Do you lend books or tools?
September 5, 2005 12:31 AM   Subscribe

Do you lend your tools? Or books? If so, what tricks do you use to get them back?

In my experience, friends who borrow tools, books, tapes hardly ever get them back to me in a timely manner. It is a rare person in this era of abudance who feels obliged to quickly return a borrowed item. That delay then slowly turns into never. Not getting borrowed books back has been a complaint from the Greeks onward, indeed for as long as books have existed. But still...Most of the time, most of my tools and books are sleeping on the shelf, bored out of their little minds, just waiting to be picked up and used, which makes them so happy, so when someone asks to borrow one, and I feel they could really use it, I usually say: "Sure." Off they go, rarely to return on their own. So beyond the obvious rule of never lending anything, what tricks, tips, methods do you employ which actually increase the probability of return? Putting bright colored labels with my name on it helps a bit, but most often I am reduced to tracking my lends and then personally requesting the item's return. I wonder if others have better schemes?
posted by kk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total)
Borrow more expensive/personally valued stuff from your friends and return it on receipt of your own goods.
posted by Rothko at 12:38 AM on September 5, 2005

Whenever I visit my grandfather, I wander into his study to browse his extensive personal collection of literally thousands of books. I eventually pick up a title that holds my attention and ask him if I may borrow it for awhile. His inevitable reply is always, "Are there no libraries?".

Don't be indiscriminate with your lending. If you do lend an item then be prepared to never see it again. That's all.
posted by quadog at 12:43 AM on September 5, 2005

I only borrow important things to the closest of friends I can trust. For other friends I may borrow stuff that I can live without if it is never to be seen again. It wouldn't be a bad idea to set up a lending spreadsheet to monitor what you have lent and when so that you don't forget certain things. Oh, and never lend things out when drunk!
posted by JJ86 at 12:53 AM on September 5, 2005

People who borrow books may borrow them from several people, or they may buy a lot of similar books, so you have to make sure they remember whose books they have. Write your name in each book or use bookplates, especially if you can get a bunch that have your name printed on them. Slap one on the inside of every cover.

And you have to write down who took what and when. (They don't have to see you write it down, but make sure you do so after they leave.) Then you won't feel sheepish about asking for the book back, because you'll be certain it was Bob who borrowed it seven months ago and has had plenty of time to read it.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 AM on September 5, 2005

I loan books and use software similar to the ones listed here.

Everybody who knows me knows I take my books seriously. We agree on a due date.. and they get fined for being late, too. Anything from a drink to paying for the next dinner out to the dreaded babysitting of my 3 heathens. All in good fun, but for the most part it works.

Still I'm the one that usually has to call and say Hey, give me my book back or else. It's just not as important to them as it is to me.
posted by LadyBonita at 1:44 AM on September 5, 2005

LadyBonita strikes it right- it's more important to you to get your possession back then it is to them to give it back to you- they may not see it that way, because it's an out-of-sight/out-of-mind style thing.

Lending is an effort on the lender, not the borrower. Keep a list of names, dates, and what they borrowed. Call em, bug em, send a shylock after 'em. Just being hassled will be enough to get them to return it, in most cases.
posted by id at 1:53 AM on September 5, 2005

four words:
old school library cards.

i glue an envelope in the front of all of my books with "The Library of ..." stamped on it.

take the card, stamp it with a due date, and keep a log with all of the books that are out at the moment.

i bought mine from brodart, but i was doing it in lieu of buying expensive, personalized book plates. if you are looking for more of a budget system, i see no reason why plain old envelopes (i'd suggest manila) and 3x5 cards wouldn't work just as well. i would, though, go to an art store and at least invest the $2 in a bottle of acid-free glue.
posted by bryak at 2:00 AM on September 5, 2005

In the main, I never lend anything I expect to see again - books or films I've read or watched are better being read or watched by someone else than sitting on my shelf. The same goes with money - I'll only lend it if I can afford to lose it. If it's something vital like a guitar or something else from my studio, I'll only lend it to someone I know will return it once it's been used - and things like that tend to get borrowed to fulfil a specific need on a specific project so knowing when they're no longer required is pretty straightforward.

