What Books Would You Go To Jail For?

Here’s a story that might bring out the most virulent argument this site has seen yet: a woman was arrested for failing to return two books to the library for over a year.

Somewhere, a librarian just stood up and cheered. As someone who always wants the book that someone else won’t return, I hear you, librarian, I hear you.

But handcuffs? Wow:

[Heidi] Dalibor did not respond to four notices from the library, two phone calls and two letters. The library forwarded the case to police, who issued a citation for Dalibor’s failure to return the materials or pay the fine. The citation included a court date, which Dalibor admits she ignored.

Which books? White Oleander and Angels & Demons.


Julia, who forwarded me the link, asked, “What books would you go to jail for? What about the SBTB readers? Are there books you’d go to prison over?”

I honestly have to say that in this specific circumstance, I’d give the library back its book and buy my own damn copy, because Dalibor looks kind of like, no, wait, exactly like an asshole for saying, “I still have the books and I don’t plan to return them because they’re paid for now.”

But are there books I’d go to jail before giving up? Sure. Are the police at the door? Crap, I better go look.



The Link-O-Lator

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  1. rebyj says:

    There are so many copies of those two books out there that at my local used bookstore a hardback copy cost about .75 cents lol.

    I quit using the library because it takes so long to get new releases. The waiting lists , since this is a big city , usually run in the 100’s. Ferget it!

    “What books would you go to jail for?” None! although I would spend a good percent of the months grocery/ gas money on one LOL!

  2. Lindz says:

    “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, hands down.

  3. Kaffy says:

    Hmm… I’m with you, I’d just buy the damn books. Then again, our library system blocks your card once a book is… five weeks overdue, I think, and I couldn’t go without my library books (I read far too much to be able to afford to buy everything I read), so I’d never be in this situation.

    Books that I’d put my freedom on the line for? The Bible (which seems a bit ridiculous, because it preaches against law-breaking in the main),  and The Bone People by Keri Hulme. But I already own them both, so it really isn’t an issue.

  4. Nora Roberts says:

    ~Which books? White Oleander and Angels & Demons.


    You just make me laugh!

  5. Sam says:

    I don’t think there is any book I will go to jail for. I work in a library and am the person who gets to take books out of the system once they don’t come back after 6 months. I think a lot of people think we enjoy sticking it to people as far as fines go, but we really get nothing from it. When I say that I take out books never returned I don’t mean a few here and there- we lose hundreds every year. There is no way we can keep replacing lost books plus get new ones. Taking care of overdues takes up time I could be cataloging a shiny new book instead.

  6. Eunice says:

    The closest I ever came to anything like this was when a library book was stolen from me. You know what I did? I stepped up and paid for the book.

    “The citation included a court date, which Dalibor admits she ignored.”

    I mean seriously, when it gets to the point where the police are involved you’d think they’d step back and go, ‘Hmm, is it really worth it?’ They’re not even hard to find out of print books. Some people are just stupid.

    Would I ever go to jail for a book? Not under these kinds of circumstances! (Maybe for something based on principles, or beliefs, but this is just a new level of A-holery)

  7. Iasmin says:

    I’d go to jail to protest any book being burned or censored, but I have more respect for the library system than to keep books past their due date by anything other than sheer accident. (Of course at one point I was getting so many books through interlibrary loan that the library had me on their speed dial….)

  8. theo says:

    I don’t use the local library anymore on principle, because of the Stephen Hawking book they said I’d never returned, which I had, and found on their shelf two months later (and yes, it was the same tired copy with the same tear on the frontispiece) and pointed out to them that all their threatening letters and exorbitant fines were for naught. Someone evidently hadn’t checked it in right or was too embarrassed when they did to take me off the overdue list. They couldn’t even bother to say “Sorry”. So the indifferent attitudes go both ways and I know not all librarians are like that!

