Maybe not much, but over a few years even a little bit should be enough to pay for a GED study guide.

So he chooses to keep that out too long, and thus can’t check out anything else. He’s possibly gotten the worst return on library investment of anyone who actually uses libraries, but that’s his loss.

Or should libraries have people arrested to set an example. This is what happens if you mess with us, you uneducated, marginal people! Maybe that’s not the best example for libraries to be setting.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ll admit that a library having someone arrested over an overdue book feels extreme, but on the flip side what should the library do as a last resort? Write off the loss and call it a day? You can send people to collections but good luck ever seeing a dime of that, and in the meantime you have people running off with materials. If this happened in a business environment then no one would bat an eye at someone being arrested for stealing product.

    Sure libraries are supposed to have a higher mission to educate the public, but does that extend to letting the public get away with theft? Particularly theft that robs the rest of the community of useful materials because there often isn’t money in the budget to replace those expensive but popular books?

    I’ve worked in libraries where the only thing that happened to people actually caught stealing – we’re talking grabbing DVDs off the shelf and stuffing them in a bag without bothering to check anything out – were just banned from the library for a few months rather than turned into the cops. If anything a lot of libraries are too lenient when it comes to this sort of thing.

    • me says:

      The current and last library I worked at both used collection agencies (Unique) and they were wildly successful. We’ve had a lot of luck. The point isn’t to punish people. It’s just to get the items back and that seems to work.

      I wouldn’t compare not returning a book to theft. I’d compare stealing a book out of the library without checking it out to theft. Returning a book late or never is more akin to not paying your bills/ living up to your responsibilities and thus a collection agency seems like the correct course of action.

    • Minks says:

      “I wouldn’t compare not returning a book to theft. I’d compare stealing a book out of the library without checking it out to theft. Returning a book late or never is more akin to not paying your bills/ living up to your responsibilities and thus a collection agency seems like the correct course of action.”

      How about renting a car and not returning it? What would that be called?

      Exactly.

    • flip sider says:

      “[Bu]t on the flip side what should the library do as a last resort? Write off the loss and call it a day?”
      Yes. I’ve got no problem writing off one GED book especially since the GED is changing in 2014 and the missing book will become obsolete.

    • flip sider says:

      “How about renting a car and not returning it? What would that be called? Exactly.”

      I find your analogy weak. I do not think a soon-to-be out-of-date GED book checked out from a library and not returned is analogous to a rental car. They are of different monetary values.

    • Minks says:

      “They are of different monetary values.”

      So what something is worth dictates whether or not it can be stolen?

      The thing about stealing is that it is pretty black and white. Not a lot of grey area there. If there is something in your possession and it is not supposed to be and it belongs to someone else…. STOLEN. Doesn’t really matter what it is or what it is worth now.

      But, yea yea, I get it, we are talking about penalties here, not so much whether or not the book was stolen…which it was. Penalties do typically reflect the value of the item stolen. Steal a $1 candy bar tho and you can still end up with a ride to the police station.

  2. The Librarian With No Name says:

    The really sad thing is that the most expensive GED book I can find in my library has a replacement cost of $29.99. And that includes the $5 surcharge for cataloguing. You have to be a couple hundred dollars in before we even get the collection agencies involved, let alone the cops.

    Although we did have to have one of our patrons arrested when we found our entire encyclopedia missing and the same encyclopedia for sale on Craigslist. The saddest part was that it took us several weeks to even notice it was missing (because who uses an encyclopedia these days?) and by that time you could track his progress across several classifieds sites. Price getting lower, pitch getting more desparate.

    It was a bummer to get a college kid pinched for something so dumb, but at least he learned a valuable lesson about the difference between “valuable” and “marketable.”

  3. fromhere says:

    RGIII is from here, to name one, and not to mention the 1000s of soldiers who call this place home. Thank you for your support.

  4. carolyn manning says:

    I cringed when I read the article because it gives libraries a bad reputation. Why did this have to make national news for goodness sakes?

    • annoyedlibraryworker says:

      Because the media can not resist the urge to write headlines like “Library throws book at area resident” !

  5. Minks says:

    It is theft, not really even grey area. Keep in mind these people were given ample warning to pay or return the materials.

    Those that are arrested… well… they chose poorly.

    • The Librarian With No Name says:

      I don’t think anyone here is arguing that people shouldn’t return their library books. But getting a guy arrested over a $30 copy of “So You’re a Marginalized Member of Society” does nothing but waste the time and resources of the police and squander public goodwill toward the library.

      We’ve already got a proportional response to people failing to return a small number of books: we don’t let them borrow any more of our books or use our computers.