I guess the wider answer is that it's down to trust and respect - only lend to people whom you trust and who respect you enough to want to reunite you with you property when they've done with...
posted by benzo8 at 2:47 AM on September 5, 2005

Ordinary books? Let them go. There are some books where I've bought five or six copies, and still don't have one in my house. I write my name in the inside cover, and occasionally they float home to me after years of absence and it's like getting an old friend back. If they don't, well, I probably bought it secondhand anyway. Live's too short to worry about it.

Tools? I ask for them back when I need to use them. Why would you want them back any earlier?
posted by handee at 3:13 AM on September 5, 2005

Wow, this is a really great question. I was just thinking about a book that I lent a few years ago (with lots of reassurance from the borrower about how I would surely get it back from her) and never got back, and how annoyed I am about that. I feel like somewhat of a sucker, and I have a very long memory when it comes to my books.

Thinking about this...

Since this keeps happening, and I'm too kindhearted to refuse, maybe I'll ask for a twenty dollar bill. Cash money, baby. It's a small enough amount that I imagine most anyone has a spare twenty on them. It's enough money that the person will want it back. I'll cut it in half, and keep half. Upon return of my book, I'll give back the other half of the bill.

A couple of the other ideas I'm thinking of are not for the book lover with a delicate constitution. I am going to suggest a couple of measures that permanently mar your book's immaculate physical condition. I'm not a gentle reader, so I don't mind mutilating the book to save it, but if you're already feeling queasy and your stomach is churning you may wish to skip the next two paragraphs, or print this out and cut them out. Here are some scissor marks:


Maybe I could draw porno doodles in the empty space at the start of every chapter in my books as I read them. Then the book would be too embarrassing to keep in their house and they would be eager to return it after reading it. And the less attractive my books are to borrow, the better. I'll start looking at my lewd creations my old familiar friends when I reread my books.

Or I could resort to Fermat's Last Trick In The Book, and leave intriguing marginalia at the end. "I have something truly marvelous to tell you, but this margin is too narrow to contain it. I'll tell you when you give my book back you THIEF! (heart), evariste" That gives me a problem though, which is how do I come up with something truly marvelous to tell them every time so I'm not selling a lie? "I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to GEICO" works approximately once. "I forgot" is a letdown, as is "I lied". "Jesus gave his life to wash away your sins" is likely to get a "so the fuck what?" in my Blue state.


I could tear out the last few pages when they borrow the book, and let them read them in my presence when they return it.


I could buy from eBay, and conspicuously display, an assortment of voodoo priest accessories. Then if they want to borrow a book, I'll pull out my trusty voodoo scissors and ask for a lock of their hair, exchangeable for the book they borrowed. Then I would write their name on a kleenex in front of them, and roll the lock of hair in it, and put the whole thing in the neck of a voodoo bottle. I need to Google voodoology and make sure that this would be a realistic fake voodoo blackmail procedure.

I could also demand a naked photo. I would hand them a Polaroid camera and send them into a tiny closet with nothing but floor to ceiling, wall to wall mirrors in it. Then I would accept all their articles of clothing one by one as they disrobed, to make sure it's really a naked picture. An envelope slipped under the door, they lick and seal it and slip it back, then I hand back the clothes. Then I write the date they promise to return it on the envelope, put the envelope next to the book, and take a Polaroid of the two. The book, the date it needs to be back, both in a convenient Polaroid which I'll slip in the book. They can use it as a handy bookmark! If my book isn't back by the date, I open the envelope. The envelope goes in the trash. The picture goes on the internet, on my mildly popular blog.

Although I'm sure it will become more than *mildly* popular once the naked pictures start going up on my World Wide Web Wall of Shaming You Goddamn Deadbeats.

If it's a girl I may also use the picture as a visualization aid while I perform a private ritual of which I'm very fond. Every time I perform the ritual, I'll simply increment a plain numeric counter underneath her picture. Her imagination, squeamishness, and feminine modesty will do the heavy lifting.

Especially attractive ladies' counters will probably increment more than once a day.