    Certainly I’ve paid for books my girls lost when they were little. Rather that than teach them reading isn’t worth it. But this woman is supposed to be an adult. What happened to responsibility? Oh, wait…that infers intelligence…

  9. lizziebee says:

    Seriously? She hadn’t heard of renewing them? I’ve renewed a book off an on for the better part of a YEAR now (it’s a craft book – and not quite a year yet) and have had to return it once, but managed to get it out 2 weeks & 1 day later.

    Also, that’s all the notice the library gave her? 4 notices, 2 phone calls and 2 letters??? Over an ENTIRE YEAR?!?!?!!? That’s bloody terrible recall by the library. I’d love to see them try and do this to a little old lady who had a couple of racy Mills & Boons out, but ended up going into hospital and dying before she could return them.  (Just to be morbid…)

  10. Joanne says:

    Dalibor did not get arrested because of a book, she was arrested because she stole the books. She wasted the time & money & resources of her community. 

    The shame is hers and it’s obvious she still doesn’t ‘get it’…. and I would love to be “judge for a day” on cases like these—- there would be some very shiney public bathrooms in town.

  11. Deb says:

    I don’t think I’d go to jail for any book – but I am a librarian and generally don’t have trouble waiting my turn for books on waiting lists and returning what I check out. 

    I would like to point out that she didn’t get arrested for not returning the books – she was arrested for failing to appear in court when she was ordered.  I don’t think the police care about two library books – but they do care when someone doesn’t show up in court when they’re supposed to.

  12. Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I’m with Sarah on this one—if I want the book that badly I’ll just get my own copy.  I’ll admit, though, there are a couple of hard-to-find, out-of-print volumes that I’ve been strongly tempted to “lose”…

  13. I have no sympathy for this woman. When she became a library patron she entered into a contract where she understood that books are due back at the library by a certain date, or the patron is responsible for their replacement.

    The public library in the United States belongs to all of its users.  Just as the library has an obligation to keep materials available, patrons have an obligation to return the library materials so that others can have access to them.

    I’m on our local library foundation board and as a writer of historical romance, I couldn’t survive without my public library and ILL (inter-library loan).  I’m not sure I’d go to jail for any one book, but I think I would be willing to go to jail for the library.

  14. robinjn says:

    Okay. I admit it. I’m one of those people that librarians the world over despise. I sometimes don’t return books, sometimes for a long, long time. Many reasons, not one of them any more than an lame excuse. It’s just one of my failings as a person.

    Our local library will freeze your card after, I think, six weeks. But if you do bring the books back at ANY time, you do not have to pay a fine. Which is why I have always eventually returned every book (and have paid for a couple that I haven’t been able to find). I actually love that about our library, the willingness to completely forgive. And I think it helps people actually get the books back. Even if it’s a long time (she says guiltily).

    Right now with the economy the way it is I’ve been using the library much more. I’m lucky, we really do have a great one. Maybe not best sellers available the first day, but I did get Sherry Thomas’ Delicious within a week of the request and now have her first book on hold. They have tons and tons of romance (and sci-fi) and I can order, place holds, and renew online.

    I’m really glad they’ve always forgiven my transgressions. 🙂

  15. Toddson says:

    I’ve had problems with the library not checking in books I’ve returned – and then not shelving them properly – and dinging me for late fees and replacement costs. And I’ve paid, but I’ve pretty much stopped using the library.

    But when you get a series of notices about overdue books and then refuse to respond or do anything, you deserve the trouble you’re in. It’s like the person who gets a series of parking tickets, ignores them, and then is surprised when their car is towed or booted. At some point you have to take responsibility.

  16. Kathy says:

    Um, if you take the books and don’t return them-you are stealing.  So, she just looks like an asshole.  And her comments are trying to be cute, and I see no humor whatsoever.  She should have returned the books or paid for them before she wasted community resources by having the judicial system involved.  What a moron.

