This story was originally published in Newsday on January 31, 2002
The DVD pickings are slim at North Babylon Public Library these days.
"An Officer and a Gentleman" sits above a series of idle travel videos. A Tina Turner music selection lies below those.
The depleted selection has library director Marc Horowitz shaking his head in disbelief.
Ninety-four of the library's DVDs were systematically checked out by three patrons in September and October, never to be returned, Horowitz said. Two of the patrons owe more than $1,300 each in replacements fees and fines; a third owes about $422.
Horowitz never thought attending court would fall under his job responsibilities. But there he was in Second District Court in Deer Park yesterday pleading his case to Dennis Perlberg, a court-appointed arbitrator.
"We had three people that systematically and methodically proceeded to take out ... pretty much our whole DVD collection," he said.
The patrons, listed on court documents as James Simpson, Salvatore Savattere Jr. and Anthony Patino, all of Babylon, were no-shows in court. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Horowitz is asking for a court order to get the DVDs back and have the fines paid. Perlberg told him that a decision would be sent in the mail.
Taking patrons to court is rare, librarians say, but not unheard of. Nationwide there have been cases of patrons being sued and even arrested for failing to return overdue materials.
On Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk librarians can recall only one other case.
Jerry Nichols, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, the coordinating agency for Suffolk's 55 libraries, said that the Freeport Memorial Library had a policy in the mid-'80s of suing patrons who owed more than $200.
"It's the libraries' responsibility to protect the property of the community," Nichols said, lauding Horowitz's efforts.
However, a more common approach has been to hire collection agencies to recover overdue materials, said Maurice Freedman, president-elect of the American Library Association and director of the Westchester Library System.
Most Nassau libraries place limits on the number of materials that can be checked out, said Jackie Thresher, director of the Nassau Library System.
"When a certain amount of material is owed, your borrowing privileges are suspended," she said. "You don't want to inconvenience people and be too petty but you don't want to let it build it up."
Limits are especially crucial for popular items like DVDs, she said.
The North Babylon library has a five-DVD limit, but Horowitz said the three patrons were able to check out many more because they went to different clerks and the library had no system to show how many DVDs an individual had borrowed. The library now has that.
"These three cases were exceptional," he said. "This is not representative of the community."