    • Minks says:

      Why not? Steal a $1 candy bar and see if you get arrested. Most likely you will.

      …although… in some cities… I think you can get a big fat ticket and walk.

  6. D says:

    A library having a person arrested for failing to return a GED book is appalling. Since this happened in Texas, we shouldn’t be surprised if this dangerous criminal receives the death penalty. A GED study guide probably cost $20 in 2010 before our 45% discount. In 2013, this is probably now worth less than one dollar. Using collection agencies like Unique is similarly unwise and unkind. Imagine being the parent of a child who fails to return books only to receive a letter from Unique threatening to ruin your credit unless to pay up (or return the items) now. This practice just makes poor, vulnerable people afraid to use the library. Libraries that use collection agencies probably do get books and money returned. It’s not worth their heart and soul.

    • c says:

      Okay, lets face it… most libraries are willing to work with you if you do have outrageous fines. The library I used to work at would knock off pretty much all of the fines for returning the book back, other than some marginal overdue fees that can only accrue up to 15.00 dollars. Others are willing to set you up on a payment plan if your fines are really that outrageous, and given the fact that most libraries give you three weeks, and on average 2 renewals, there really is no reason for not returning the book back. Plus, most of the time it is the adult running up fines, not the kids. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, check out the book, read it, and return it. Simple. If you break it, you buy it/ don;t return it, you pay for it. Checking a book out and not returning it is stealing. And while the GED may be changing, this man has had it out for 2 years, which meant 2 years worth of use by other patrons. While arresting him is extreme, sending your account to debt collectors is not.

    • me says:

      “Imagine being the parent of a child who fails to return books only to receive a letter from Unique threatening to ruin your credit unless to pay up (or return the items) now.”

      Imagine being a responsible parent who keeps track of their children’s books so this doesn’t happen.

    • D says:

      Hey Me and C,

      Sanctimonious moral positions are unappealing. The issue is the appropriateness of the penalty to the transgression. I understand that you and the Texans are quite comfortable arresting and fining this young man for violating one of the ten commandments. I hope draw the line at cutting his hand off.

    • Minks says:

      “A library not having a person arrested for theft is appalling.”

      There, fixed it for you.

      Why is theft such a grey area for everybody? You steal something, you get to be arrested. It is really pretty simple. Additionally, why do you think it is ok for poor people to steal library books?

      Steal a single $1 candybar from Target and see what happens. …well… don’t successfully steal it, that would ruin the experience for you.

      That is…..oooooooohh….waiiiit….. you’re trolling aren’t you? Lol,,, good one!

      You gave it away with “Sanctimonious moral positions are unappealing”…. since there are no other types of moral positions. You crafty bugger you!

  7. John Cage says:

    You’re given the books for a set date and have to return them on that date. It’s perfectly simple and if you can’t grasp it then you have no business taking out library books.

  8. Dawgmom says:

    First, I would like to say you’re not reading the whole story. The police didn’t randomly hunt down this man because of his library book. It ‘happened’ that there was a warrant out for him and when the police pulled him over for a traffic stop, this came. Silly law or no, it’s on the books.

    Second, I would like to point out that Wikipedia should NOT be the source of information about Copperas Cove. This is a fine, well EDUCATED city next to Fort Hood. LIke every city and town, there are those who make bad choices and need some help. That happens everywhere, probably even in your town/city. And nondescript? Just because you’ve never heard of it and Wikipedia lacks information about it, doesn’t mean people here NEED GED help and are uneducated. Librarians who assist students and others with research should not look at Wikipedia as a source of completely accurate information. One of our alums went on to become a writer for Saturday Night Live; another is an award winning meteorologist in Florida. One is a veteran editor for the Wall Street Journal. We’ve had NFL players come from our city — Robert Griffin III ring a bell?

    Before you start making assumptions and talking about a city you know nothing about besides a snippet of a news report, do your research. Three sources, minimum, at least that’s what I was told in school.

  9. Orland Park Public Library called the police on a mom handing out pamphets about the unfettered porn and sex crimes in that library. Arresting patrons? If that mom’s free speech exposes libraries violating the law, yes, sure, arrest her!

    http://www.infodocket.com/2013/11/05/illinois-battle-of-orland-park-librarys-internet-porn-policy-heats-up/

    Oh yes, I’m in a Chicago Tribune story on the issue.

  10. Ravikrishna says:

    We’ve already got a proportional response to people failing to return a small number of books: we don’t let them borrow any more of our books or use our computers.

  11. Alan says:

    You know, one or two of these “patron arrested for overdue library books” stories pops every year and the same basic discussion thread like the one above ensues. Just saying….

    See y’all in 6 months/9 months/next year.