  17. theo says:


    Such was the case with me. I returned 15 books, all in the overnight bin, and every one was checked back in but the Hawking book. I tried several times over the phone to explain patiently that I had taken them all back but no one would check the shelves (I understand many are short staffed but sheesh!) At the time, it was rare for me to be able to find time to go during regular hours. I’d had to take time from work to check out the books I’d returned, so I patiently explained a number of times I’d returned it.

    I was so frustrated I finally tore my house apart trying to find it with the thought that maybe I had missed it after all.

    Finally, on my first day off in weeks, I went to the library to handle it in person. There was a line at the counter and I thought, why not, I’ll just go see if it’s there and sure enough! There is sat. In all it’s glory. I took it down, inspected it, yup, same book I had. It even showed in the computer card catalog as being available!!!

    I’m not excusing this woman. She’s an idiot of the first order. She blatantly admits she has them and won’t be returning them and could have cared less about anything to do with them.

    But when a patron is trying to figure out if they are actually at fault or not, the library has a responsibility to try and assist. And if they don’t, shame on them!

  18. karmelrio says:

    One wouldn’t have to go to jail for a book if one a) returned books on time, b) paid fines in a timely manner if you had an overdue book or c) paid for a book’s replacement if you lost it while in your possession. 

    Barring that, there’s always d) opening one’s mail.  But this would require her to, you know, act like an actual adult.

    No sympathy here – she wasted the town’s time and resources because she was repeatedly irresponsible.

  19. Madd says:

    I couldn’t go without my library books (I read far too much to be able to afford to buy everything I read)

    It’s the same for me. Before my daughter was born I could read a book or two in one day. Now it takes me two, maybe three. I’ve always got a book in progress.

    I think most people have overdue books once in a while. I know sometimes I forget the due date or I just can’t get to the library, but I get the back ASAP. One time I thought I took a book back then went out of town for a week and came back to see that the book was overdue by a week. I’ve only lost two or three books and in those instances I not only paid for the book, but bought the library a copy to replace it. I know what it’s like to wait for someone to return a book so that you can have a chance at it and then it never comes back. Frustrating and annoying, especially if the book is part of a series. I once lived in a town so small that it was a miracle they had a library at all. The whole thing was roughly the size of my living room … my apartment living room. So for three years it was like not having a library at all. It was depressing. To me the library is a privilege and people should respect that and respect the other patrons enough not to be a-holes like that lady and purposely steal books.

  20. Sana-chan says:

    I’m terrible about returning (or renewing) my library books, so I’m always racking up fines. But I ALWAYS eventually return the books, and I always pony up the fines with only internal grousing over my own stupidity. This chick? Way the hell out of line. She was just being fucking lame.

    As for a book I’d go to jail for… well I’d never go for something that lame, I’d just buy my own copy. Hell, if I was that hard up for it, and it was like the last copy of the book in existence, I’d scan the damn thing page for page so I could have my own copy. I actually did something similar with a book when I was a kid. It was an out of print book (Sorcery and Cecelia, which has since been re-released) and I loved it so much I copied the entire thing on my mom’s work copier. Way to misuse work resources! I cut up all the photo copies and make myself a little ghetto ass Xerox version of the book, which I kept for YEARS until they re-released it. But I took the original back to the library like a good little girl.

    The only way I’d willingly go to jail over a book is if someone was trying to take away my own books, or my right to read or something. Then you can be damn sure I’d go, and that they’d pry my books from my cold, dead hands.

  21. Sasha says:

    Okay, don’t shoot me, but, though I already have a much – drooled over copy, I could probably go to jail for White Oleander, in some other crazy circumstance. OH GOD WAIT I SAID DON’T SHOO—-

  22. I am a horrible offender at not returning library books.  It’s the same with videos, which is why Netflix has been a godsend.

    My library has now started letting you know that it is late (fines & charges for the book) and if you don’t respond, they send your account to collections.  That was a mighty effective kick in the butt for me to both return the books and pay the fine ASAP.  And I always do, pay my fines, that is. 

    Is there a book that I’d go to jail for?  Not in those circumstances.  But like others, if it was in protest to stop censorship, then I would go to bat for any book.

