Durango residents love books.
Apparently, they do not love returning them to the library.
In fact, according to information obtained from the city in late June through the Colorado Open Records Act, the Durango Public Library is owed nearly $30,000 by patrons in overdue fees, with 10,539 distinct people owing the library money. To provide some scale, consider this: The most recent U.S. Census shows that there are 17,557 residents in the city of Durango. You do not, however, have to be a city resident to have a Durango library card.
The financial cost of Durango residents’ habit of keeping books out past their due date would make bookkeepers wince.
By May, DPL said it has already collected $13,236 from patrons who belatedly returned library books and other materials in 2015.
In 2013, the library collected $35,236 from patrons in overdue fines for all library materials; just two books that were checked out that year remain unreturned.
In 2014, the library collected $32,868 from tardy patrons; 461 books checked out in 2014 are still overdue.
Though Durango residents have paid large sums in previous years for not punctually returning library books, many library patrons have avoided a final reckoning.
The information provided by the city shows that 2,545 library books are currently overdue.
According to the library’s accounts outstanding, thousands of library cardholders persist in welshing on what amounts to a total unpaid bill of $27,491 in late fees.
DPL Director Sandy Irwin refused to release the names of the library’s biggest deadbeat patrons, saying it violated patrons’ privacy.
According to the open-records request, the Durango library’s largest five debtors owe: $801.75; $680.84; $564; $553.35 and $518.81.
The size of some Durango library patrons’ arrears startled Marcia Vining, a librarian at Ignacio Public Library.
“That’s crazy to me,” she said. “We cap all our book fines at $5, so the only way a person could wrack up a fine like that here is if they took out more than 50 books at once and never returned them. But that’s obviously very rare,” she said.
Any Durango resident who has failed to promptly pay a parking ticket knows the exponential rate at which debts to the city can increase.
The level of indebtedness the library’s most delinquent patrons have achieved is all the more impressive given the library charges only 10 cents a day for overdue books. After a few weeks, if an overdue item still is not returned, the library usually writes it off as lost and merely charges the patron for the cost of replacing it.
Still, years later, the library holds out hope for some long-missing volumes, including Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss, a book that has not been seen since one library-card holder checked it out May 29, 2012.
One of the tardiest library books still at large is National Book Award winner, The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, which someone checked out Oct. 29, 2013, and never returned, dealing a serious literary blow to the library’s collection of more than 113,000 titles.
While of a lesser intellectual pedigree, the ongoing absence of other novels from library shelves are likely to cause series fans emotional distress: including Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, the second title in the multi-volume vampire romance, which was checked out Sept. 17, 2012; Winter Study, the 14th installment in Nevada Barr’s 18-volume Anna Pegion series (missing as of Jan. 30, 2014); and a sequel Crossed by Ally Condie (Feb. 20, 2014).
Regionally, there is precedent for prodigal library books returning home after the passage of decades. In April 1995, someone returned a book that was checked out from Silverton Public Library in 1935, despite it being 60 years overdue.
“At the rate in effect when the book was checked out, the accumulated fine would now be over $500. (Librarian Jackie Liethauser) is pondering some mitigating circumstances,” wrote the Silverton Standard & the Miner.
DPL director Irwin said even books that get returned on time test librarians’ mercy.
She said in her time at the Durango library, the staff has received one book that was “covered in laundry detergent,” another that had been dropped in the Animas River and another that was “completely covered in mud.”
That was probably the weirdest one.”