What Happens When You “Accidentally” Destroy a Library Book?
Please Don't Use Pizza as a Bookmark. That's Bad.
It’s happened to all of us. After a hellish week, you decided to take your book in the bathtub to relax and whoops! You reached for your beer and accidentally dipped the book in the bath water like you were dunking a biscotti in your morning coffee. Or maybe you left it on the floor and like the much-fabled homework devourer, your dog ate it (please see below). Perhaps you left it on an airplane, in a rental car, or at that ex-girlfriend’s house that you’re never ever speaking to again because you’ve faked your own death to avoid them at all costs. You might have eaten a hot dog over it and dripped ketchup and mustard all down the spine. Maybe it got rained on! Cat peed on it! Someone ran it over with their car! Your kid drew all over it with Mr. Sketch scented markers!
You’re not the first person to ruin or lose a book and you definitely won’t be the last. What I’m saying is accidents happen and none of us are immune from the pitfalls of treating books worse than we should. We’re all guilty!
But what happens next when the book isn’t yours? What happens when it comes to making library restitution?
After destruction or loss of materials, it is, as they say, time to pay the piper. You’re gonna have to fork over the funds to replace what you’ve destroyed. Many times patrons have a lot of questions about how we go about pricing replacement materials. Why can’t they just let us buy another copy, they wonder. Wouldn’t it be far cheaper if we got a used copy off Amazon and handed it over? Why are they trying to bankrupt us? It’s supposed to be a free service and our taxes pay their fines/salaries/grocery bills/vet fees?
But when it comes to actual replacement fees, there’s more than just buying a new copy.
I mean, hey, sometimes a library decides not to replace the thing that’s been lost or destroyed. Maybe the item wasn’t circulating all that well anyway or it’s a dead technology (i.e. VHS and microfilm and goddamn laser discs) that the library doesn’t want to keep in stock. Perhaps the patron will just pay a set fee that the library has created a policy for in the event of loss/damage. It’s all up to that particular branch, baby!
A lot goes in to replacing materials that has nothing to do with how the base-cost of the item. For instance, your money is working toward not just buying that particular copy of Horton Hears a Who, but also paying for the time and labor of the person who has to order it, receive it, catalog it, and prepare it for the shelves. Items don’t magically appear in the collection because Grumpert the Wily Library Elf came in the night and placed out all the new books like Christmas gifts. They gotta be processed. It takes time and serious effort.
Many people never know what goes on behind the scenes at a library. The envision much of the work as the stuff that’s happening up front, like daily circulation and reference activities. But there’s a reason you’re able to use the online catalog and why you’re able to access the collection. They physically catalog your books, barcoded and clear-coating and embedding those strips that make the alarm go off when you try and sneak it out the door or accidentally put it in your bag before checkout.
The magicians in technical services oftentimes work wonders to repair damaged items. We understand that it’s a pain to pay for a replacement and it takes time and energy to re-catalog items into the collection. So when someone uses a pizza slice as a bookmark (or a used Band-Aid, true story), they do everything they can to try and clean the damage up themselves and get that item back on the shelves. Many times this work includes, but is not limited to:
- Clearing sand from book covers and spines after a visit to the beach (this suuuuuucks)
- Repairing busted AV cases and scratched DVDs after your kids played Frisbee with that copy of Mary Poppins
- Cleaning food stains from items
- Cleaning cigarette smoke from covers and sanitizing pages HORRIBLE
- Attempting to remove marks from the pages (either accidental or on purpose after someone decides to “censor” content they find inappropriate —Sharon, plz, stop blocking out all the sex scenes in the romance novels)
- Gluing loose pages—especially in graphic novels and comics, the bane of any preservationist’s existence
- Locating a photocopy of a missing page and inserting that into the book
- Fixing broken spines (and broken hearts)
Okay maybe not so much the romance part, but Tech Services works legitimate miracles so who knows if they could fix your love life! Oftentimes they even keep a book press in the back that they use to try and repair books; something that resembles a medieval torture device but will save you some cash dollars if you accidentally tossed the book in the pool.
There are preservation techniques in place that have been approved by the ALA as well as little tips and tricks that librarians pass onto each other to try and lifehack your damages. Things that work on the cheap so they can keep items in the collection and not have to charge patrons and create extra work for themselves in the process.
What I’m saying is this: don’t get snippy when it costs a lil more to pay for an item you’ve lost or damaged. We’re doing our best to help you! Also please stop using your driver’s license as a book mark. Or bacon. Or used chewing gum.
Love, the management.