Now, this one has a drawback, which is that your deadbeat may already be an amateur porn star. In this day and age of easy personal web publishing tools and a camcorder in every pot, running Microsoft software, I can personally vouch that there is a wide assortment of amateur content on the web of an extremely personal nature, often involving barnyard animals. As an editorial remark, much of this amateur content is of high quality.

To make sure that your future deadbeat (and don't kid yourself, they're all deadbeats) isn't already a famous naked internet celebrity, you'll need to do extensive amounts of research by visiting so-called "porn sites". I recommend that you do not shirk this tiresome chore.

As an incentive for yourself, you may wish to explore enjoyable private rituals of your own and perform them while you are researching, as a hallmark of the so-called "new economy" is the mixing of work and play, and multitasking is a highly valued skill. However, I have discovered through bitter experience that employers do not seem to prioritize applicants who make a point of highlighting for their attention this form of practical work experience, so you may wish to leave it off your resumé.
posted by evariste at 4:21 AM on September 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Alllrighty then...
posted by benzo8 at 4:49 AM on September 5, 2005

> Ordinary books? Let them go. There are some books where
> I've bought five or six copies, and still don't have one in my
> house.

That may work for novels and such, but it's absolutely unacceptable in the case of technical books, textbooks, reference books, or rare books that are out of print. Ask any computer geek / programmer that has bought a fair share of technical books for $30 - $60 a pop if he'd be fine with just letting them go. In college, most of my textbooks cost at least $50, some well over $100. There's no way I'm going to lend one of them out and then not worry about getting it back.

From the way the question was worded I got the impression that the poster was in fact referring to these kind of things, and not just ordinary fiction paperbacks. I do agree though that if the book was an ordinary paperback that you've already read, it may not be worth your time tracking it down -- unless you happen to have lent a lot of them out.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:11 AM on September 5, 2005

And I meant to add:

It has been my experience that those type of things (technical reference books and out of print works) are the kinds of things that people tend to want to borrow the most, since the acquisition cost is so high and they may only be needed for a specific thing.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:13 AM on September 5, 2005

My father's notorious for this. One thing he does which is marginally useful - all his tools have a band of bright yellow heat-shrink plastic round the handle. Makes them easy to spot if they've been thrown into the wrong toolbox.

Doesn't help with the sundry books, guitars, modems, CDs, antiques, etc he's "lent" to people over the years, though.
posted by Leon at 5:51 AM on September 5, 2005

This is exactly why I've been thinking of using Delicious Library. Spend a weekend with your Mac and an iSight camera, scanning in the barcodes of books/dvds/videos and I'd imagine you could rig it for tools. Then you have a searchable library, and can reorganize it however you please. AND, it has a "checkout" for friends - you can list who has it, when it was given out, their phone #, whatever. I'm sure you could compile a list of all items checked out - it looks like a gorgeous piece of software.
posted by fionab at 6:52 AM on September 5, 2005

Barcodes? If your books all have barcodes on the back, you're not much of a book lover. Even the requirement for an ISBN at LibraryThing cuts out some of my library, but only a small fraction (mostly Soviet books).
posted by languagehat at 7:18 AM on September 5, 2005

I've been loaning books online for four-plus years now (although I'm kind of on hiatus right now). I supply a return mailing envelope and postage, but don't give any deadline of how long people can keep books. It's been a mixed success. Most books come back after 2-4 months, some books never come back, and some show up again after 3 years with an apologetic note. I do absolutely nothing to get back "overdue" books, but overall, I'd say about 90% of the books come back and the others are lost to the wild. Maybe this gives you some baseline on what to expect if you start loaning books to your friends?

In my own experience of borrowing and loaning books to my friends (outside of Booklend), I'd say the books that I'm never going to get back or never going to return are all because of relationships that fell apart or because I wasn't that close to the person to begin with. It can be a huge drag to track down or return books to someone you don't really want to talk to. Anyway, I'm rambling, but generally I agree with people who say that you shouldn't loan things if you care about getting them back (in the words of Edward James Olmos, "Never loan books.")

Also... Jeremy, I have your copy of War and Peace! I'll return it soon!
posted by MarkAnd at 7:32 AM on September 5, 2005

What is so bad about asking people to return the stuff they've borrowed that you would want to avoid it so badly? It is you property and anyone with a shred of decency will make every effort to get the book back to you after just one or two polite requests.

