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Library Stealth

by Dear Jon
June 11, 2002

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Sort 146_Dear Jon-Library Stealth ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

I graduated from college over a decade ago, but I still have library books that I borrowed from a college library (not the one I graduated from) that I used to write my last term paper for. That library never charged me for the overdue books (at least not that I know of), but I still have them and feel I should return them. What is the statute of limitations in returning overdue library books?

Left with library books

Dear Left,

I have learned a lot about you from your letter. I have learned that you are a thief. I have learned that either you have continued to live in the same place ever since you graduated from college, which is rare, or that you have taken the trouble to pack and move these library books wherever you have gone. Now, over 10 years later, tormented by a burden of guilt, you are writing anonymously to an advice columnist to learn how to return library books over 10 years overdue. You are a scary person.

I could talk about what a well-adjusted person would do in this situation. However, among the 117 well-adjusted people in the world, I have not heard of a single one that has kept a library book for 10 years. I suppose someone who has been neurotic enough to steal library books only to repent of the crime later, might be getting well-adjusted. Such a person would probably go to the library, announce his crime, and wait to see what happens.

I believe the statute of limitations for prosecuting charges of theft is seven years in most states. However, I do not believe there is any statute limiting fines or other means of censure. Suppose that the fine for overdue books was 25 cents per book per day. Suppose you have kept three books for ten years. The fine will equal 3650 days times 75 cents, which is something like $2,738.50. Of course, instead of collecting, they may just revoke your library privileges. Or they may just have a good laugh and tell you to forget about it, and then sell those dated materials for $1.00 per hardcover at their next sidewalk sale.

Still, embarrassment is a terrible thing for a neurotic person to risk. If you are living near the library from which you stole the books, the best thing to do is walk boldly into the library (so as not to attract anyone’s attention). However, the worst thing to do is drop them in the return chute. This will attract attention that someone has returned books ten years overdue.

Instead, browse boldly among some shelves, and when no one is paying attention, abandon the books. They will become the head-ache of some library branch bureacrat, but I doubt anyone will come after you.

If you are more than 30 miles from the library where you stole the books, I suggest you place them in a plastic bag and drop them in a “lost and found” department at your local community. This may be the only example in the whole world where you can make a problem go away by avoiding it.


Dear Jon,
I am 15 years old and think my parents are full of crap. They always try to force their beliefs and their rules on me. I have saved up enough allowance to pay rent at 19 year old friend's house. Should I move out and if I do should I ask for an increase in my allowance since it would cost them a lot more for me to live at home?

Independent Joe

Dear Joe,
What you don’t know is that your Dad has to use your 16th Birthday Car Fund to pay outstanding library fines.

If you have saved rent money from your allowance, you are probably a spoiled rotten rich brat overindulged by privileged parents. In the lingo of Yoda, “Parents full of crap may be, but rich, hmmm?” The other possibilities are that you are truly a remarkable 15 year-old, or your 19 year-old friend is only charging you $5 a month.

Some of the crap your parents may be dishing up is that “freedom means responsibility” and other statements you find useless and boring. Your 19 year-old friend is living the life you desire: Anything you want when you want, including free money from your stupid parents, but no rules to prepare you for adult life. What frightens me is that you really do think this is reasonable.

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