Sunday, April 18, 2010

Overdue Books: The American Way

Over the weekend, the N.Y. Daily News published an exposé of what must be a world record for library late fees, from a most unlikely scofflaw: the first President of the United States. In October of 1789, President George Washington borrowed the treatise Law of Nations, along with a volume of British parliamentary debates, from the New York Society Library. A handwritten ledger, unearthed in 1934, seemed to prove that the books were never returned. Earlier this week, librarians stumbled upon the rest of the British parliamentary debates, and sure enough, the volume Washington borrowed was still missing from the set. Adjusted for inflation over the last 220 years, the current fines for these two books would be a whopping $300,000.

Washington’s death in 1799 may provide the ultimate affirmative defense, but current residents of Earth cannot so easily side-step the library due date. For Duke students, the end of the semester is an excellent time to double-check your library account (log in here with your NetID) and resolve any overdue fines, lost book charges, or lingering titles that you’re sure you already returned. Unpaid bills are eventually turned over to the Bursar’s Office, which can affect your access to online transcripts and could even prevent you from receiving a diploma until the account is cleared up!

Overdue fines are not intended to be a punishment, but rather an incentive to return items in a timely fashion. In some situations, late charges can disappear automatically once the item is returned, although individual library policies vary:
  • For Law Library items, contact the Circulation/Reserve desk for assistance.
  • For items owned by other Duke Libraries, contact the owning library’s circulation desk directly (preferably in person). Law Library staff are unable to waive or adjust fines from other Duke libraries.
So before you head off for the summer, be sure to log in to your library account one last time and resolve any outstanding loans or fines. If you have any questions or concerns about your account, consult the Collection Services Department as soon as possible.