Jail For Overdue Library Books?


If you’re ever in Texas, you better be sure to return your library books:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Call it throwing the book at the bookworms.

A Texas man who was arrested for failing to return an overdue library book ignited an online flurry of snarky comments and headlines about the Lone Star State extending its tough-on-crime bravado to books. But such cases aren’t unheard of, and many communities faced with shrinking budgets and rising costs have ordinances calling for fines or even arrest warrants when library property isn’t returned.

In Texas alone, the issue has cost libraries an estimated $18 million.

Jory Enck learned that the hard way. He was arrested for not returning a GED study guide that he checked out three years ago in the Central Texas community of Copperas Cove. Enck declined comment to The Associated Press, but he told the Killeen Daily Herald that he wouldn’t set foot in a library again: “I think I will probably just purchase a book from Amazon.”

A Texas state law took effect in September that defines the failure to return library books as theft. The law, which doesn’t trump stricter community ordinances, mandates up to a $100 fine per offense.

Other states also call for fines or even arrest warrants in such cases, including Iowa — where an overdue-book offender was jailed for a week — Vermont and Maine.


Police were called to the 22-year-old’s apartment on an unrelated disturbance charge, but officers arrested him after finding a past warrant for the study guide. Enck was released on a $200 bond, requested time-served — and returned the book. He said he couldn’t do it earlier because he checked it out before beginning a three-year prison term for robbery.

Being jailed for absconding with library materials “is an uncommon occurrence, but can happen once in a while,” said Mark Gould of the Chicago-based American Library Association. But he said there was no accurate count on how many states and communities issue arrest warrants.

It’s an issue that has cost libraries a lot of money. Nearly 150 libraries in Texas participated in a survey earlier this year that found 966,000 items were checked out long enough to be considered lost, with the total cost exceeding $18.2 million, said Gloria Meraz, a spokeswoman for the Texas Library Association.

Obviously, the fact that the person in question had a record for robbery may have played a role in these events.  Nonetheless, fear not librarians! The library cops are on duty! This sounds like a job for Lt. Joe Bookman, NYCPL:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mike says:

    This country doesn’t have a crime problem, it has a love of jail problem

  2. KM says:

    Oh that Texas!

    But seriously:

    he checked out three years ago

    That sort of crap needs to be put down and hard. Late is a couple of days, maybe 2 weeks tops. I’ll even forgive a couple of months if the fine was paid and possibly a donation to make up for the inconveniences “forgetfulness” caused. What he did was steal that book, plain and simple, and theft is an arrestable crime. Public libraries belong to taxpayers – there should be some safeguards in place so people don’t just walk off with whatever they want whenever they want. They are a resource for everyone and have been for decades. Quit depriving people because you can’t remember to send something back.

    Perhaps not jail (costs more then the book did) but community service instead? There’s always work that needs to be done, maybe even in the library itself. Clean up the streets/parks and you’ll remember to return those books on time…..

  3. Todd says:

    Funny, I live in Copperas Cove Texas, yet the first I hear of this is on OTB. 🙂

  4. JKB says:

    Yet, another reason not to use the library and to push for their slip into antiquity as the anachronism they have become.

    Interesting, once the public library is mostly a service to the poor, they criminalize rule violations?

  5. Bennett says:

    @JKB: My local library has new bestsellers, an extensive classic movie selection (and not a bad modern one), e-books, music cd’s and has an amazing bi-yearly book sale. Maybe your library just sucks.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Why not stocks? Or public flogging?

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    The Public Library is one of the few American things that I REALLY wished that existed in my country.

  8. JKB says:


    So why is your library providing non-intellectual material. Movies, music? Especially newer products? Hardly meeting the purpose of the library as a place to bring education and learning to the less fortunate? Not to mention, archive of dusty tomes. Does it have a good selection of porn websites?

    Why is that something that should exact tax dollars in this day of digital archival? Probably should be a private charity. Rich people could fund it to feel good about themselves.

    a depository built to contain books and other materials for reading and study

  9. JKB says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    It does exist. It’s called the Internet. Look into a site called Archive.org.

  10. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    It does exist. It’s called the Internet. Look into a site called Archive.org.

    See me being surprised at the fact that JKB only knows libraries and their uses from hearsay …

  11. superdestroyer says:


    And if he dos not show up for community services, are you then going to be willing to put him in jail. Maybe cities should turn over the collection of overdue books and fines to a contractor much like Philadelphia did for parking enforcement and then allow the collection of fess and expenses as part of the fine.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Maybe your library just sucks.

    No, JKB does. I have read stupid comments from JKB before, but going on an anti-public library tirade pretty much tops the stupidity charts. To JKB, if he doesn’t personally need it or use it he shouldn’t have to pay for it. He owes nothing to the bettering of his country, or it’s citizenry.

    I mean, how could an educated populace possibly benefit him?

  13. JKB says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I mean, how could an educated populace possibly benefit him?

    Please, elaborate on the way in which the current functioning of the average public library provides for an educated populace more effectively than providing a community internet connection that is filtered to offer only educational content, leaving pop culture, porn and political diatribe to the individual’s own responsibility?

    Why do you cling to this edifice of the age of steam in this digital age?

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Have you ever stepped into a library?

    Sounds like you haven’t. You’d be surprised at what you can obtain.

    Please tell me how I otherwise would be able to track down a treatise on the laws affecting oil rig platforms. Free. And no, that’s not on the Internet.

    There’s a hell of a lot of stuff accessible through interlibrary loan that in unavailable on the internet. For starters, most of the material that’s been published. Or are you volunteering to scan every page of everything that is out there? (And then deal with the copyright issues involved.)

  15. JKB says:

    Law libraries are going the way of the dodo. A working paper by law professor James G. Miles claims that as law schools shrink, revenue-losing departments such as legal libraries are likely to be among the first things to go.

    Read the comments at that link.

    @grumpy realist: be able to track down a treatise on the laws affecting oil rig platforms. Free.

    It is not free but funded by tax dollars that take food from the mouths of the homeless. If you city wants a library it could be funded by donations. Your treatise is already purchased and other antiquated books will be available for pennies on the dollar. Now if you wanted access to Westlaw or Lexis?

    Books no longer in copyright are being scanned and put online. Not great as they are really only useful as image scans the text conversion being poor. Newer books, the copyright holders will have to permit some digitization or drift off into oblivion.

  16. David in KC says:

    @JKB: Your comment about law libraries while technically correct, doesn’t really fit your whole argument that libraries in general need to no longer be funded. Most Law schools have access to digital law research through WestLaw or other such services. Also, most counties have their own library containing published federal decisions, published state decisions, and the state statutes for the state that the county resides in. Less convenient for the students, but something they can access if online research is insufficient for what they are working on. So basically, the schools are shifting the burden from their own budgets to the local county. I think you would be more upset about that then you appear to be.

  17. JKB says:

    @David in KC:

    Were that true, the county could simply charge a fee to all non-county residents. But lawyers don’t use law libraries any more. They use online services.

    Here is a story on the cost of maintaining this antiquated system in Detroit. Or the price of Democrat dominance on public resources.