Putting Public Library Books in the US Mail

I’ve been told by someone that if you check out a book in City A, then travel to City B, you can just place the book in the mail from City B, and it will wind up back in the original public library via US Mail.

Has anyone ever heard of this? Not considering the amount of damage inflicted on a book if it traveled through the mail, I’m questioning how “acceptable” doing this would be (even if you could protect the book somehow).


That isn’t true in the US - at least, when I worked at a library (for about 2 years), I don’t recall receiving a book that way even once. We did have several instances of people mailing books back to us, but you seem to be saying “just drop the book in a mailbox and it’ll make its way back.”

Sure, all you have to do is put it in a wrapping with the appropriate postage and the address of the library printed legibly on it.

You know what I mean… without the packing/postage. No one has ever heard of this? I hadn’t, just wanted confirmation…

The USPTO requires that all packages be labelled with a delivery address, and the postage paid for (either prepaid or somehow arranged by the addressee). Unless a book has an address on the outside and something saying “postage prepaid by XYZ Library” or something like that, then it would not be an acceptable piece of mail.

My guess would be that your friend has heard the USPS term “Library Mail” and is misinterpreting it.


We also recently had a thread on library services and ILL and there was talk about returning a book from a different library system to another library system. For example, you checked a book out from the City of X Public Library and returned it to the City of Y Public Library, you may be liable for delays in Y sending the book back to X.

I can’t mail package that way anymore! :smack:

So what would happen if you dropped an unpackaged and un-stamped library book in a mailbox? Would the post office just throw it in their undeliverable pile, or would they eventually attempt to return it to its proper home?

WAG: it would depend on A) the kindness of the postal workers, and B) where the mailbox was vs. where the library was. If it was a mailbox on a streetcorner six blocks from the library, it might get home. If it was six states away? Probably not.

This thread reminded me of something. When I was much, much younger it seemed like most motels had tags on their room keys with their addy and messages such as “POSTAGE WILL BE PAID BY ADDRESSEE” and “DROP IN ANY MAILBOX” printed on them in case you drove off with the key in your pocket instead of leaving it in the room.

Having worked in a library, I can tell you that is almost certainly not true.

Libraries would rarely accept books returned at another branch, and as someone pointed out, you would generally be liable for late fees incurred up until the book was checked in at the branch it was checked out of.

That the post office would deliver something and the library would accept it sounds far fetched.

**Related topic. ** I seem to recall a TV news show in the 80s saying that pickpockets and purse snatcher will often get rid of the evidence by dumping them in postal drop boxes, and carriers would use any ID left to return said wallet/purse to their rightful owners. Was that ever true or am I thinking of some urban legend?

This depends completely on the policies of the library system. It may be “certainly not true” at the library where you worked, but is quite true here in Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Library system lets you return books checked out from any library to any one of the 14 library sites. And no fines, as long as it isn’t overdue yet. (They all use the same centralized computer system, so it’s just checked back in at any location.)

And thru inter-library agreements, you can go to the Hennepin County Library System, across the river to the St. Paul Libraries, or to most suburban libraries, and return a book there. Most often, that library records the date the book was returned there, and if it’s before the due date you won’t get fines. If you do, you can appeal this to the Mpls Library, with a fair chance of getting it waived or reduced. (Or just decide the 10¢/day isn’t worth your time to fight about.) You can even check out a book from them, or any public library in Minnesota, thru the Minneapolis Library System.

How long ago was it that you “worked in a library”?
Nowdays, are eager for patrons to use their collections, and try to make it as easy as they can for their customers.

I would think they would return it, but somehow charge the library for it. Which the library might charge to the person.

Not quite the same thing, but I had some outgoing mail stolen once (apparently the thieves thought there were checks inside) and the opened and discarded envelopes and contents were found at a local mall. The post office mailed back the remains to me.

It happened to my friend in the late 1980s. She and I were at the panda house at the National Zoo in DC and her wallet was stolen from her purse. About a week later, it was mailed to her. The thief had taken the cash and credit cards and tossed it in a mailbox. The post office then sent it to her using the address on her driver’s license.

Well it wasn’t a wallet or purse but I carelessly dropped my electric bill envelope with check inside into a mail slot along with some letters.

I stopped payment on the check and made out another which took care of the bill and forgot about it.

A month or so later I got a notice from the Post Office lost mail (or something like that) unit saying that they had destroyed the check and the bill.

This is, of course, different from a wallet or purse. I’m pretty sure that only Postal Inspectors are allowed to open mail that is undeliverable because of a faulty address, or for any other reason. I don’t know whether the same thing would apply to a wallet or purse dropped in a mail box.

But why would a thief do this? The nearest dumpster, street or sidewalk is more convenient.

I’m not following you there, David. Where were you supposed to drop it? I thought that once you put the check into the envelope, you were supposed to put the envelope in the mail.

It’s supposed to have a stamp on it. In any case, the place to drop it around here is in the slot to the in-box in the front door of the So Cal Edison office. That was my plan and that’s why the envelope didn’t have a stamp or a return address and that’s why it ended up as undeliverable.