Jailed For An Overdue Twilight

A mother of five was put into handcuffs and hauled off to jail for neglecting to return her library book.

Story from the LA Times Jacket Copy. The incarcerated woman, who borrowed the book from the Portales NM Library, plans to sue.

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Sue

>>The incarcerated woman, who borrowed the book from the Portales NM Library, plans to sue.

Looking at the facts of the case there is a 0% chance she will win a lawsuit.

And at this point, it's not

And at this point, it's not an overdue book, it's a STOLEN book.

Very nice

And it is your responsibility to change your address with the Library if you move, not theirs.

Hopefully this will do what it is supposed to do. Scare people into not stealing Library materials!

PR?

It seems I see one of these horror stories in the press each year. I understand the legal argument here and see that it is indeed correct. However, it seems quite extreme to me to allow an overdue/missing/purloined library book to land a person it jail. I'm not sure I'd want to be known as the director of the library that threw a woman in jail for not returning a library book (stolen or simply forgotten). Nor would I want my library known as the library that did so. Perhaps if she'd simply been allowed to pay for the missing item...

Spin

Problem is the spin the media throws on these stories. And the spin that the person being arrested throws on the story.

The warrant was for a failure to appear in court. The woman had a court date she needed to go to and she did not. If the news ran the story of - Woman fails to appear in court; goes to jail" no one would care.

Now the woman whines and cries because she did not get notice about the court date. Many would argue that it was her responsibility to make sure the library had her correct address.

Her is what the woman did:
1) Checked out books and did not return
2) Did not have proper address on file
3) Missed court date because she did not have address on file

Now people want to make the police and the library the bad guys.

Even bigger picture. Bureaucratic mix-ups like these are going to happen occasionally. Her kids will not be scarred for life. This would be a good chance to introduce them to Kafka.

Spin...

It's not a crime not to have a proper address on file. Regardless of the patron's obvious neglect and the chain of unfortunate events, the library comes off here looking heavy-handed and petty. The media LOVES stories like this for just that reason. The problem here is allowing a *relatively* minor infraction to turn into a publicity nightmare for the library. I hope the "scarred for life" comment and Kafka reference were made tongue in cheek.

Not really

Comments were not really tongue in cheek. You really think the kids will be scarred for life because they saw a parent get arrested. Sure it is a little traumatic but you grow up and deal with it.

Seriously, if you had a coworker that was not showing up on time and they gave you a story that they were mentally dealing with the fact that 20 years ago their mom was arrested over a library book because of a paperwork snafu would you think that was justified. I don't. Grow up. Deal with it.

What should the library do?

>>The problem here is allowing a *relatively* minor infraction to turn into a publicity nightmare for the library.

So how should the library avoid this? It was not the library that put out the warrant. It was the court after the person failed to appear for court.

The library could have a policy of never pursuing non-returned items.

So put yourself in charge and tell me the actual policy you would have in place that would have prevented this from happening. Saying something like "I would not have arrested the person" is non-responsive because it was not the library that made the arrest. The only way the library could have avoided this was to never turn the matter over to law enforcement to begin with. If you are ok with people stealing items with no consequences that is fine.

What is the library trying to achieve here?

This isn't necessarily an either-or question. If a particular library finds itself being robbed blind, then setting policies which could, if events run their course, eventually result in arrest AND incarceration MIGHT be warranted. However, the question you have to ask yourself is which is more tolerable: The loss of a $26.95 book (maybe $18.00 after discount) or really bad publicity that makes the library (regardless of what portion of the excessive punishment is actually the library's direct fault) look heavy-handed and petty. Some loss is the cost, unfortunately, of doing business - and I don't make that comment lightly.

Public libraries are publicly-funded. Good will (or at least a lack of bad will) buys a lot of support in the court of public opinion. The occasional loss of a title without draconian consequences won't hurt that as much as having the voters think your library is an out of control beauracracy.

Follow up on overdues. Ban patrons who abuse your policies. Have your municipality not issue permits etc. to those who have neglected (or refused) to return library materials. Do what you reasonably can but don't do TOO MUCH.

I don't want to go to jail for a parking ticket and I wouldn't want to go to jail for an overdue library book.

Parking ticket

If you get a parking ticket, fail to pay it, and then to fail to show up for court you are likely going to get arrested when you next have a police interaction.

Good PR

Library could spin this to their PR advantage.

Ad campaign for library: We have stuff you can go to jail for.

Better PR

Check out a book - what's the WORST thing that can happen?

Numbers

Anybody want to share some numbers?

What is the dollar value of items not returned each year?

Re: Numbers

We have 1075 items that had been marked lost in 2011 for a grand total of $21,869.97 in lost materials. We recently stopped using a collection agency to try to recover items and now go through the county attorney who files a small claims judgment against patrons who have over $100 in lost items (the local sheriff’s office hand delivers the notice).
Do I think such action is acceptable? Absolutely.
Our purchasing budget for materials is 238,405.60 which means we lost 9% of our funds through lost materials. Any government agency who thought loosing 9% of the taxpayer’s money was acceptable would also be decimated by the press.

This woman wasn't sent to jail for the lost materials, she was sent to jail for failure to appear. Not that the newspapers care.

Context

Thank you for providing some context to the debate. I agree that your losses are indeed heavy and agree also with your decision to go after those scofflaws whose lost items total over $100.

I hope you found a way to get your side of the story out there since the press is just being...well, the press.

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