One More Reason To Hate Librarians…


Not sure what the first five are, but here's a new one: turning overdue returns into a criminal offense.

Stacks of chronically overdue library books may soon land some readers in Bay County, Mich., more than just a 10-cent-a-day fine. Frustrated librarians are proposing a crackdown on the worst offenders that could include criminal charges and up to 90 days in jail.

"We want to go after some of the people who owe us a lot of money," Frederick J. Paffhausen, the library's system director, told The Bay City Times for a story Thursday. "We want to set an example."

Paffhausen, you magnificent bastard! Just don't complain when people stop coming to the library, much less taking stuff out. This is a great example of a policy that, however well-intentioned, is completely ass-backwards and destructive, especially in an age when NetFlix and other rental services' main selling point is safety from overdue fees.

Whole story here.

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  1. I suppose you’re down with keeping rental cars you like without paying for them, too.

  2. I think the point is not that it’s wrong to try and collect — borrowers entered into the overdue fines agreement when they checked out the books — but that making a big deal out of cracking down is going to discourage people from going to the library. If people stopped renting cars because they were worried about late fees, wouldn’t it be smart for the rental car companies to retool their plans to be late-fee free?

    I certainly stopped borrowing from my local library when they started sending “we’re taking you to small-claims court” notices for any books two weeks past their return date.

  3. I suppose you’re down with keeping rental cars you like without paying for them, too.

    If I kept a rental car for as long as I liked, the company would just keep billing my credit card for it. Libraries should do something similar — require a deposit or a credit card number — rather than wasting the courts’ time with this penny-ante bullshit.

  4. Let me tell you something, funny boy… You know that little stamp? The one that says New York Public Library? Well, that may not mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole helluva lot. Sure, go ahead, laugh if you want to. I’ve seen your type before — flashy, making the scene, flaunting convention. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking… Why’s this guy making such a big stink about old library books? Let me give you a hint, junior. Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me…. Maybe. Sure, we’re too old to change the world. What about that kid, sitting down, opening a book right now in a branch of the local library and finding pictures of pee-pees and wee-wees in The Cat in the Hat and The Five Chinese Brothers. Doesn’t he deserve better? Look, if you think this is about overdue fines and missing books, you’d better think again. This is about that kid’s right to read a book without getting his mind warped. Or maybe that turns you on, Seinfeld… Maybe that’s how you get your kicks… You and your goodtime buddies… I’ve got a flash for you, joy boy. Partytime is over.

    -Lt. Bookman NYPL

  5. Libraries only exist because of government subsidies. The librarians get salty and start asking for big fines only when these subsidies start to get slashed. Believe me, that 10 cents a day doesn’t begin to cover their operating costs, even if everyone paid it. If more books were available on the web in a text-searchable form, libraries would fade into irrelevance. I’m all for the virtue of reading, but there is nothing inherently virtuous about glue and cardboard.

    The point is that libraries are stuffy when people don’t pay fines, condescending when people decide not to bother, and demand your tax dollars to fund the whole operation.

  6. “Libraries should do something similar — require a deposit or a credit card number — rather than wasting the courts’ time with this penny-ante bullshit.”

    Interesting idea, but I wouldn’t trust my credit card number by some crusty old librarian.

    My fiance was in the library the other day, and was sickened by some freak who took his shoes off next to her. If this guy did this at a Borders, he would be thrown out. Every public library I’ve ever been to was depressing, stunk, and was full of old people and mutants. Every private bookstore was usually clean, had a nice aroma of coffee, and a nice babe or two.. you know where I’m going with this..

  7. Well, here is a real reason to hate librarians, if you are so inclined…

    I don’t know, this particular article seems a reasonable case of basic theft

    “For example, one patron from Bad Axe owes $1,190 for 73 items — mainly science-fiction books — hoarded for more than a year, Paffhausen said.”

    Although don’t get me wrong, plenty of librarians are exactly as loopy as Ellie mentioned.

    But all in all, and I know this is anti-libertarian, but dog gam, I love the library.

  8. Jamie, you’ve obiously never enjoyed the quality high you get from sniffing the fungus in old library books….oh, jeez, now the feds will really be cracking down on libraries.

