20 June 2012

Jail Time for Library Fines?

by Carrie Bailey

Can you go to jail for having overdue books? No, but you if you're a librarian who collects overdue fines and then pockets a little extra for yourself without reporting it on your tax return than the answer is "What were you thinking?!?!" Margo Reed stole over $160,000 from patrons at her library in New York between 2004 and 2010 and has recently pleaded guilty to grand larceny and filing a false tax return.

My mother has always said that I'm naive, but I want to be able to trust people who work with books. Somewhere along the way, I developed this idea that reading was an activity which generally decent people enjoyed. It made sense to me that readers were the quiet types who didn't beat people up in school and so naturally, they weren't prone to doing serious evil. The bullies didn't hang out in the libraries. And authors? I've experienced moments of deep and serious profundity reading books by authors who seemed to love humanity, see the best in all of us, so how could they be bad people?

Carrie Bailey (me) at Library Science Class
We're all familiar with occupational stereotypes. Your Catholic priest is going to molest your children. Your Congressmen will spend your money on Brazilian prostitutes. Your car dealer knows he is selling you a lemon and is laughing behind your back about it. These stereotypes fuel humor and not all are negative. Firefighters are brave and heroic and love kittens, because we need them to be. 

I'm not upset with Margo Reed for being a low down lousy thief. I've been writing and working in libraries too long to believe that people attracted to books naturally have goodness running through their veins. I've watched employers mysteriously absorb grant funds for their own personal enjoyment while the children's literacy programs and libraries they manage go without. I've seen famous authors steal from the poor. So when I read about a librarian in New York who probably smiled and wished everyone a good afternoon as she heartless ripped the hard earned money out of the hands of working families, I'm not shocked anymore.

We've got choices in life. One of those choices is to be honest with ourselves. We work with books and people, especially the young, trust us. Occupational stereotypes enforce this possibly misplaced idea that we provide a refuge where everyone is safe, deep inside the pages of a book. That's why I say it is worse when we commit crimes.

So for everyone who makes the public libraries possible and for all those times you could have taken $160,000 without being caught but resisted the temptation, thank you.


  1. Brava! Oh, I loved reading that. My sister is a goodly librarian and I am a lover of books.

    1. I've known a number of good librarians, but I'd estimate about half of the ones I worked with were scoundrels :). Good to meet you Petrea, thanks for commenting.

  2. It's my pleasure. I'm surprised so many librarians are scoundrels, but perhaps I shouldn't be. There are scoundrels in every profession.

  3. Wow, that is terrible. It just goes to show, you never know. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It's true, you do never know. When I first started dating my current boyfriend, I stopped over at his house and he was wearing at t-shirt that read, "Trust me, I'm a lawyer." I questioned the relationship. I really did.

  5. Apparently, sometimes you can go to jail for overdue library books [http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2012/06/28/news/throwing-the-book-at-overdue-book-offender.html]