Wertsch way did he go?
July 6, 2005 4:31 PM   Subscribe

My university library says I lost a book I know I returned.

I had a book recalled ( Mind as Action , by James V. Wertsch) and returned it the day before it was due back in the indoor drop-slot in front of the library. I am absolutely sure of this, 100%. There is no possibility that I did not do this. It is not in my office, home, car, anywhere, having dutifully looked so that I could say I did (knowing it was not in any of those places).

The only reason I knew it went missing is because a few weeks ago I tried to digitally renew my other books and was denied. I asked for the most extensive search they could do, and just heard back today from one of the senior directors in the library that she is pretty sure it is not there and that I should "really take another look for it". The library is going to bill me now for the cost of the book, plus a $25 dollar fee. This could be as high as $100 bucks combined, as the book was a library-bound edition.

The Law library at my school was closed for a few months due to fire, and there was a satellite in this library for a while. Basically, there was a work-study student at the circ desk accepting Law books and lending a limited number out.
I have contacted the Law library to see if they would do a search as well.

The libraries at my university are not known for their efficiency or accuracy. This is mostly due to the high work-study turnover rate. More than once I have been told I had a book overdue and there it was in the stacks, reshelved but not checked in, among other things. I have personally witnessed people sleeping in the stacks. Many of the full-time staff are driven crazy by these things, so the incompetence does not necessarily originate with them.

Listen, I am not trying to scam anyone. I returned this book, and I am a graduate student. I do not have the money to just toss their way. In the time since I was notified of the book not getting abck to them, I have had to clean my school office twice, and it is not there (although knew it would not be as I returned it). The library can and will hold up my graduation next year, and bar me from taking books out. Not so hot when one is writing their dissertation.

Any ideas of what to do? Thank you in advance.
posted by oflinkey to Education (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a formal appeals process for your university's library system? From the context of your question it seems that there may not be, but perhaps you should look in to it. I used to be a student desk worker at a library in a big university, and my boss was on the appeals committee for the whole library system. There was a standard form to fill out, and he said that the policy pretty much was to grant an appeal if it's the first time you've made one.

Other than that, have you tried searching for the book yourself? Hit the stacks and look not only where the book should be on the shelf, but a few shelves in all directions.

Based on what I saw as a student worker in the library, I always returned books in person at a circulation desk and asked for a "reciept" (which were only printed on demand). Good luck--I sympathize with you!
posted by handful of rain at 4:44 PM on July 6, 2005

Have you tried to find it in the library? I used to work in a University library, and situations like this were not uncommon. One of the most efficient ways to get it resolved was if the student went and found the book on the shelf and re-returned it. It could be that whatever student drone was on duty the day you returned your book didn't properly check it in, so the computer still thinks you have it. It's worth a try.
posted by bonheur at 4:45 PM on July 6, 2005

I've known friends in the same situation before, and there's really not much you can do besides complaining your way up the hierarchy until your case is refused by the highest authority (and it sounds like you've already done that). You have two options - fork the money over, tighten your belt, and take this as a lesson in dealing with incompetent organizations (get a receipt for EVERYTHING); or refuse to pay on principle, and be more or less screwed over.

If you really really want/need to fight this, get someone in the administration on your side. Become very familiar with the bureaucracy at your school and begin to cause a ruckus. Of course, this takes time and energy. On preview - yeah, start doing the leg work yourself. I doubt anyone really did a "thorough" search at all.
posted by muddgirl at 4:47 PM on July 6, 2005

I would try the following, in this order:
First, show up and look for it yourself. If you returned it, it is very probably there.
Second: make friends with some librarians. Maybe one could help you resolve your situation? Be nice, and bear in mind that the evidence is on their side. As far as they know, you haven't returned the book.
Third: Pay the fine.

In future, ask for a receipt.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 4:55 PM on July 6, 2005

There is likely to be some kind of library advisory committee at your university made up of faculty and hopefully students. Since you claim (and I believe) that this situation is widespread, you might see if they are interested at all. Not sure if they'll want to help with a particular case though.

