Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book 'em: New law criminalizes overdue library books

AP reported today on a new crime in Texas that I hadn't noticed during last spring's legislative session:
Call it throwing the book at the bookworms.

A Texas man who was arrested for failing to return an overdue library book ignited an online flurry of snarky comments and headlines about the Lone Star State extending its tough-on-crime bravado to books. But such cases aren't unheard of, and many communities faced with shrinking budgets and rising costs have ordinances calling for fines or even arrest warrants when library property isn't returned.

In Texas alone, the issue has cost libraries an estimated $18 million.

Jory Enck learned that the hard way. He was arrested for not returning a GED study guide that he checked out three years ago in the Central Texas community of Copperas Cove. Enck declined comment to The Associated Press, but he told the Killeen Daily Herald that he wouldn't set foot in a library again: "I think I will probably just purchase a book from Amazon."

A Texas state law took effect in September that defines the failure to return library books as theft. The law, which doesn't trump stricter community ordinances, mandates up to a $100 fine per offense.

Other states also call for fines or even arrest warrants in such cases, including Iowa — where an overdue-book offender was jailed for a week — Vermont and Maine.
Of course, the  US Supreme Court ruled in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista that police can make arrests for fine only offenses, so the new statute won't prevent people for going to jail over library fines. But Grits in the past has suggested a rule which IMO should still apply: Nobody making arrests for overdue library books gets to complain about jail overcrowding.


Gadfly said...

In McLennan County, they'll probably want to frog-march you for an overdue book.

And, I have a Waco-McLennan County library card!

Lee said...

Wouldn't it just be cheaper to replace the book themselves?

Anonymous said...

@Lee: Of course! But we have to make good use of our jails since crime is down. Then, maybe just maybe, we'll give practical approaches a try.

Anonymous said...

Just heard that our County Attorney is sending out letters to these criminals who are not returning books. We should be happy that people are still going to the library to even READ a book!

We have several hundred DWI cases pending but DAMN we are going to get our money back on those books they failed to return!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What county are you in, 2:32?

I think 12:04 hit the nail on the head. Real crime is down so all these cops and misdemeanor prosecutors have to occupy themselves somehow!

FleaStiff said...

Perhaps Texas could learn from Mercer Island, WA whose library has no theft alarm at all and who consistently has the lowest theft rate in the King County Library System.

Of course punishing someone trying to get a GED and therefore a better job does sound more like Texas

Ray Collins said...

Pearls before Swine has a great strip relevant to this post.