In any case, you could simply make them agree to get you the books back by a certain date. This will work for some and give you free reign to hector everyone else.
posted by oddman at 7:48 AM on September 5, 2005

I don't loan books, DVDs, CDs, and so forth to anyone. If there's a book I like enough to recommend, I wait until it comes out in paperback and buy extras -- or find extras at used bookstores. I also don't ask others to loan me those items. It's just easier, in my opinion, not to loan those things than to have to go through the hassle of retrieving them or (more likely) buying a new copy when you can't get your original back for some reason.

I do like evariste's idea of demanding a naked photo. I may start using that one when people ask to borrow DVDs or CDs from me. "Sure, I just need to get a few nudie snapshots that I can put on the Internet if you don't return it."
posted by jzb at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2005

I usually scan other people's book/dvd/cd shelves whenever I go to their houses. "Hey, is this my copy of The Elephant Vanishes? Is this my Withnail and I?" and normally the guy apologizes for forgetting to bring them back and I leave with my stores replenished.

That said, the easiest thing to do is just change your perspective. Once you buy something and read it thoroughly, the greatest pleasure that thing can bring you is in sharing it with others, even if it's only just one other person.

Lucian of Samosata lent a book to someone who didn't read it or return it, so he set about tearing him a new one in essay form.
posted by Hildago at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2005

Thanks for the answers so far. My own efforts to up my return rate include Delicious Library. I'm about 85% of the way in cataloging my many books; I have not tried using it to record my lending yet. And remarkably, like Leon's father, I too add a yellow band to my tools to indicate they belong to me (or Leon's father!). This helps at times when my tools are on location where other tools are, say set building at the local community theater. Nudie photo collateral of the borrower is an idea I had not considered. More please!
posted by kk at 8:45 AM on September 5, 2005

Saying somebody ELSE wants to borrow it provides an amply gentle nudge, I find.

You could mention, at the moment of lending, that another friend/relative has expressed intentions of borrowing/using the item, and loosely set a time frame. Then it becomes sort of an oral agreement, and asking for the item back is usually quick and painless.
posted by Lush at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2005

languagehat writes "Barcodes? If your books all have barcodes on the back, you're not much of a book lover"

Heh. I know, I know, but there's no need to be a book snob with a literature grad student - I feel your pain! The lack of barcodes is a problem for about 1/2 of my collection, but many of those aren't being lent out casually. I have a collection of Soviet film books sans barcodes and some early black westerns that are not leaving my sight. BUT, it is a start for my more lendable items. And I know there is some kind of software that can give you a barcode for stuff. I had the idea that I'd at some point print barcodes on paper, and just slip them inside the cover (no glue or anything) for categorization, but then I realized I was probably being on the tighter end of anal for this thread. Or, you could insert little library cards in each of them, each with an assigned number, and keep track of them in Delicious that way [or another system].

But I have hundreds of books that do have barcodes, and can be loaned out to friends without too much worry - but I would still like to have those books back, and the Delicious might help me with those - it is integrated with iCal and the Address Book feature of OS X, which makes duplicate data entry relatively low. I also have dozens of obscure foreign films on DVD or VHS that the library doesn't own, and that others invariably decide they need for a class or paper. I always get those back a year or two later, and that drives me insane. All I know is that something has to change; I'm not in the business of denying friends or colleagues a book I have, but I also forget who has what, and often never see the book again, and I'm tired of re-buying or recalling a library book for a title I already have (sometimes duplicate copies!) purchased or discovered. I love sharing my stuff, but there is something about never seeing some of them again that is a bother.

Another circumstance in which some kind of tracking mechanism would be useful is that I change locations 2x a year, and I lost a box of books at some point. I would have loved to have a list of the books in that specific box, and something easy like Delicious where it was already entered would be handy.
posted by fionab at 8:55 AM on September 5, 2005

The corner of the whiteboard in my office contains a list of borrowed items and names. I make a point of writing new items in front of the person borrowing the books. This has worked perfectly for years now.