As an aside, do many people really ask for receipts at the library? Wow, I never even thought of that.
posted by grouse at 5:00 PM on July 6, 2005

A few things, off the top of my head...

Is your library record pretty clean? We tend to give the borrower the benefit of the doubt over a lost item when we see a clean record. However, if the record is marked with overdue, damaged, and lost items, we usually hesistate to waive any fees.

Does the library have any alarms installed? If not, who's to say the item wasn't checked-in, shelved, and stolen? You may have an argument there.

It might be a stretch, but perhaps you can ask around and see if that book was cited in anyone's papers.

Have they checked the bookdrop area? I mean really checked the area. I have witnessed first hand (and much to my embarassment) books fallen underneath the drop itself (hey, it somehow happens) or actually stuck in the chute itself. Don't rule out the fact that the bookdrop itself may have been jammed pack the day you returned it, and someone just stuck their hands in and pulled it out. Try to find out if others have similar tales of woe.

As an aside, yes, people really ask for receipts at a library. We are known to make a mistake or ten during the day.
posted by icontemplate at 5:43 PM on July 6, 2005

Well, when I worked at a public library, the procedure was, once you came in and said "I returned this!" they put "Claims returned" on status and gave it about a month to turn up. But yeah, chances are that it was shelved without actually being checked in, for whatever reason, so check for it on the shelves.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:47 PM on July 6, 2005

There should be a baby dean (or deanlet if you prefer) somewhere in your college's office who deals with student affairs matters. Make an appointment with a timeline in hand and proof of your (otherwise) good status with the library. The dean is pait to be your official voice with all things administrative and should be able to help you out.
posted by jmgorman at 5:49 PM on July 6, 2005

What bonheur and Ziggurat said. I had this happen to me. I walked to the location it should be on the shelves and found it. I should have brought a member of the library staff, in case they didn't believe me. They did, though.
posted by weston at 5:50 PM on July 6, 2005

Oh - If that doesn't work, you can get said book used in hardcover from amazon for $30. Find someone sympathetic in cataloguing and you just cut your fine significantly.
posted by jmgorman at 5:51 PM on July 6, 2005

I was on the fines appeals committee for the University of Washington, so I can speak with a little knowledge of this. First off, even if you are sure you returned it, you have the disadvantage of being lumped with a bunch of people who are lying about having returned their books just to get out of horrible fines. Library staff members rarely want to try to assess your return claim based on merit and how sincere you seem. It's sort of in their job description to be hardass about this. When I was on the committee, it was me [a library science grad student], an undergrad student, a faculty member who I suspect had to do this because he owed the library some money, and a member of the library staff who was an advisor. The library staffer always wanted to apply maximum fines, the faculty member always wanted to let everyone off.

Your school most likely has a way to appeal library fines and you should probably figure out what it is. At the very least, it will buy you some time during which you might discover the book, they might discover the book, or someone else might discover the book someplace it isn't supposed to be. Usually if it was a first offense for late fees [especially with reserve items which can be brutal and accrue by the hour] we'd let people off and/or severely reduce their fines. For lost books, you pretty much had to have a spotless record because not only is the book unavailable for people, but it will cost the library money to replace it.

That said, people often got leniency when they returned books to remote drop boxes or far off libraries because the library honestly couldn't always say with absolute certainty that they hadn't misplaced the book either.

So, my advice to you:

- appeal the fine
- look for the book yourself in the libraries you think it might be in
- have a very coherent narrative of how you know you dropped the book off and how you looked for it elsewhere and it wasn't there. Try to basically show that you are someone who pays attention to where your books are, and you were paying attention to this book, trying to be a good book steward when you returned it because they asked you to.
- do not focus on your financial troubles, it generally won't help, most students are broke. UW was even hardass to the point of not accepting payment plans [even for people who had thousands of dollars in fines] saying that you should put it on a credit card and pay that off in installements. In short, if you have credit, they will try like hell to make you pay if it gets to that.
- worst case, you appeal and they still tell you to replace it, this is when you either a) offer to work off the fine [if you're really broke, this beats not being able to graduate] b) offer to replace the book yourself and find it on half.com for a fraction of what it would cost new.
- keep words like incompetence, inefficient and inaccurate out of your appeal. I'm not doubting your claim, just saying that if you want to win this one it might be a good idea to appear as genial as possible because the fines people have to deal with assholes all the time and if you appear not to be one of them, that will be a note in your favor. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 6:15 PM on July 6, 2005

When I was a video store geek, we ran into this problem semi-regularly.