    BTW, those who think libraries can’t exist without the state should remember that public libraries were once the creation of private endowments. Then again many things were before the state came to the rescue.

  9. Agreed. That was my first thought when reading the post – libraries are not necessary and are another public welfare program. They are becoming more and more like day-care centers anyway.

    Another damn thing: They made a big deal about closing for a whole week due to funding probs, yet they wouldn’t take a whole box (probably 40) once-read, or should I say pre-owned books from me. “Too much trouble to make them into library books …” BS, they are just government idiots.

    Maybe I shouldn’t try to pawn off my libertarian books to a non-libertarian-librarian, I dunno …

  10. Gillespie’s point that threatening people with jail time makes it less likely that they will go to libraries, and will probably hasten the local library’s trip down the path of the buggy whip is well taken.

    Once, while watching the Seinfeld episode quoted above, I was told that New York City’s library system is incredibly efficient. I was told that they can get any book in their system to any branch you want faster than you can get it from Amazon. I was told that they can quickly find obscure tax forms that the IRS can’t even find.

    I’m wondering if anyone else out there knows this to be true, or if the guy I was talking to was pulling my leg?

  11. I wonder if those private endowments provided for the perpetual upkeep and operation they wouldn’t have come to the state they are in. Maybe there are examples of this? not sure… If not, it’s kind of like “Here, have an exotic purple elephant – it eats six hundred pounds of caviar daily, but you can ride it for three minutes every week. Aren’t I generous?” I would chop up the elephant and use it for glue. Maybe the guy from Bad Axe is doing us all a favor by keeping the damn things.

  12. But I thought this site was all about Librarianism? I’m so confused…

  13. I think the point is the treatment as a crime. This is a civil matter. The library loaned it, the borrower didn’t return it, so the library sues for restitution. We are eliminating civil remedies and replacing them with criminal ones. Oh, and make certain you didn’t possess a gun when you were not returning those books ? that’s a felony if keeping the book is a crime!

  14. Whatever point Nick was trying to make, theft is still a crime. Sending library abusers to jail may frighten some decent people away, but I doubt it. Keeping thieves and vandals out is more likely to encourage law-abiding folks to come in.

    I grew up with a love for libraries. By the time I graduated high school back in 82, I figured my mastery over the card catalog was a skill that would give me an edge for the rest of my life. To be sure, libraries will need to change with the times. I believe there are librarians with the vision to keep up with the times.

    If libertarians stand for anything, it’s property rights. And people that violate property rights are criminals and one of the few proper functions of government is to put criminals in jail.

    I say you got your head up your ass on this one Nick.

  15. I love the New York Public Library. I feel it?s the only use I personally get from my tax dollars (besides cops and firemen, although I?ve never called either) and I take great advantage of it.

    The NYPL gets all the times bestsellers, and you can read them free if you can read them in a week (which is not so bad for most of them). They do transfer books between branches within a week (I don?t know how long it take Amazon to find and send books) and while there are some homeless folks and of course the omnipresent elderly, you should check out the ladies in the Midtown branch around lunchtime during the summer! The Post Office has a much higher ratio of psychotics to non-psychotics.

    My question for the disturbed librarian is why did you continue to lend this guy 72 books after the first one was late? Why should the max penalty be more than the price of the book?

  16. At least some library systems are run by smart people who realize how easily most of us could do without such public lending houses. Pleasing the customer — and you are the customer because you pay for that library — is just good business.

    Here in the great metropolis of Washoe County, you can order anything in the systemwide catalog online, and you’ve got a queue just like on Netflix. You choose a convenient branch where you want to pick up your books or videos or CDs. A robot calls you when the order is ready, usually one business day. Run in, swipe your card, and take your stuff from the front desk. If you keep something beyond the return date, there is a three-day grace period for the minimal fine … and you can renew a couple of times *online*, even after the due date. Best system I’ve ever encountered & one of the only government “services” I’m happy to pay for.

  17. “They are becoming more and more like day-care centers anyway.”

    Excellent point. I read a few months ago that idiots are dumping their kids off at the library while they go to work.