  23. Zodiac Lung says:

    That’s just dumb. For bloody sanity’s sake, she could have swapped for either one of those books for practically FREE at Paperbackswap.com and avoided looking like a total jackass. I routinely return books late at the library (2 weeks goes by in a flash) and I cheerfully step up to the counter with my checkbook in hand when I go to check out a new batch. Hell, I figure it’s a great way to support my local library, and they buy me really damn expensive audiobooks to check out that I could never afford otherwise.
    My mom always threatened me with the Library Police. Pity they had to be conjured into existence by this tart.

    defense87…there’s none for this twit.

  24. Eirin says:

    Dalibor did not get arrested because of a book, she was arrested because she stole the books. She wasted the time & money & resources of her community.

    Bravely defending the Right To Steal Books for the downtrodden everywhere!

  25. amy lane says:

    Well, who really wants to go to jail for being a complete idiot?  But as for defending books?  Any books?  THAT is the cross I’d die on, as long as they let me read in the big house:-)

  26. Jessa Slade says:

    But are there books I’d go to jail before giving up?

    This’d be a funnier question if (after The Jewel of Medina thing) I didn’t sometimes worry we’re headed this way.

    Like Spinsterwitch, I’m bad about returning books.  But we have so many checked out that two days overdue is $50.  So we’re gettting better about renewing.

  27. saltypepper says:

    At the point that I love a book enough to go to jail for it, I love it enough to scrounge up the money to buy my own copy.

    However there are plenty of books where if someone tried to take my bought and paid for copies, I’d end up in jail, for sure.  Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Colson Whitehead’s Colossus of New York, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo… it’s a fairly long list.

    Um, wait, I can read them in jail, right?

  28. JaneyD says:

    She stole someone else’s property, same as if she’d walked in, grabbed a couple library chairs, stuffed them in her car trunk, and drove off.

    I hope they ban her for life.

    She’s a—hm—what’s the word…?  Oh, yes—MORON!!!

    I will never ever go to jail for a book because I am polite and pay attention to details like returning borrowed books, whether to the city library or to a friend.

  29. Silver James says:

    Like mentioned above, I’d go to jail for the freedom to read but as to an individual book? I can’t think of one. I caught this woman’s “interview” on the news and wondered why she even bothered with the library. She seems much more the type to frequent the pirate sites and download them for free. Or maybe that’s what she was doing – scanning those books page by page to upload them.

    As for libraries needing support? Don’t even get me started. HUGE soapbox. They do so freakin’ much with so little money and appreciation! Have you hugged your librarian today? And I don’t mean that in like a creepy, stalkerish sort of way.  ‘kay?

  30. Nialla says:

    So many people have the “But it’s just a couple of library books!” reaction. I see it a lot, as I work in a library.

    What would Wal-Mart’s reaction be to someone picking up two books and walking out the door? Or, to put it in terms my fellow City employees finally could understand, what if someone “permanantly borrowed” city equipment?

    It’s all the same thing – theft.

    For those who’ve complained about books being returned and not checked in, yes it does happen. Barcodes misread sometimes, and the human operator doesn’t always catch it. But if you’re absolutely certain it’s in and don’t feel it’s been taken care of, go look on the shelves yourself for it, just to be sure. The librarians would probably appreciate the help, after being burned so much over all of the “But I brought it back!” complaints over the years. I’ve spent a lot of time checking the shelves, making calls, mailing notices, etc., and getting chewed out over it, then get an “Ooops, I did have it” from the patron later on. Or better yet, they returned it to the wrong library. *g*

  31. Would I ever go to jail for a book? Not under these kinds of circumstances! (Maybe for something based on principles, or beliefs, but this is just a new level of A-holery)


  32. Anon76 says:

    On a side note:

    My local library LOVES when I go to conferences like RT. You see, there are so many events where publishers hand out complimentary books, not to mention the goody-book room that allows you to “shop” the shelves for “free” as part of your conference fee.

