We can all imagine library-return embarrassments—spines cracked apart, fines that soared over $100, and accidentally stolen books. But we wanted to know if the real stories are like that. So we asked Vicki Kriegeskotte, the children’s librarian at the Bedford Hills Free Library, about some of the most memorable late returns. And, it turns out, that’s exactly what they’re like.
“Sometimes patrons pack up their households and move without realizing that library books were included,” Kriegeskotte says. One family, she relates, had taken out the entirety of a popular picture book series for kids and took it with them to another home in Westchester, never even opening the box on the other end. A few years later, they figured out the mistake when they were told they couldn’t check anything out. “The card had maxed out with lost fees of approximately one-hundred dollars,” Kriegeskotte says. The family returned the books—“in perfect condition”—and the lost fee was reduced to a late fee of $20.
The failure to return a book isn’t always a mistake, though. “A while back, we received a call from a local thrift shop about some beautiful photographic books that had been dropped off to be sold,” Kriegeskotte says. “We are guessing that one patron had ‘borrowed’ them without checking them out. They had been on our missing list for about four years!”
As for how high the fees can go, Kriegeskotte says that there is a cap on fines, usually about $5 to $20 per book. Still, she has “come across bills of over five hundred dollars” when patrons failed to return multiple titles.