    This is a perfect example of the tragedy of the commons. People are going to exploit a public resouce for every ounce it’s worth, even beyond it’s original intent.

    Like I said, if someone tried to use a Walmart as a daycare center, they would find their kid being sold.

  18. I love the library the same way I love NPR — loyal customer, but I’m not paying a damned thing.

    Here in NY the landmark building on Fifth Ave. has a huge banner, “We Can’t Hear You!” So the appeal of this campaign is what — guilt? They want money, but they’re not offering anything in return, and they don’t do such a good job with the money they do have.

    If they were to offer me ten renewals instead of the usual three, I’d be beating down the door. But NO. This would be counter to the egalitarian high-handedness of the organisation.

    NPR and PBS are the same way. The local commercial classical station has a demographic to die for — every ad is for Volvos, law firms, or estate planning. There is absolutely no reason to give NPR money if they won’t take ads. They already take 8-10 minutes per hour for station promos, “this hour is sponsored by…”, etc.

    If libraries were eliminated, Barnes & Noble would run a Netflix type service. I daresay most people would be happier, esp. the working poor who would get those tax dollars back.

  19. A couple of points-
    1. They aren’t taking about everyone here: “If the material is worth $75 or more, the patron receives a form letter from the county Prosecutor’s Office warning that it’s a crime to keep library items.”

    2. Last time I checked, taking things and not returning them to their owners at the agreed upon time is theft.

    3. Those books were purchased with taxpayer funds, so every taxpayer should have equal access to them. If some guy hordes them for 6 months, then there are other people who have to go without.

    4. Not everyone has access to books on the web, not everything is on the web, some people can’t afford to buy books (especially those with children). It would be great if there were a bunch of private-funded libraries, but there aren’t.

  20. Considering how many libertarians live and stink at the library during days, we should be cautious about shitting in our nest.

  21. I’m a libertarian librarian. I’m so confused!!!

  22. You can always count on REAL Libertarians to get outraged about the really important things.

    1. Public Transportation
    2. NPR

    and now…

    3. Libraries

    Such dedication to principle is truly heartwarming. Someday, with hard work, dilligence, and bootstrap pulling, we will all be free of the terrible tyranny of riding the subway to the public library whilst listening to NPR!!!

  23. Last I knew, not returning something after the specified period of time, or deciding to keep it even though you signed a contract when you got a library card, was considered theft. Most libraries have a standard replacement fee for lost items that includes staff time for re-acquiring it.

    I don’t advocate sending people to jail over library fines. Perhaps they could garnish his wages instead until the fines are repaid.

    The Internet does not contain the sum total of human knowledge. There are _millions_ of rare and out-of-print books out there, and libraries willing to loan them. This also costs money, but if your library is part of an Interlibrary Loan agreement, you can probably get it.

    Public libraries provide internet access to people who do not own computers. Also, we librarians are specially trained to find answers and resources that most people do not know about.

    If one of you wants to start a Netflix-like subscription library service, go right ahead. There’s certainly nothing stopping you. If libraries really aren’t doing their job, there will be a market for it.

  24. Jamie,

    The operating costs would be a lot lower, though, if libraries actually operated efficiently.

    A librarian at the local university library got all huffy recently, and told me that processing an interlibrary loan request costs them $25. It’s hard to understand why, when I can *buy* the same book from Amazon for less than that.

  25. Someone wants ten renewals? Buy the fucking book, pal. If you need it for that long, you’re an idiot, an asshole, or a lazy sonofabitch. I use the roads, but I don’t get to drive and make turns and park according to my own personal scheme and schedule. It’s a public resource, so I have to follow the public rules. Grow up.

    And to the guy who demands that a library take his box of books: if libraries had to take everything offered them, there’d me nothing on the shelves but Dianetics, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and sci fi and D&D paperbacks. Not that there’s anything wrong with those (aside from Dianetics, which goes in the humor section), but come on! If your stuff is so great, why are you giving it away?

