Library Waives Damaged-book Fees in Exchange for Pet and Baby Photos

Courtesy of Stephanie Thomsen
Stephanie Thomsen with her 1-year-old Australian labradoodle, Sky, who recently ate part of her library book.

We like to think our furry friends are always very good boys and girls, but sometimes they chew on things they shouldn’t: furniture, clothing, large sums of cash and books. Lots of books.

Libraries across the country regularly receive returned books with a love bite or two. The Middleton Public Library in Middleton, Wis., is no exception.

“We totally get that accidents happen,” said Katharine Clark, the deputy director of the library.

In the past, people who returned damaged books would be responsible for funding a replacement.

“Sometimes they feel nervous about coming to tell us,” Clark said. “We don’t want a damaged thing to wreck their relationship with the library.”

So, Middleton Public Library staff hatched a plan. They created a new policy.

Damaged book charges are waived under one condition: the patron must submit a photo of the cat, dog (or sometimes child) behind the transgression.

“We just thought it would be a fun little thing that we could do at our library,” said Clark, adding that they were inspired by the Worcester Public Library’s “March Meowness” initiative, which forgave fines for damaged or lost library books if patrons sent in a photo of a cat – theirs or someone else’s.

“It’s really showing a fun side to the library,” said Clark, adding that when they began the policy, they decided to post the pet photos on social media, with the approval of the person who sent them.

“We understand that library materials can look delicious to pets and young children, so the Middleton Public Library has unveiled a new policy for fatally chomped materials: in lieu of payment for the item, we would like to offer you the option of submitting a photo of the beloved culprit,” the library wrote in its first Facebook post about the policy, featuring a dog named Daisy who chewed on “The Guest” by B.A. Paris.

Enthusiastic comments poured in.

“*resists temptation to feed library books to my cat just so I can share pics*” someone wrote.

Clark said she didn’t anticipate the library’s new policy would take off, but sure enough, by the second post – about an American water spaniel named Quik who devoured a novel – thousands of people started sharing it. The post was liked more than 18,000 times.

Jeff Gearhart
Quik, an American water spaniel, who devoured a novel.

“For context, we’re normally thrilled to see a few dozen likes. It’s been fascinating to watch how a post gains virality,” said Rebecca Light, a librarian who works on the library’s social media team. “We’ve seen comments, shares and follows from all over the world.”

Since unveiling the policy at the end of April, four canine culprits have come forward – including Stephanie Thomsen’s 1-year-old Australian labradoodle, Sky.

“He chews up shoes quite a bit. He has never gone after a book,” Thomsen said.

That changed a few weeks ago, when Sky was sitting on her bed and Thomsen left the room for a few minutes. She came back, and he was gnawing at the edge of “Iron Flame” by Rebecca Yarros.

When Thomsen went to return the damaged book, she expected to pay for it. But the library told her she could send a photo of her dog instead.

“It’s showing grace and understanding,” she said. “Also, this is a way to promote libraries being fun and welcoming.”

Library patron Jean Ligocki recently discovered her borrowed book “Lifelong Yoga” had been chomped. There were two suspects.

“We didn’t know if it was Ward or Ned, but knowing their personalities, we think Ward is the culprit,” said Ligocki, noting that she has two goldendoodles at home – Ned, 8, and Ward, 7. “Ward has quite the appetite and likes to chew things.”

Ligocki was happy to learn of the library’s new policy – which she said is both amusing and equitable.

“Anything that keeps access open to people who might be disadvantaged and might not have the money to pay for a damaged book fee, I love that,” she said.

The library plans to keep the policy going indefinitely.

“People love their pets, and people love reading,” Clark said. “This marries two things that people love.”