Stealing From Libraries
Have you ever stolen a book from a library? Is there any circumstance where this is acceptable?
We’ll get to that in a moment. First, some background. Libraries figured hugely in my childhood and teenage years, but I don’t suppose they feel as necessary in young lives now, certainly not in time-poor London. Taking two examples, the last time I went to Islington Library it felt musty and unwelcoming. Deptford Library was the exact opposite, welcoming and surprisingly fresh, so it may depend on where you live. But the library I spent most time in was not my local one – it was my school library, which was very well-stocked, partly because so many of the ex-pupils were funding it with books.
When the summer holidays began they closed the library and I was bereft, partly because I was teaching myself Russian and they had good language resources. So I stole one of the books. It was meant to be an extended borrow over the summer holidays, but I managed to lose it and have felt bad ever since. One of my best friends went to jail for stealing books to order. An obsessive bibliophile, he only swiped books that had not been taken out for at least five years and sold them to people who were desperate to find a copy. While I certainly don’t approve, it’s as close to a victimless crime you can get.
I’m shocked by just how many of the books I order online, either through Amazon or Abebooks, that have been lifted from libraries. It may be that they have been taken from redundant stock; highly likely, considering the esoteric nature of my purchases! I’m surprised that there’s no organised system for donating books in London. I guess it would be difficult to set up and co-ordinate. As someone who is sent a lots of books each month – don’t be jealous; many of them are very bad indeed – I’m at a loss as to what to do with them. Casting aside the ones I wouldn’t inflict on anyone, I still can’t give ‘quality’ books to my local shop because they prioritise hipster novels (to be fair they’re beside an art college). My local library works from an approved list. I distribute the best to friends, but it leaves many copies over.
And I need other books. I’ve recently been searching for a novel by a possible uncle of mine (long story, see articles passim) and found one copy in a Canadian library which I would gladly nick. (Actually someone on this site offered me his copy, but I lost his details). So while there are ludicrous surpluses of, say, Jeffrey Archer books, the more exciting novels that occupy liminal spaces in literature run can’t be found because they were produced in finite print runs.
Would I now steal a book no-one else was interested in? No, because someone might be some day. Would I sanction it in a curious child? Possibly.
The library at the top features the astonishing stacks of Trinity College library in Dublin.