    And don’t think it’s just a matter of putting a label on the thing: books must be cataloged (not an easy job), labeled, get a magnetic strip and a barcode, checked for obscenities and naughty pictures (and for your credit card receipts which so many of you use as bookmarks), placed on a shelf (if there’s room), assessed for value to the library’s collection (they won’t take your word for it that it is a must-read), and if rejected, sold as a fundraiser (which pisses many donors off quite a bit, so that’s kept hush-hush in many instances).

    As for the daycare argument, I’m with you guys 100%. As for smelly feet, complain like a grownup when people act like children. It’s not the library’s fault that people misuse it, it’s those people’s fault. Libraries don’t cause stinky feet any more than guns cause gunshots or drugs cause overdoses or pornography causes marital strife.

    My rant is done.

  26. Interlibrary loan costs are for two reasons: staff time, postage, usage fees for OCLC (the closest thing to a universal catalog out there), handling fees, the fact that only a few libraries might have a certain book, the fact that those libraries use that money to pay for staff to put more books on the catalog, and so on.

    The second purpose of those fees is to get library users to look elsewhere when an item is not in the collection. I don’t complain that I can’t get a white t-shirt at the Gap for my desired price. I go to Target. Why should libraries be so different?

  27. “If your stuff is so great, why are you giving it away?

    uhhh, cause, like, I have read it already…

    yeah, anyway, I figure someone else may want to read the books, which were not any Chicken Soup or Imbeciles Guides or anything that common. They were almost all hardback, too, and in great shape, a few slobber-stains here and there on the really juicy liberatarian-oriented pages …

  28. Another think, Librarian Jon: I didn’t demand they take my books at the library. It’s just that I have a very good feel for economics, and I had already thought of the work involved in getting items into the collection. Yes, looking through the book and taking out junk, 2 min. tops, putting barcode and stickers on, 30 sec.. I’ll be generous and say .1 hr. at 15/hr counting overhead – that’s $1.50 labor as opposed to buying the book at $30 or more.

    The point was also that they closed down for a week complaining about money. Don’t complain to me, people, if you won’t learn to work smarter. Same for you, Jon, you would waste less of mine any your time by reading my entire post once.

  29. friggin libertarians. dammit. oh wait. old joke.

    we can debate the issue of the property and rental agreements in one vein, and the desire to have said public features in another. you know, like the public school debate.

    that said, many libraries are staunchly against allowing law enforcement to sneak and peak borrowing records, they’re pro first ammendment on use of computers in libraries without saving surfing records, and the darning needles they keep in the buns of their hair are effect crowd control devices.

    nick, i’d say there are some good libertarian reasons for liking librarians, too.

    (in the old days, what was blockbuster’s recourse? that might work)

  30. One of the greatest things about being a librarian is having everyone be an expert at the job. We’re the DMV for the literate: too slow, not efficient, a waste of taxpayer resources, run by cranks who don’t care about customer service, overrun by the smelly unwashed hordes. But when someone really needs to look up a law and doesn’t want to consult a lawyer for $125 an hour, they always show up at my library and seek our help.

    Libraries are the goofy guy with the metal-detector on the beach. We all can point and laugh, but he’s your best friend if you lose your keys.

  31. Jimmy: I’d like to add something to that process you listed. There’s much more to this than just a barcode and stickers:

    Searching OCLC (which is not a free resource) for the catalog record that most closely matches the title. This isn’t as easy as it sounds (I did it as a student assistant). Some books have many editions and you have to find the correct one. Some catalog records in OCLC are incomplete, especially if the Library of Congress doesn’t have them. Once you’ve done that, you have your paraprofessional staff finish filling out the catalog record to your local standards.

    Why is this important? If you don’t catalog it correctly, nobody will be able to find it.

    If the item is something nobody has cataloged before, you hand it over to your professional Cataloging Librarian. This librarian has special training. You wouldn’t believe just how variable title pages, author information, etc. can be. Basic cataloging was one of my required courses.

    Now that your donated book has been cataloged, security tag and barcode added, and it’s ready to go out on the shelf. Now, you have saved the library on other acquisition costs, but not the rest.

    We librarians organize information so that the rest of the public can find and use it. That’s our job. And I’m happy to do it.

  32. A few random comments.

    1) I grew up loving the library, as a kid, as a teen, and as a young adult through my thirties.

