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December 28, 1996

Karen Bigbee and her staff at Perry Carnegie Library must be scratching their heads in disbelief at the total value of books that have been checked out and not returned during the past year. The tab comes to more than $1,000 - $848.09 in adult books and $224.95 in children's books.

That means the library has to absorb the total cost of replacing each of those volumes. Since the library is owned by the city, it boils down to the fact that the rest of us foot the bill for such losses, one way or another. News like that is kind of hard to take, especially in these days of tight budgets, when every dollar must be spent wisely.

The names of 37 adults and 14 children are on the list of those with long overdue books. In most cases, each of them has only one book, but some have as many as four. The most popular overdue books for adults seem to be on astrology, science fiction (including dungeons and dragons), automobile repair manuals, Westerns and how-to-do-it books. Among children, books about animals are the most often not returned.

Once a name goes on the delinquent list, that person can not borrow books until the account is squared away. Each of those on the list has been sent a letter signed by an attorney, requesting that the account be settled, but none of them has responded. The penalty for late return of a book to Perry Carnegie Library is five cents per day. That's right, only a nickel. And, the total amount of a fine in any case will not exceed $10, no matter how long the book has been out. Some of those on the current list have been due since January 1995.

The librarians will not embarrass anyone returning a late book and their names will not be published. The librarians are more interested in having the books returned than in collecting a fine. They will work out a payment plan with anyone who owes the maximum; they mainly want those books returned. In today's market, you rarely find an adult book costing less than $25. Even children's books go for around $15. If the books are returned, they will again be available for the enjoyment of other readers and the library will be spared the expense of a replacement copy.

I personally have been guilty of keeping library books at home long past the due date, though I don't think I ever had to pay as much as $10, so it's easy to sympathize with others who are similarly careless. I always felt marvelously cleansed of guilt when I settled up. My family also will tell you that I have frequently joined book clubs only to be inundated subsequently by unwanted volumes because I failed to return a card to the club before the shipping date. It's cost me several dollars (much more than $10) and I have several unread books to prove it.

Our Perry Carnegie Library is one of the city's most prized possessions. Many towns much larger than Perry are envious of what we have, and we have it only because local patrons supported it in every way through the years. That dates back even before 1907, when the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie of Pittsburgh, Pa., gave this city $10,000 to build our present library. Major remodeling and enlargement was completed in recent years, totally funded by local friends of the library. It is going to be even more popular very soon when the community Onenet service is introduced.

Supporting the library also means returning books in a reasonable length of time. It's certainly not a felonious act to keep an overdue book too long, but let's hope those on the delinquent list understand the need for returning the library's books, and do us all a favor by remembering the due date next time they check something out. We'll appreciate it!