News / Toronto

Student learns importance of punctuality after returning library book 10 years late

English student Joe Howell rented Oscar Wilde drama in 2006 but U of T staff reduced his fine from $2,000 to $50.

University of Toronto student Joe Howell holds a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays at the university’s Robarts Library on November 19, 2016. Howell returned the book Nov. 16 after it accrued more than $2,000 in late fees.

Dylan C. Robertson/For Metro

University of Toronto student Joe Howell holds a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays at the university’s Robarts Library on November 19, 2016. Howell returned the book Nov. 16 after it accrued more than $2,000 in late fees.

A University of Toronto student was fined more than $2,000 this month after returning his library book a decade late.

Fortunately, library staff opted not to throw the book at him.

English student Joe Howell left his studies for a full-time job in 2009, forgetting about a copy of Oscar Wilde’s plays he checked out in 2006. He’s since taken occasional courses, but forgot about the book tucked away in his apartment.

But on a recent visit to Robarts Library, staff told Howell he’d accrued more than $2,000 in late fees.

“I was hoping that like Oscar Wilde, they were making some sort of joke,” said Howell.

Luckily, the university dropped the fee down to a $50 restocking fee. The book itself, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, sells for $15.

“He was a pretty panicked guy,” Terry Correia, the library’s loan services supervisor, said with a chuckle. “I hope he had enough time to enjoy the book.”

Correia says students come forward “at least once a week” with $100 or more in fines. They often find out after graduating, when they can’t get a transcript because of unpaid fines. If students lose a book, they pay a $145 fine.

“We try to be reasonable. If they’re happy, we’re happy,” said Correia.

Howell says it’s a cautionary tale for anyone with a nagging feeling they’ve forgotten about their books. Ironically, he'd written about the overdue book in a 2010 humour column.

“I'm glad that this little drama ended up being a comedy and not a tragedy,” he said.

Food for Fines approach pays off

Librarians at University of Toronto campuses are taking a kinder approach to holding book borrowers accountable. All week long, they’re waiving the $2 fine for a late return in exchange of a non-perishable food items – from baby food and canned provisions to juice boxes and salad dressings.

Since 2012 campus librarians have been conducting the Food for Fines program during the holiday season, with donated items benefiting the school’s food bank. Last year saw the participation of over 1,400 students, totaling $2,594.75.

Metro Savers