    2) I worked at my local public library (as a shelver, and later as a “para-professional” — kinda like a librarian, but without the schooling) all during college, and for a couple years afterward. That’s six years, but it ended 20 years ago.

    3) I don’t use the public library very much anymore. Most of my voracious reading drive is now stasified by the Internet, my subscription to REASON and a couple other magazines, and the odd purchase. These days, if I really want to read a particular physical book, I can usually afford to buy it. I read and reread and reread my books, so it makes economic sense for me. Also, when I worked at the library, I couldn’t understand how people “just couldn’t find the time” to get to the library during normal hours of operation and turn their books in on time. Now I sympathize more. I always turn my books in late.

    4) To me, today, one of the great but little-remarked benefits of libraries is that they are full of old, long-out-of-print but still enjoyable books — especially many nostalgic childhood favorites — that you just can’t find readily anywhere else.

    5) A lot of the larger books at the library are worth $50 or $100 or more (some of the out-of-print copies could be worth a lot more on the open market). I don’t mind the libraries taking steps to make sure people return these pricey assets. (The irony that I, myself, rarely patronize libraries because am a chronic late-returner is not lost on me.)

    6) I don’t see any reason why libraries have to be gov’t-run and funded, any more than a movie-rental place. Didn’t REASON do an article on privately funded libraries once? (I can’t find it in the archives, though.)

  33. “stasified” should be “satisfied”

  34. As a (private, law) librarian, may I just say:

    1. It’s nice to read comments from people who don’t think libraries are sacred, and the Last Defense of a Free People, cos a lot of librarians think they are. A lot of librarians -mostly public librarians – have a laughably exalted view of our profession. I’m sure that for many, it’s a way of compensating for being so badly undercompensated (and the butt of pervasive negative stereotypes.) Libraries are a great resource, especially for folks who can’t afford books and internet access, but please. It’s a library, not a hospital or sewage treatment plant.

    2. I’ve waited tables and I’ve worked in retail stores, so I have some experience working with The Public. I don’t like The Public. I won’t ever be a public librarian. As several posters have pointed out, there are some really disturbing people hanging out at the public library. Some of them are patrons, but a lot of them are librarians. All those pervasive negative sterotypes? Walk into any public library and at least 75% of the staff will fit them perfectly. Public librarians are by far weirder than other types of librarians; do they go to work in public libraries cos they’re weird, or are they weird as a result of working in public libraries? No one knows.

  35. What you call pervasive negative stereotypes, I call my co-workers.

    And a guy who works at a private law library talking about people with exalted self-images is a case of the pot calling the kettle cookware. We’re proud of our ridiculously-high self-image! We live by ideals, generally hold ourselves to them, and fight for whatever it is we think we stand for! We’re librarians, damnit! The few, the overwhelmingly-middle-class-women, the not-outwardly proud!

    As for weirdness, I cannot comment for fear of getting blacklisted. But let’s just say we don’t consider the concepts of “owns too many cats”, “unhealthily obsessed with Jane Austen”, “anal-retentive”, “shabbily-dressed”, and “nerdy” to be valid reference points for the criticism of others.

  36. Jon,



    heh (to paraphrase a certain Instant Pundit we all know)

    and, you can’t own too many cats, BTW.

  37. Maybe you don’t think there should be public (pardon me, *government*) libraries. Fine. But they exist and stealing from them is still theft.

    Yes, your tax dolars pay for them. But so do other peoples’ tax dollars, and said other people have as much right to borrow books from the library as you do–a right you are denying them if you keep the books indefinitely.

  38. “As for smelly feet, complain like a grownup when people act like children. It’s not the library’s fault that people misuse it, it’s those people’s fault. Libraries don’t cause stinky feet”

    No arguments here. I’m only dissing the patrons. You should have a mandatory shower stall that people have to enter through like a public pool.

    It was pretty recent that librarians stood up against the government who want book checkout lists without a warrant. Also, unless I’m mistaken, they also fight against restrictions on the internet the patorns use. Keep up the good work.

  39. >”I’m only dissing the patrons. You should here. >have a mandatory shower stall that people have >to enter through like a public pool.”