Though the delicious library things looks pretty cool.
posted by about_time at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2005

I lend books out a lot. If something's been gone for a long time, I just kind of mention to the borrower that, if they're done with it, someone else has been asking to borrow it.

I've been on the wrong side of this equation too, and it's usually a case of "oh, I need to give that back... soon".
posted by Capn at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2005

We've been using this pretty successfully. It has a setting to mark a book as lent, and who too.

Yes, you have to type the books without barcodes in, but its still pretty fast.

And even when someone wants to borrow something that isn't entered yet, they just have to wait for us to type it in - the new rule is no books leave the house unless they're in the database.
posted by korej at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2005

I use library plates in my newer books, and my name and phone number are written on the first page (the page just inside the cover) of the older books. I got an iSight for my birthday and I'm starting the Delicious Library treatment tomorrow after kids go back to school.

For tools... our name is engraved conspicuously on all our tools with a Dremel tool. Screwdrivers are engraved on the plastic or wood handles; hammers on the shaft; power tools likewise. You get the idea.
posted by lambchop1 at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2005

Not really for books, but more on the end of tools and such: Every pothead knows how hard it is to keep track of lighters, and how often someone else's lighter randomly turns up in your pocket. On a plain, unmarked Bic lighter, I never use it until all the fluid is gone; I lose it long before it stops being useful. I started putting Hello Kitty stickers on all my lighters, or wrapping them in Hello Kitty contact paper. Everyone I know knows my terrible secret love of Hello Kitty, and my lighters stand out, so no one stole them; because they were more recognizable and also adorable, I didn't lose them in my typical absent-minded stoner fashion. I've managed to keep all my Hello Kitty lighters until they went dead, which is a pretty neat accomplishment, if also sort of lame.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:19 PM on September 5, 2005

books are meant for sharing. I have never ever missed a book that I have lent to someone else (because often I don't lend, I give), and usually it goes to someone else down the line who gets to read it as well. Most of my friends are similarly generous.

I don't think i'd lend a book to someone who, themselves, would be hellbent on getting lent items back in some sort of particular timeframe -- although, then again, i probably imagine that's not the type of person I'd associate with anyways.

that said, I don't own any rare books, or particularly expensive ones, and I rarely buy books new. If i ever wanted a book back, I'd just walk down to the used bookstore and buy another copy (which would probably cost me what, $10? the equivalent of buying a round for friends.)

as for tools, I second the "ask for it back when you need it back" reply that was given earlier. It's nice to have a tool waiting and ready in the garage, but not so much that I need to make sure it's idle when someone else could be using it.
posted by fishfucker at 12:48 PM on September 5, 2005


My brain was off on some other planet drinking beer when I wrote about "the requirement for an ISBN at LibraryThing"; LibraryThing does not require any such thing. It's extremely cool: "LibraryThing is an online service that allows you to catalog your books easily... In addition to cataloging your own books, LibraryThing allows you to check out other people's libraries, tells you who has similar tastes, etc... Tags are particularly useful for searching and sorting, when you need a list of all your novels or all the books at the summer home." Check it out!
posted by languagehat at 1:44 PM on September 5, 2005

I only lend books if someone asks me directly and says "please" really irresistably. I've lost too many books by lending so I'm now a bit of a bastard about it.

I always make a note in my diary so I don't forget who has what. I never cease to be appalled by how long borrowers will hang on to someone else's property. (I don't borrow myself; I think it's a low-level rudeness to do so.) When someone does cow-eye me into lending a book I fix them with my most Lecteresque gaze and inform them in a low, quiet tone, that I will be severely displeased if I have to ask for them to return it. This sometimes results in a, "Jesus, if you feel like that about it, forget it" reaction, which is the ideal result. But if they insist on being uncouth enough to brazen it out, I generally find I get my books back promptly - or at least regular apologies and status reports.
posted by Decani at 5:12 PM on September 5, 2005

Man! I could have had "best answer" status if I'd gotten here on time. I use about_time's system with equally perfect results.
posted by Aknaton at 6:40 PM on September 5, 2005

When I "loan" something, it's a gift. I use to get my book back, by buying a new copy.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be, For loan oft loses both itself and friend."
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:31 AM on September 6, 2005

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