A Texas state law that took effect in September might make some library patrons think twice about borrowing books.
But it shouldn't be that way, said Burleson Library Director Marc Marchand.
The new law defines the failure to return library books as theft. That means if a person has a warrant out for their arrest for theft from the library, they could land in jail.
Burleson's ordinance on the matter reads that it is unlawful for anyone to detain "library material or materials belonging to the city public library for 15 days after notice from the library staff, mailed with proper postage affixed in the United States mail to the last known address provided to said library as the permanent residence of the holder of the card ..."
Marchand said the fine for overdue books is 25 cents per day, while overdue DVDs rack up a fine of $1 per day.
"Most of those who use the library are so great and honest," Marchand said. "We want the stuff back so we can loan it to other people."
Marchand said the most commonly stolen books are GED and Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery preparation books, but that he has "never understood why someone would steal something I will loan you for free."
Marchand said overdue fines are simply for behavior modification, a means of reminding people that they don't own the library materials. Someone with excessive fines will eventually be banned from borrowing books, he said.
Burleson Deputy Police Chief Cindy Aaron said that police would likely have to deal with a theft warrant should someone be pulled over within the city limits and is found to have such a theft warrant elsewhere, but that the case would be rare. More likely, she said, would be charges placed on someone who, for example, steals books for resell purposes.
"If it was reported to the Burleson Police Department that someone was maliciously taking books from the library with the intent to destroy them, or profit by selling them, and the city reported the theft, consideration of criminal charges would be possible," she said.
Being jailed for absconding with with library materials "is an uncommon occurrence, but can happen once in a while," Mark Gould of the Chicago-based American Library Association told The Associated Press.
Almost 150 Texas libraries this year participated in a survey that found 966,000 items were checked out long enough to be considered lost, with the cost exceeding $18.2 million, Gloria Meraz, a spokesperson for the Texas Library Association said.
This story contains information from The Associated Press.