    Yea, I’ve recently suggested something similiar. I would like to construct a giant fire pit to file them into!!

    I’m one of those “weird” public librarians. I have to disagree with the law librarian. Most of my librarian friends are pretty cynical about whats going on here in our rather large urban library. When I was a kid, we used to go to arcades to play video games, now people come to the library.

    Nevertheless, I’m glad to see there is still support for libraries from libertarian leaning people.

  40. “Another think, Librarian Jon: I didn’t demand they take my books at the library.”

    It’s possible there are copyright reasons they didn’t take your books; in other words they may have to verify if they can stock it, verify how many they can stock and so on. That takes time and money and if they get it wrong they might be open to litigation from the author. Different countries will have different rules, but it’s a thought.

    “I certainly stopped borrowing from my local library when they started sending “we’re taking you to small-claims court” notices for any books two weeks past their return date.”

    I used my local Blockbusters regularly for years, then I was busy with a new job and although the videos had been returned (a day late), I hadn’t paid the overdue fine (?2) as I hadn’t been in to hire anything for a few weeks. I got a letter threatening to take me to court too. It was six years before I went back and even now I’d use another video store if I could find one locally.

  41. Jon: I’m not a guy. And I don’t think shabbily-dressed is a valid criticism of public librarians, either, cos I know what ya’ll make and no one can dress on that. (In all honesty, I admire people who willingly work in poorly paid professions out of passion for the job).

    As for the cat thing – well, yes, you can own too many. I’ve always told my husband I was so glad he found me, because if I’d been unmarried at 40 I would have been required to fill my small apartment with a minimum of 4 cats, stop wearing makeup, and carry all my stuff in an NPR bag. (This is one of the Librarian Rules that outsiders don’t usually know about.)

  42. Sorry to get your sex wrong, Stubby. Then again, isn’t “guy” neuter? And how come I wasn’t given an NPR bag?! Is that what an ALA membership would get me, other than the secret handshake and decoder ring?

  43. I let my ALA membership lapse, in part because they never sent me the decoder ring.

    OT: here’s the Librarians Taking Themselves Way Too Seriously link for the day.

    Engineers and computer geeks don’t have all this angst about their images -why do librarians?

  44. Librarians can be cool. Let’s see, there is/was Barbara (Batgirl/Oracle) Gordon, Adam (Captain Comet) Blake, Rupert “Ripper” Giles (Buffy Summers’ Watcher), Judy (Luna Moth) Dark, Shirley Jones playing Marian Perdoo in The Music Man, etc.

    Still, they make their livings through involuntary transfers of wealth through the threat of force, so protestations of wonderfulness should be subdued.*

    As a veteran of many years working in bookstores, I stopped visiting government libraries long ago. While I was so employed I always felt that they were taking bread off my table, giving away what we were trying to sell, and making me pay for it, too. Customers picked up bad habits from their time as “patrons,” notably camping out, reading the magazines and newspapers without buying them, and hogging every title on a particular subject – Central American travel, frex – then splitting. Somehow the magic book fairy was going to put that stack back where it belonged. We might have broken even on such activity if Mr. Lonely Planet would have actually bought one.

    If only Andrew Carnegie had put some “they have to stay private” strings on his generous donations to build community libraries! Then they might have better control over their patronage. Government libraries have been sued for trying to enforce rules on patrons, such as minimum standards of cleanliness (see Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for Morristown.)

    I used to work for a decades-old bookshop that started during the Depression as a for-profit lending library. The Public Library back in those days would not stoop to carry popular new fiction, as only classics were considered fit reading. Now the liberry lends pop music CDs, VHS and DVDs of trashy movies, and otherwise competes, in a subsidized manner, with video and music stores, in addition to bookstores. Would it make sense to lend OP discs and commercially non-viable stuff that Blechbuster doesn’t bother carrying? Mebbe. But if the govt. outfit wasn’t pushing this stuff for free+ maybe one of the great independent video shops near me that specialized in the obscure would still be in business.

    Libraries would do well to adopt Britain’s public lending right program, which provides a micropayment to an author each time his book is borrowed.


    *librarians at private institutions excepted

    + On the “I eat, you pay” principle.

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