1. Show up when the boss is there. Be as polite as possible. Get this boss person to go do a search of the shelves with you. Describe the book to them, ask about different locations that could be searched, etc. Even if the book doesn't turn up, you can still benefit from this. How? By convincing the boss person that you are serious about having returned the book, that you're not a liar, a thief, or simply too lazy to search your apartment. Believe me; I've seen it work. At the very least, I'm betting this will reduce the amount of money you are charged for the book.

2. Find out as much as you can about similar cases. How often do they happen? What does the explanation usually turn out to be? Is there any point in the re-shelving process that is more likely to generate mishaps or errors?

3. Ask whether the book could have been kept out of circulation for some reason. Perhaps a professor or student placed a hold or a reserve on the book. Perhaps one of the library's staffers noticed that it was damaged and set it aside for repair.
posted by Clay201 at 2:01 AM on July 7, 2005

If I'm right about what school you go to, there's a Student Dispute Reolution Center; it's the ombudsman's job to help you with precisely these sorts of problems. Once you've exhausted all possibilities at the library (including telling them you'll go to the ombudsman if they don't cancel the fine), you might want to use their services.
posted by louigi at 3:25 AM on July 7, 2005

If I was wrong but am right this time, there's still an ombudsman. This should be true of any university; your student society office should be able to tell you how to get in touch with them.
posted by louigi at 3:33 AM on July 7, 2005

Also, if said library has multiple collections, be sure to check each of them if you go hunting on your own.

Establish a relationship about this book with one of the librarians (the Circ/Access Manager is your best bet) as it can come back and bite you when it comes time to graduate. We routinely withold diplomas from folks with overdue books at my library.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:36 AM on July 7, 2005

Same thing happened to me once, back when I was in college. I hadn't left it in the drop box outside, but the book return inside the library. So I went to the shelf, found it, and took it to the front desk. Of course, the worker I had been arguing with was a student herself, and she was embarrassed that I found it on the shelf. After that, I made sure to get receipts for returns.
posted by cass at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2005

I've worked at a couple different university libraries, and at both I was the person who searched for items "claimed returned" by patrons.

Whereas the first university I worked at had a policy of billing unless the book was found (with a few exceptions when the fault could be easily attributed to the library and not the patron); the library I currently work at we are much more flexible and treat each claim on a case by case basis (and often end up forgiving the fines if we believe the patron's story).

Like others have said, Go to a library department head - whoever oversees the public service sector of the library and make your case; they are usually a bit more leniant about breaking policy (but not always).

Also, as someone mentioned - know your timeline and all the details of your history with that book. We always get the same story with these scenarios and 75% of the time it's not found in the library (of which, we assume most are still lost in their house/office/friends house - which turns out to be true for more than half of them). The more you can reassure them that you are not like all the other BSing basket cases, the better :)

Good luck.
posted by p3t3 at 9:17 AM on July 7, 2005

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that you said the book was recalled. Recalls typically go to a special "holds" shelf or area to await the recaller's arrival. Ask that they check the recall shelf, and if it's not there, ask, very politely, if they know who placed the original recall, and if they would be able to contact that person to see if he has the book. Make it clear that you don't want to know the person's name, you just want to know if they could, theoretically, be contact by the library. I wouldn't bother asking anyone but the circulation supervisor this, a student worker wouldn't have any authority to check those kind of records, if they are even kept.
I can see a pretty likely scenario of book going to holds shelf without being checked in, then being handed to recaller without being checked out by confused law library student worker.
posted by donnagirl at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2005

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