When Librarians Meant Business!

Just purchased, for 35 cents, a slim German text book last checked out of New York’s DeWitt Clinton High School in Feb. of 1931. (By Aaron Weiss, if you were wondering. It says so on the call slip.) What really got me is the “Law of the State of New York. Education Law – Section 1128” slapped there on the inside of the cover:

“Whoever willfully detains any book or other property belonging to any Public Educational Institutition, shall be punished by a fine of not less than one or more than twenty five dollars or by inprisonment in jail not exceeding six months.”

SIX MONTHS! No 5 cent fines for kiddies back then! Kids were expected to be RESPONSIBLE.

Here’s hoping Aaron Weiss served his time and went on to live a productive life.  — Lenore

11 Responses

  1. Egads! I’d be doomed! (And I think my fine is $0.25 a day per book here… I pay the library a small fortune, but I’m full of books. :D)

  2. This of course requires a link to this snippet of the classic Weird Al movie UHF!!!

    “Conan the Librarian”!!!

  3. Those 5 Cents fine you mentioned – tehy are daily, I supose?

    Back the the seventies it was at least 0,10 DM a day, even for the youth books. And think it got progressively more expensive by some strange scheme, intended to allow for small overdrafts, but really punishing hoggers.

  4. So, just to make sure, this is the good old days we’re talking about, right?

  5. A dollar in 1931 would be worth $14 today, so we’re talking about a fine of up to $350 in our terms!

  6. In the late 90s I was working at a Library (in Canada) and going through a box of my old kid’s books my mom sent, I found one (Andreas in King’s Park) had been checked out from my hometown library in the USA in 1969. The fine was I think 1 cent per day (at most 3), but with maximum $5. So I got a US $5 bill from the bank and mailed it with the book.

    I asked them by email if that was any kind of record, but they didn’t reply.

  7. FWIW, I doubt this was the punishment for having a book a few days overdue. It was probably used against books that were obviously stolen, or not returned after notice was given.

    So yeah, if you steal a book, either by intent or gross negligence, it was treated like the theft that it was. I strongly doubt they were throwing people in jail for overdue books, though, or even intended to threaten to do so.

  8. When I was a kid in the 70’s, maybe into the very early 80’s, the fines at our small-town public library were five cents a day.

    Until just a couple of years ago, they were ten cents a day where I live now in a slightly more urban area. Now they’re fifteen cents. Given inflation, that’s not bad at all, especially since the lend period is three weeks with another three weeks renewal available, and can be done online (unless there’s a hold on the book.)

  9. Apparently some do send library patrons to jail. In Wisconsin, no less.


  10. a university I worked for at one stage (early 90s) charge $1 per item per day. I knew of a few students who forgot to return their books before the summer break and returned to fines nearing $1000.

  11. Most states have laws on the books like this, to allow people who steal or *refuse* to return or pay for a book to be charged. The ‘late fine’ is something else, usually library by library.

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