Librarian Strikes Back

In February 1961, Harold Roth, director of the East Orange Library in New Jersey, made news by having arrest warrants made out for 14 people with overdue books. The degree of overdueness ranged from four months to one year. But what really attracted attention was the manner of the arrests. The police showed up at many of the houses around midnight to rouse the scofflaws out of bed and drag them down to jail.

I think this 1961 case remains the largest mass round-up of people with overdue library books, but people still occasionally get arrested for not returning their library books in a timely fashion. The site has an article about "Jail time for overdue library books" that lists some more recent cases.

Life - Feb 17, 1961

Green Bay Press-Gazette - Feb 8, 1961

     Posted By: Alex - Wed Jan 24, 2018
     Category: Crime | Libraries | 1960s

It figures they would do this Gestapo-style in New Jersey.
Posted by Virtual on 01/24/18 at 11:13 AM
Reminds me of Mr. Bookman, library cop, on Seinfeld.
Posted by Judy on 01/24/18 at 11:20 AM
"He told me that he didn't work for the library."

And a lot of functionaries in Nazi Germany told the courts they weren't working for the regime, also. Just following orders.
Posted by KDP on 01/24/18 at 11:55 AM
In that Daily News cartoon on the Life article page it appears they are arresting Paul Whiteman.
Posted by PupTentacle on 01/24/18 at 02:23 PM
Wow.... I have NEVER wanted to burn a library down until now. there is a good reason this practice did not catch on.
Posted by David Destin on 01/25/18 at 07:14 PM
If it was up to me, people who don't return library books after a reasonable time would be thrown into solitary confinement, fed only moldy bread, and have to listen to Rick Astley on an endless loop for twice as long as they deprived others of the book.

Take the guy with the auto repair book: in a year's time, he cheated at least fifty people out of using it. How many had to buy the book because it wasn't in the library? How many had to take their car to a mechanic because they couldn't find details of how to fix it? How many had their cars permanently damaged because they kept putting off fixing it until they could get the book? He might have easily caused a $1,000 worth of damage to society at large because he couldn't be arsed to be a mensch. If it's "only about $7" (his words), why didn't he return the book and buy his own?

Failing to return a book can also wreck a young person's life.

When I was in ninth grade (last year of junior high), we could get extra credit for any one class by writing a five-thousand word report. I had a great idea for one of the topics on the list and dived in. I hit a point where I needed one particular book because a quote from it was perfect, but I could only find abridged versions of the sentence, and that wasn't acceptable (reports had to be written to college standards). The school library didn't have it, neither did the college library, so I checked the public library. They had it, but it was out. I checked later, still out. Etc. Finally, I asked the librarian to hold it for me when it was returned. She looked it up and found it had been overdue for months.

I asked everyone I knew, even had a teacher post a notice on the bulletin board in the teacher's lounge, but there wasn't a copy to be had. With the report's deadline looming, without enough time to rewrite it or start a different report, I begged and borrowed every penny I could (even took a year's advance on my allowance) and ordered the book. It didn't arrive in time, so I had to use a shortened version of the quote.

All such reports were critiqued by professors at the local college, and that one deviance from the standard rules meant my report was rejected.

Because of that, I only got an 'A' in that class instead of an 'A+'. That made my overall average 0.05 of a point below 'A'.

With only a 'B+' average, I couldn't go on field trips open to 'A' students. The ratio of girls to boys in that group was about five-to-one and included sophomores from the local high school. Missing out on those field trips meant losing a ready-made excuse to talk to those girls before, during, and after each one. It also meant not having some older girls vouch for me when I entered high school.

Overall, the jerk who as well as stole that book from the library ruined my social life at a critical time in my development.

Hanging is too good for him!
Posted by Phideaux on 01/26/18 at 01:59 PM
"Lighten up Francis, er... Phideaux."
Posted by Bones on 01/27/18 at 02:43 PM
@Bones -- Sorry for being dense, but I don't get the reference. :(

When I was at university, the library had the authority/power to enter your dorm room and search for a book more than a week overdue. It was embarrassing for people to find a big red sticker on their door stating the room would be searched if the book wasn't returned within 24 hours. (I think what made the policy particularly effective was the warning that the security people assigned to the task were required, by law, to report to the police anything illegal which they saw while searching for the book.)

When my daughter was in high school, she ran into the same problem of a book she needed wasn't available because it hadn't been returned. Before it became a problem, I ordered a copy, and after she was done with it, I donated it to the library, demanding a receipt for the contribution so I could at least deduct it.
Posted by Phideaux on 01/28/18 at 04:16 PM
@Phideaux: "Lighten up Francis" is a quote from the movie "Stripes". Made by the drill Sergeant to one of the new enlisted who was stating his position about being called Francis or being touched rather forceably.
Posted by Steve E. on 01/28/18 at 04:38 PM
@Steve E. -- Thanks for explaining. I'm afraid that movie was about fifteen years after my time (I've found quotable/notable movies increasingly rare since the mid-60s).
Posted by Phideaux on 01/29/18 at 06:52 PM
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