Monday, January 26, 2009

Overdue library book an arresting experience

There are books that capture our imagination, which we read and re-read over and over. On occasion a library book can be stored away and forgotten about. Perhaps - pure speculation here - this was the case with Iowa resident, Shelly Koontz, who was arrested on a fifth-degree theft charge because she allegedly failed to return a collection of essays focusing on the struggles of inner-city Long Beach, California high school students. The book, "The Freedom Writers Diary" has a retail value of $13.95.

You read it right: arrested as in legal proceedings against her.

The president of the Jesup library board, Tom McGlaughlin, expressed the view that pursuing criminal charges against a user for an overdue library book is unusual, but there were also unusual circumstances that were out of the ordinary.

"There is more to this issue than is coming to light at the present time," McGlaughlin said.

Seems that library staff phoned Koontz four times requesting the book be returned plus library officials sent her three letters and a certified letter that Koontz refused to accept. Furthermore, a police office actually visited her home in the fall and told Koontz daughter that the book had to be returned or pay the price of the book.

In Iowa, a fifth-degree theft charge, a misdemeanor offense, carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. In Des Moines, which has the largest library system in the state, an overdue library book carries a fine of 25 cents per day with a maximum of $6 in fines. After 30 days, the book is considered lost and the offending patron is billed for the cost the book, said Sally Wisdom, Des Moines Public Library deputy director.

In some cases, unpaid fines and missing book losses are turned over to a collection agency that specializes in recouping library losses, but Koontz's book would not have been turned over because it cost less than $25.

The missing/mislaid book would not have required the services of a collection agency given its cost of less than twenty-five dollars, yet she was arrested ? Makes a personal wonder and scratch one's head!

The Jesup library has a fine system, but it does not have a collection agency because "it's just not needed," McGlaughlin said. Statistics on monthly overdue books at the Jesup library were unavailable, but McGlaughlin, who has been on the library board for 11 years, could recall no instance where an arrest was made for an overdue book.

Meanwhile, Koontz is free upon posting a $250 bond.

Although Koontz is at least morally responsible for forgetting to return the library book, allowing legal proceedings against her is a bit much. It will be interesting to learn about the circumstances of the case.

No comments: