Lots of interest last week in the young woman from Wisconsin who was arrested and booked, then fined for not returning library books. It's easy to see this as a major overreaction; but is it? Sure her overdue paperbacks won't impact Western civilization as we know it, but she is forgetting something very important that does.
Apparently she ignored phone calls and a court date, and ultimately a law enforcement officer had to stop by her home and haul her in, cuffs and all. A couple hundred dollars later, her picture in all the tabloids, a few TV/Radio morning show appearances, and she's back in her life of quiet desperation.
Here's what I want to say to her, and let me make it clear that even though my library record is fairly clean, I seem to remember a time or two when the temptation not to return a book reared it's selfish head. The important thing here is that if we keep the books, others don't benefit from them. It's called a library so that we own the contents in common. It's part of the social contract, girl! We make various agreements with our government for the benefit of all. If we fail to uphold the contract, consequences follow. Haven't libraries got enough problems already with funding, internet predators, and a populace that reads less and less.
ITEM: Last year more than half the American people did not read a book!
Maybe I feel so strongly about this issue because I maintained a classroom library for my students for many years. Inevitably, every year books would disappear. Of course I'd make sure to remind my students to please return all borrowed books, but there were always a few that would disappear every year, literally. There were some titles I bought over and over again for the classroom. The big winners were Fromm's The Art of Loving, a few books on the enneagram that my psychology students found compelling, and Girl Interrupted. The English students kept copies of Into the Wild and The Bluest Eye most often.
I'd always say "if there is any book in this room that you simply must own, I'd be glad to get it for you, just let me know." Occasionally someone would take me up on it. Berkeley has so many great used book stores (at least it used to) that I'd easily provide a clean copy of the requested volume. Isn't the point that when people want to own books we should oblige them?
Just don't take them from the library and think it's OK. It's not.