The Associated Press is reporting that Brian Linebach is facing five years in prison for second-degree theft by failing to return 40 books and DVDs to the Kirkendall Public Library of Ankeny, Iowa. I can empathize — with the library.
Fifteen years ago, when I worked for Blockbuster Video, movies were released exclusively to rental outlets on VHS for $100/copy. It was only months later that these tapes became available to consumers at a more reasonable rate. Before DVDs turned that market upside-down, losing a copy of a movie was an expensive proposition, which is why BBV required credit card numbers on record for each of its customers: should a product disappear, its value could be reimbursed.
Libraries show their patrons much more faith: expensive books and videos can be borrowed with no more credential than a driver's license. That information is no guarantee against theft, and though DVDs are cheaper to replace now than VHS tapes once were, libraries lack the financial backing of multimedia conglomerates with which to do so. I tried to find some statistics about library material return rates, but the ALA's exhaustive Web site, which was instrumental in researching my recent column for Worcester Magazine, doesn't have any obvious reports on this data. Nonetheless, anyone who uses the public library to donate to his own collection has things backward, to the detriment of his community.
Why Mr. Linebach didn't return the products once confronted, or how long they were overdue, I don't know. But it could've been worse — imagine the penalties George Washington would pay for books 221 years overdue!