Freeze! It's the Library Police!

Roz Warren

A North Carolina woman was recently arrested for failing to return a DVD of the movie “Monster-in-Law” to her local public library. She’d kept it out for nine years.

This is the kind of news story that brings joy to a librarian’s heart.

The library where I work recently installed a super-expensive state-of-the-art security system that utterly fails to stop anybody from stealing anything, because it beeps, incessantly and seemingly at random, throughout the day.

It beeps like crazy when people ENTER the library.

(When they look at me, confused, I explain, “it’s just saying Welcome to the Library!”)

After twenty years of library work, here’s what I’ve learned:

(1) Most library patrons are decent, honest, honorable people who wouldn’t dream of stealing from us.

(2) The jerks who do want to steal from us will do so and can’t be stopped.

Within moments of our installing a new security system, they’ve figured out how to defeat it. They’ll tear off the security tag. Or hold a book aloft, just out of the reach of our security sensors, as they leave. Or just zip out a side door, ignoring the warning signs. The Really Loud Alarm will start caterwauling, but they’re already halfway down the block, confident that a group of book nerds masters degrees in library science can’t do much to stop them.

And then, of course, there are folks, like that North Carolina library patron, who help themselves to your collection by checking material out and keeping it.

Recently, a woman applied for a library card, received it, then checked out our entire Astrology section and carried it off forever.

She ignored all of the polite emailed overdue notices. Then she ignored the many fretful mailings the library dunned her with.

This is something else I’ve learned, working at the library; dunning an unrepentant book thief is a total waste of postage.

And, of course, she never darkened our doors again. Why would she? She had what she’d come in for.

Those astrology books were hers now.

She was an astrology buff, so maybe she was just doing what her Horoscope had told her to do. “You‘re a Virgo and your moon is in Saturn. This would be a good month to steal some library books.”

My supervisor, who took this kind of thing seriously, stewed about our astrology book thief for quite a while. What she wanted to do was phone her up and say “Return our books immediately! Or else.”

But her hands were tied.

Then this news story came out and inspired us all. Now we have dreams of turning up on her doorstep.

“Open up, miscreant! It’s LIBRARY SQUAD.”

Library Squad! We're a group of enraged librarians who want our precious books back. We’re brainy. We’re relentless. We’ll track you down.

We know the Dewey Decimal system and we’re not afraid to use it.

And we always get our book.

Alas, unlike the lucky librarians in that North Carolina library system, those of us who work at the Bala Cynwyd Library in suburban Philadelphia, aren’t allowed to aggressively pursue our purloined books. The policy in our library system is to ask for them back, nicely. (Sounds like a policy dreamed up by librarians, doesn’t it?)

Most libraries dun their patrons, which we do. Some then turn the matter over to a collection agency. Which, unfortunately, we do not.

Only a very special few library systems go so far as to have their patrons arrested.

But I don’t know a librarian who doesn’t wish their library did.

If we can’t arrest these folks, I’d settle for being able to shame them on the library’s Facebook page. Perhaps we could establish a Library Book Thief registry for our worst offenders.

Even gently mocking them via a Twitter feed would help.

But when I suggest these things, they get shot down. Ours is a gentle, kind, library system. We don’t make waves. We don’t get up on your face. We would never publicly shame our patrons.

If you live in our township, you can steal us blind. Help yourself to all the movies, books, magazines and audio books you want. We’ll never show up at your door with an arrest warrant.

Go ahead! Check out the entire library and keep it forever! Nothing will happen.

Maybe it’s time for me to move to North Carolina.

(Cartoon illustration by Rina Piccolo. Used with the permission of the artist.)

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Roz Warren, the author of JUST ANOTHER DAY AT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY, has appeared on both the Today Show and Morning Edition, writes for everyone from the Funny Times to the New York Times, and has been included in 13 Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. Drop her a line at

Bala Cynwyd, PA

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