Sometimes life happens, and we mess up. We lose our keys, we forget about our cell phone bill payment, and sometimes we forget to return library books. For Cathy and Melvin Duren of Tecumseh, Michigan, simple human error caused them quite a headache. In April 2016, the Durens faced legal action and jail time for two overdue library books.
In July of 2014, their son used Cathy’s card to check out Dr. Seuss’ A Hatful of Seuss from Tecumseh District Library for his daughter to read while they visited his parents. The book was lost and forgotten about by the Durens. Almost a year later, in April 2015, Cathy used her husband’s card to check out Sam Christer’s The Rome Prophecy, which she also forgot to return.
The director of the Tecumseh District Library, Gayle Hazelbaker, says “the procedure for working with patrons who don’t return missing books is lengthy and offers plenty of room to fix the issue.” Patrons are notified three times by letter or e-mail over the course of 108 days from a book’s due date. “If no contact is made, the case gets turned over to the ECU [Economic Crimes Unit].” In December of 2015, the Durens received the last letter from the library letting them know that they must return or replace the books and pay the overdue fines, or else they could be charged with a crime. Cathy was finally able to locate The Rome Prophecy in January and returned it; however, the Dr. Seuss book was still lost.
The late fees escalated to $55, plus the cost of replacing A Hatful of Seuss. When Cathy presented a money order in that amount, she said it “was refused because she would not pay the additional $210 in diversion fees to the prosecutor’s crime unit.”
The diversion fee helps fund the ECU, which investigates overdue library books. In addition to these fees, the Durens also paid a $100 bond when they were served arrest warrants at their home on Friday, April 8. They were not physically arrested; instead the police let them know about the warrant and advised them to take care of the situation, at which point the Durens went down to the station and paid the bond.
Prosecutions for unreturned library books have reimbursed the Tecumseh District Library about ten thousand dollars in losses on overdue books annually. This money could have been taken out of the citizens’ taxes but can now be allocated elsewhere while holding the delinquent account holders fiscally responsible. The library had been accruing so many heavy losses in the past ten years that it felt involving the ECU was necessary. In 2013–2014, 248 items were overdue, amounting to a $5,816 replacement cost for those items and $3,061 in unpaid fines. Between 2007 and 2013, 1,630 items were overdue, amounting to $32,451 in replacement costs and $20,138 in unpaid fines.
In May of 2016, a judge decided that paying the overdue fines and replacing the missing Dr. Seuss book was good enough restitution and dropped all charges against the Durens. If convicted, they would have faced ninety-three days in jail and fines up to five hundred dollars.