January 26, 2009

Arrested Over a Library Book

A woman in Iowa was arrested for failing to return a library book. Read the whole article here. It says she had to pay a $250 bond over a book worth $13.95. What the article doesn't tell us is why the woman won't return the book or pay its value. What's her side of the story? I'm a little suspicious and I'll tell you why. My family has a small issue with our library right now. Here's what happened:

I homeschool my kids so we use the library weekly, even during the summer. My son, who is 15, worked as a volunteer at the library a couple of years ago so we are on a first name basis with several of the librarians. They know all of us and they know that my son is a quiet and well behaved kid. So in the fall I got an email about some books that were overdue. I asked my son about them and he said he hadn't checked anything out since the spring. I keep the library cards in my purse so I knew that was true. But when I looked for the card it wasn't in my purse. It wasn't in the car; it wasn't in his bedroom; it wasn't anywhere. So I went to the library to find out about these books and report the missing card. The four books were a month overdue and had accrued fines of $28. When we saw the titles I knew that someone else had used my son's card. Two of the books were expensive game manuals for Play Station 2. We don't own any video games. The other two books were manuals for role playing games, one of them being the book my son last checked out, in May. What I figured what happened was that my son used his library card as a bookmark. When the book was reshelved, the next person to look through it found his card and decided to steal some books he wanted.

The librarians were gracious enough to take the first two books off our account but because my son has a history of checking out role playing manuals they will not take the other two books off his account. The $14 that are owed for those books put us over our fine limit meaning he cannot check out any new books until the fine is paid. But I refuse to pay for books we didn't check out.

Now I can see the library's point of view to a degree. They can't know that we didn't steal the books and if we don't pay for them then they have to pay for them. But we have a history with this library. We go through about 40 books and movies in a two week period. In the years that we have used this library I have lost one book, which I told them I lost and I paid for it. When I return books late I pay my fines. I think this ought to count for something. I think that based on this and my relationship with these librarians I shouldn't be responsible for these fines. But I am. My son, who has done nothing wrong, cannot use his library card until he or I pay for books we never even saw. I'm obviously very upset by this whole thing.

Could this woman's story be similar to my own? Could I be arrested because I refuse to pay for these two books? And one more thought provoking question for you: if you were going to steal a $14 book, would you take it from the library?

14 comments:

Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

For pete's sake that is crazy! To be fined that much for a library book and arrested too?! This is like the Seinfeld episode...better watch out for Mr. Bookman!

Chain Reader said...

Your library should definitely waive the fee! If they won't, I would say just give them the money and think of it as a "donation" supporting the library. I would hate to go without checking books out.

Petunia said...

Amy-The $250 was for bail. The article didn't say what the library fine was. But still.

Chain Reader-Not a bad idea but for now I'm giving them time to reconsider.

Jeane said...

I can understand how hefty fines rack up when books go unreturned, but to be arrested for it seems extreme to me.

I've occasionally had problems where books I was sure I'd returned showed up as "missing" on my card, but the librarians were understanding and put a hold on the issue to give me time to relocate the books- some I did find at home, others on their shelves! (they only had one copy in circulation) But I've never run across a situation like yours.

I really like your new look, by the way.

ravenousreader said...

I definitely agree that your good history with the library should count for a lot. Obviously, you aren't the type of family who misrepresents themselves.

Sadly, it seems to be another case of bureaucratic nonsense taking the place of common sense.

I hope you get it worked out!

Anonymous said...

Knowing your oldest son like I do (being his Aunt and all) I think he would start crying if he DID do something like that. Hopefully the library has put a note on his file that the card is stolen, that way if the thief returns for more boot (or books in this case)he'll be caught. This would be a moment when my suppressed attitude would come out. But anyway, Love Ya sis!!
~~Your baby sister~~

Bookfool said...

I've had problems with my library, too. Sometimes there's absolutely nothing you can do but pay the fine and move on. I will tell you that the librarians know me well because I had so much trouble that now I go to the desk and make them check every book in while I stand there. I want to hear the "peep" noise that means the UPC has been read, period. They have a tendency to miss some, now and then, and it's a hassle to go in and show them that the book is on the shelf and even worse if someone else takes the book and it's not been officially checked in. That can happen. If it wasn't such a great deal, I'd have given up on the library years ago!

Petunia said...

Jeane-I've had both of those things happen too but this one made me angry because either the library or I go without justice.

Ravenous Reader-Except for this incident I am very happy with my library but in this case they are in the wrong.

Little Sister:)- Yeah, he'd have a contrite heart and confess all if he took the books but I had just turned his room upside down looking for the dang card. If the boks were there I'd have found them. They did mark the card as lost and gave him a new one but they transfered the fine to the new card so he still can't use it. I'll probably mention it again this week and see if anything has changed.

Petunia said...

Bookfool-it's the ones that use the library alot that have all the trouble. My library is usually very good about these kinds of things. That's why this one makes me so upset. They are essentially calling me a liar.

Lisa said...

I think I'll play Devil's Advocate here. This is actually a good lesson for a teenaged boy: you have to be careful! What if this had been a driver's license or a credit card he left in the book? Just think of the damage that could have been done! I think the library met you halfway, taking the 2 most expensive books off the bill, and while I understand it's upsetting to have to pay for something that wasn't your fault, that's also what you're asking the library to do. You are asking them to absorb a fairly hefty cost because your son was careless with his card.

Now, if they were holding you responsible for all 4 books, even though it's obvious that 2 of the books were not things your son would have taken out, my opinion would be very different. I think this is just one of those things your son needs to use as a learning experience - pay up, move on, and be more careful next time.

Sam said...

I've been working in a library the past 13 years and have seen many situations comparable to this. I haven't heard of anyone using their library card as a bookmark, but there have been several cases of young patrons letting their friends use their cards. Then the card owner's parents end up paying up after the items never come back. I hope they have placed a note on your son's account asking for ID when that card is used.

Tara said...

That's really too bad. At our library it'd be easy to just walk out with stuff without checking it out, so it'd be silly to check it out under someone else's name. I don't know what the answer is. They're punishing the good guy, that's for sure.

Steph said...

I would have to agree with Lisa on this issue. It sucks that your son can't use the library and has been saddled with these fines, but I would think this will ensure that he's really careful with his card (and other personal effects) in the future! I mean, in the end, it's $14. If they were going to arrest you, I could see throwing a fit, but for that amount of money, have your son pay the fine and consider it a lesson learned. I understand that it feels unfair to have to pay for the book since it has the underlying implication that your son has stolen the book when he hasn't, but rather than looking at it that way, I'd just be happy that the library took those other two books off of the account and that the fine wasn't much worse!

Petunia said...

Thanks everyone for all the great replies. Honestly I hadn't thought of having my son pay for the books being as he was the one that misplaced his card. I'll try talking with the librarians one more time. It they still won't budge then my son will just pay it and be done with it.