    Me? I usually “shop” with my local library in mind. Things I’m pretty sure they will shelve. Meaning not only am I saving them money in purchasing fees, but hopefully spreading Romance to a wider audience.

    Aside over. I now return you to your regular programming.

  33. JaneDrew says:

    Hmmm… probably a bit embarassing that it was this discussion that reminded me I have a pile of books downstairs that were due yesterday.  Errr.

    I know in the university library system I use/work at/have a roommate who works at, if you go for too long without returning a book, they bill you for it. Of course, that is a bit more enforceable, since you can’t graduate with unpaid library fines or bills. Heh.

    Frankly, the only way I would ever go to jail for “Angels and Demons” would be for setting it on fire in a public location.


  34. Suze says:

    I’m often late returning books, and have paid way more in fines than I ever did for membership fees.

    Given that I can renew books via computer, via phone, or in person, and given that the library can phone me, mail me, or e-mail me…  Huh.  The only way to make it easier for me to return things on time or at all would be to have some kind of teleportation device for the materials.  (Or have an e-library?)

    She chose to ignore the notices.  She chose to fail to appear.  She’s dumb.

    I’m with the folks who’d goal to jail to protect people’s right to access to books, but to go to jail just because I’m too much of a slacker to return library books, or open mail?  Uh-uh.

  35. Melissa says:

    I’m a librarian.  And yes, I stood up and cheered the first time I read this story.

    I understand that people sometimes need books for more than 3 weeks.  I understand that people sometimes just forget to return them once they’re finished.  (I have that problem myself.)  But ignoring a court order?????????????  Refusing to open your mail from the library?  Refusing to return phone calls?  WTH?

    That person isn’t an adult.  All she cares about is her needs, her desires, her convenience and to heck with everyone else.  That makes her a toddler in an full-sized body, and a reason the gene pool could use a little Clorox.

  36. Nadia says:

    She’s an idgit.

    I luurve my library too much to risk being banned for life.  Online renewal has saved me from book fines, but occasionally I’ll rack up a DVD fine since we only get them for one week and I forget.  But hey, just consider that dollar a donation.  If I loved a book enough to want to keep it, I’d trot myself over to Half Price Books instead of wasting My Own Tax Dollars tracking my sorry ass down to return the books.

    Now, censorship is another thing altogether.  I’d do time in the pokey over The Greek Prince Tycoon’s Amnesiac Virgin Mistress’s Secret Baby if someone told me I wasn’t allowed to read it.

  37. Teresa says:

    She went to jail over a Dan Brown book? Seriously? Wow.

    There aren’t too many I’d risk jail over – probably some serious research book I didn’t stand a hope in Hades of being able to buy (Refugees of the French Revolution comes to mind here).

    But considering I volunteer at a library and am, at my advanced age, considering an MA in LS, I’m thinking I’m better off returning ALL my books. Or, if I happen to lose one (or, more likely, my cat upchucks on it and ruins it), I’ll ‘fess up and pay for the replacement.

  38. I’m a librarian and I’m always appalled when the journalists fail to mention that city and county governments do this when someone ignores a court summons.

    This doofus didn’t go to jail for keeping library books, she went to jail for blatantly ignoring a court summons.  She could have given back the books and explained in court that she couldn’t afford to pay the overdue fines.  She wouldn’t have been put in debtors’ prison.

    But on the subject of what’s worth going to jail for, see Cory Doctorow’s excellent short-short story “Printcrime”, which you can read on his site for free.

  39. theo, one possible reason is that people have been known to sneak the overdue book back onto the shelf, wait a while, and then point out that the book is sitting right there on the shelf.

    No self-respecting Smart Bitch would ever do this, of course, but there are… other people out there too.

  40. No one has mentioned so far – the “woman” in question is 20 (mentioned in a different article). She’s probably just an immature college student who doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions yet.

    She still doesn’t seem to get that the real offense was ignoring the summons, not keeping the books.

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