Created By: Ian on July 18, 2011 Last Edited By: Catbert on March 10, 2015

Ludicrously Large Library Late Fine

Up For Grabs

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Up for Grabs

What do I do? What do I do? This library book is 42 years overdue. I admit that it's mine but I can't pay the fine-- Should I turn it in or hide it again? What do I do? What do I do?
-- Overdues, Shel Silverstein

Basic rule of the library: get your books back on time or pay a fine. It's a trivial amount, just 5 cents per day overdue, but what if you forgot to return it for a really, really long time? Years later when you discover said book, a feeling of dread wells up within you. You want to return the book, you really do, but the pennies-a-day have added up, and that late fee is now a four or five figure amount. Doing the right thing is really going to cost you, and don't expect any sympathy from the Scary Librarian.

Rest assured, there is of course, little real-life basis to this trope; libraries cap their fees well below the cost of replacing the book, as they would rather not be inconvenienced with having to do so. Still, for the sake of comedy most shows overlook this.

Needs a Better Title ---


  • In the Rick Moranis film Big Bully, Moranis' character returns to his old hometown only to discover that the elementary school librarian still remembers him and expects to be compensated for a book (Green Eggs and Ham) he checked out in first grade and never returned.

Live-Action TV
  • Lister's first concern after emerging from a 3 million year cryostasis.
  • An unfortunate library patron from an episode of Between the Lions has to pony up. Although considering the library is run by lions, this trope is far from the worst thing that could have happened to him.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • July 18, 2011
    • An episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog had Courage try to pay several thousand dollars for an overdue library book. To make matters worse, the Scary Librarian cursed the book causing it to turn whoever touched it into characters from said book (It turned Eustace into a pirate and Muriel into a pixie).
  • July 18, 2011
  • July 18, 2011
    Oh, and I propose Absurdly High Late Fee - just a thought.
  • July 18, 2011
    Seinfeld: Jerry is tracked down by a library security officer for a book 20 years overdue. Jerry claims he returned the book but ends up paying the fine, the amount of which is not revealed. (Kramer says that at 5 cents a day it'll be $50,000.)
  • July 18, 2011
  • July 19, 2011
    Also, libraries will contact the customer by sending a reminder letter or a few. Additionally, you WILL know that the book was lost any time you visit a library within the system again, as library policies generally disallow loaning to customers who have old unreturned, unreplaced loands, or who have accumulated a certain amount of unpaid fees.
  • July 19, 2011
    Real Life example: In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, there are various automated toll-roads. Drive on one, and instead of stopping at a tollbooth, you simply drive under a camera that snaps a shot of your license plate, and a bill is sent to the address the car is registered under. However, if the bill is sent somewhere else, or maybe you just forget to pay the bill, the late fees rack up to ludicrous extremes. For example, someone could have a total bill in the hundreds of dollars for $10 of tolls.
  • July 19, 2011
    Not a library example, but a Freak Brothers comic had an imaginary story in which they took their car out of a parking ramp after ten years in storage. The fee was over three hundred million dollars, although much of that was inflation.
  • July 19, 2011
  • July 19, 2011
    According to this source, George Washington owes $300,000 for some books he didn't return.

    Rest assured, there is of course, little real-life basis to this trope; libraries cap their fees well below the cost of replacing the book, as they would rather not be inconvenienced with having to do so.

    Not true. While many libraries put a cap at the replacement value of the book, others have no cap.

    According to the Guinness World Records, the largest fine ever paid was $345.14, the amount owed at two cents a day for the poetry book Days and Deeds checked out of Kewanee Public Library, Illinois, USA in April 1955 by Emily Canellos-Simms. Although the book was due back 19 April 1955, Emily found it in her mother's house 47 years later and presented the library with a check for overdue fines.

    Late Library Books Can Take Toll on Credit Scores - The largest overdue accounts he can recall have reached $10,000.

  • July 19, 2011
    Not sure if this counts, since the amount was never specified, but Cordelia in Buffy The Vampire Slayer mentions that she had a philosophy book out for a very long time in order to attract college boys. When she had to take it back, the fine was huge.
  • July 19, 2011
  • July 19, 2011
    Hayate The Combat Butler has Hayate given one of these by his parents, though it's from a video rental store.
  • July 22, 2011
    Another Real Life example: According to one report, foreign embassies in the U.K. owe a fortune in late fees for failure to pay a "congestion levy". However, according to some, the levy may violate international law.
  • July 23, 2011
    I wonder if this can be expanded to include other forms of absurd late penalties....

    For example, in Space Quest 2, after Roger acquired a "free" Labion Terror Beast Mating Call Whistle via a mail order, he apparently didn't have buckazoids to cover the shipping and handling -- by Space Quest 3, said cost had compounded so much interest that the advertising corporation sent a Terminator-like robot assassin after Roger. And later, in Space Quest 5, sent a she-robot assassin after him for the same reason.
  • July 23, 2011
    This would presumably be a subtrope of Shockingly Expensive Bill - there certainly seem to be enough examples!

    Possible alternate title: "Obscenely Overdue, Ridiculous Reparations"
  • July 23, 2011
    There was a fine of over 10,000 Pounds for a book that was returned 288 years overdue. Since the borrower was long dead, the fine was waived.
  • February 20, 2012
    Played with in the Doctor Who animated story The Infinite Quest: The Doctor visits a prison planet and is arrested for a number of crimes including planetary demolition and overdue library books and is given a sentence of 2 billion years. The Fake Governor quips: "He really should have taken back those library books!"
  • February 20, 2012
    The Dallas Library system briefly experimented with having warrants issued for overdue books. It was not a popular policy. Other systems have tried it as well:
  • February 20, 2012
    We haven't heard form Ian in forever. I'm slapping an Up For Grabs on this.
  • February 21, 2012
    Kramer cannot do Math. 50000$ at five cents a day would be appropriate for 2700 years, not twenty. Sundays and holidays included. Unless that library also wanted compounded interest.
  • April 3, 2014
    In Big Finish Doctor Who 111 The Doomwood Curse The Sixth Doctor travels through time in order to bring back a book which he had in his possession for over 300 years. He describes the fees the Alexandrians would exact would be "Many and painful."
  • April 4, 2014
    In a Freak Brothers story set in a dystopian future, they take their car out of parking after ten years, and the bill is over 400 million dollars. However there's evidently been some inflation because Franklin says "Oh, that's not so much" and Phineas digs for a billion-dollar bill.
  • March 10, 2015
    Western Animation
    • [[Western Animation/Arthur]]: One episode has Arthur lose a popular library book he had just checked out. One night he dreams that the librarian punishes him by forcing him to have a giant and extremely long chain attached to the book, which she can reel back in (along with him) anytime so he doesn't lose another. Yikes! Good thing it was just a dream.