Monday, April 5, 2010

The Ethics of Overdue Books


Apparently, I am guilty of a major ethical lapse, when it comes to my overdue library books.

Take a look at what NY Times ethicist, Randy Cohen has to say about it in this article.

Mea culpa!

I have been in love with libraries since I was three years old and my mother found out that the perfect way to keep me quiet was to turn me loose in the children's section but allow me to pick out only two books to take home. I could and did spend hours picking out the two BEST books I could find. (My younger sister was less selective, so I always picked out two for her, as well.)

I have never NOT had a fine at the local library in the past forty years. I go in, I check out books, I hand over a couple of dollars and all my loose change, and everyone's happy.

Currently, I owe the libary $11.35. At its highest, my bill was around $40, but when the library instituted a policy of not allowing one to check out materials or renew books if the fine was over $20, I learned to keep the fines under the disqualifying amount.

Until now, I've never considered my overdue books and movies a moral issue. And, to be honest, I never worried much about "keeping the books from other patrons." Like the person who asked Cohen the question, I figured the fine was the "rent" I paid for keeping a book out of circulation longer than expected.


I dunno--I'd like to say I've taken Cohen's words to heart.

But I suspect the day I owe no fines, or get all my books back to the library on time, isn't coming soon.


songbird said...

Can you sign up for an automatic e-mail reminder when your books are due? That will enable you to renew them online and avoid those pesky budget-buster fees.

Grace. said...

My problem isn't that I forget to renew, but that I don't get the books read/movies viewed in a timely manner. They can't be renewed because there's a wait list for those particular books or movies.

Anonymous said...

I've never owed more than .90 cents to my library in over 40 years. I worry about the next person on line. As more and more people use the library the waiting time has turned from weeks, to months, to years now. Sometimes, when I request a DVD, there are 540 people in front of me waiting for the 2 or 3 copies the library has.

Don't you access your library account online? You can request, renew and even pay your dues online. I only take out what I can use in the 1 to 2 week cycle.

Grace. said...

I do use the library online services. I always renew when I can. But unlike Morrison (and Mr. Cohen), I don't pay enough attention to the next person in line--I always figured that paying the fine gets me off the hook.

Obviously, I need to rethink my position!

Anonymous said...

In this case, being moral saves a bit of money too, eh? A little more to throw at that credit card debt. Every little bit compounds up.

Or you could just check out things that nobody else wants. :)

Barb said...

Well, first, my purpose in using the library is NOT to spend money. If I had a forty dollar overdue bill, that means I could have bought two new books at barnes and noble (which I endeavour greatly, not to do, LOL). I probably have a different attitude at the moment because I'm waiting for about ten reserved books and I wish those darned folks would finish their books and move on down the line.

Anonymous said...

Have you calculated your interest per month like Baker suggests on today's get rich slowly?

Anonymous said...

I'm from the school that thinks the free library system is the best bargain in town. When there's a book I really want to read, I just put it on my reserve list (and then I do pay 50 cents for that privilege, but that's way cheaper than BUYING it). Why on earth would you just want to carry an ongoing amount that you owe in fines?? There may not be interest due, but it's still a debt, like carrying a small credit card balance. If you want to make a contribution to the library, do that, and then take the tax deduction for it!

Florence said...

30 lashes...with a wet noodle from someone who is #57 for Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. LOL

Shevy said...

I basically don't use the library because I *know* some or all of the books won't go back on time, will be renewed as many times as allowed and I'll *still* end up paying a big fine plus the purchase price of the book in the end.

It's cheaper just to buy them in a bookstore. For one thing, library versions seem to be a *lot* pricier than the one you get at Chapters.

Revanche said...

Fie, Grace! :) It's when the wait becomes unbearable that I'll turn to Paperbackswap and friends' libraries.

Retired Syd said...

It's funny to read about people on the waiting list at the library. I've never gone to the library with a specific book in mind. I just go and I always see a bunch of things that seem interesting and check them out. Being retired, I have enough time to read them pretty quickly (and being that they are older books that no one else wants to read, I renew them.)

I guess I'll be reading all those books you all are on the waiting list for in about 5 years when they are just sitting on the shelf collecting dust. There are so many gazillions of books in there that I haven't read, it never occurred to me to get on a waiting list!

Diane C said...

I'm a first time visitor, ergo first time commenter. My dad used to say that the city paid for the new wing on the library with our family's fines. I, too, ran a "tab" pretty consistently. I haven't read the linked article yet, but thought I'd share my solution. My library hosts quarterly book sales and has an ongoing passive book sale in the library lobby. I got involved as a volunteer, now I'm a board member. As I got more involved, I was given more freedom. I now shop for, er, shelve books any time I want. I am happy to report that I haven't had a single fine in three years. How? I don't check out books at all any more. I buy them. Yes ma'am, I said it: I buy them. We only charge $1.00 per book. I joke that it's the most expensive volunteer job I've ever had, but the value is amazing. I spent two hours there today and came home with seven books I can't wait to read. Total out of pocket: $7.00 (no sales tax!) If I'm feeling really pinched, I can always sell the books to a used book store when I finish them. Generally, I give them away or donate them back to the library. I also get most of my gift books this way. Other deals: during the last hour of the quarterly sale anyone can fill a brown grocery bag for $3.00. Those who help take down the sale can keep anything that's leftover absolutely free! For less than the cost of the library fines, I now own the books outright.
Spillover benefit: I have made many new friends who are readers too. Gotta run - we start setting up the next quarterly sale tomorrow morning!