Stealing donated items - is there case law on this?

I volunteer at my local library. People donate books to the library that they no longer want (everything from bestsellers to ancient romance novels.) The staff look at them to see if there is anything that should be added to the collection, then I put stickers* on the rest and put them out in the lobby for people to take and read.

Awhile back, I noticed a guy taking an armload of books. I politely asked him if he was going to read all those books and he said he had some relatives who were shut-ins and he got books for them.

This morning, I stopped by a house that has been advertising a book sale every weekend this summer. Yep, it was the same guy. He had over 1000 books for sale in his garage and I found a couple that were clearly from the Adopt-a-book program (I remembered this odd cookbook series.) He had cut the stickers out of the back cover. I didn’t look for more but I believe that every book he had for sale was from the giveaway program.

I just sent an email to the library director telling her about this and saying that I would be willing to provide a statement to the police saying that I had seen this guy taking the donated books that he later had for sale.

IIRC, there is case law that repeatedly taking free items from a non-profit organization and selling them for profit is a crime. Is that correct?



  • “This book provided by the Lewis and Clark Library Adopt-a-Book program” with the library URL and logo.

FWIW, unless you give something away with conditions or specifically prohibit dealers from poaching your unwanted donations, you’ve got no beef here. You put things out for people to take away for free. Once they have them, what they do with them is their business.

I am not a lawyer, but I am a librarian, and I do deal regularly with book donations. Out of curiosity, is there a reason your library does not use these donations for book sale items? Every library I have ever worked at did this to raise additional petty cash.

The library doesn’t want the hassle of storing the books between sales and setting up a sale. Not my call.

We’re talking a LOT of books - 30,000 last year.

He’s a jerk of the highest order but I have to agree with Knead that unless you had restrictions on who could take the books or limits he really did nothing legally wrong. You should either sell the books for a small fee as Knead suggested or limit the amount of books one person can take, maybe even get a stamp for the books “Free books from Adopt-A-Book program - Not for resale” and stamp it all over the books inside and out and along the edges.
I would have been hard-pressed not to loudly exclaim at his garage sale “Hey, these are the books we were giving away free at the library and he wants how much fo it!”

It’s up to the local prosecutor if he/she wants to try to spin this into a charge. Kneadtoknow is right in that you DID give him the books, but the local DA could spin it into a charge that it was a conditional gift: That the man knew that the books were for personal reading, not for profit use, and he took them for profit anyways. Could be a misdemeanor “obtaining goods by false pretenses” or whatever the law is in your state.

But even if the DA agreed, a court would ultimately have to decide if what this man did was criminal or not. My guess is that your local government has more important things to do that prosecute library book donation theft.

I can understand your anger, and you should tell the man that he is not welcome at anymore book giveaways, but criminal charges are a little much here, IMHO. I doubt that they are going to put Sonny Crockett on the case. :wink:

I would agree that although the guy takes assholity to the ultimate degree he hasn’t done anything illegal - you did leave the books out for people to take without specifying any conditions, and while the library “doesn’t want the hassle” of setting up a book sale the asshole could still argue that the library should have done that anyway if they cared about what happened to the books.

He had your permission to take the items, so a theft charge is pretty unlikely. I suppose you could ban him specifically, but what if he sends in a minion to collect books for him?

I suggest you work with him; make it easier for him to pick up your leftovers, and get a 5% cut of his revenues.

OK, thanks. That’s why I turn to the Dope - everyone else’s memory is better than mine.

I’ll just talk to him the next time I see him at the library or maybe go sit in front of his house with a big sign that says, “These books were provided for free by your local library, this asshat wants you to give him money for them.”

Or see what the local ordinances are on home business and how many days you can have a yard sale.


I wonder what the taxman would have to say about it, or even city ordinances about setting up a business in a residential place.

More than one way to deal with a person like this.

If you do this, please collect the 5% cut up front.

Do you have a local newspaper?

Write an article or a letter to the editor about this. Include his full name, and see if the shame this brings on him will change his behavior.

(Because of libel laws, be very sure that everything you say is true. Don’t accuse him of theft; that is a specific crime and it’s unclear if this qualifies. Instead say that in your opinion it is unethical. And don’t say that ALL the books he is selling were appropriated from the Library, say that several you checked were, and that you have frequently seen him take large numbers of books from the library.)

That’s what I’d do. Here in CA there are regs about how often you can have a “garage sale”. It would not suprise me he was in violation of some similar reg. The fact he is being a dickhead to the good people at the library will better prompt local code enforcement to take action.

Even if he can not be convicted at of a crime the law enforcement can try with a willing DA. If the police show up and charge him with anything for his asshattery, even if he can’t in the end be convicted, he might think twice about abusing his local library for fun and profit even if just to avoid the hassle.

Good Gawd Almighty! Am I being whooshed?

You guys don’t want the books. He apparently does. You should give them to him. All of them.

My daughter is a librarian. They get tons of donated books. And let’s face it, most of them are awful. Microwave cookbooks. Book of the month club selections. Reader’s Digest Condensed books from the '50s. Women’s pornography—truck loads of that romance stuff.

People don’t donate Sandburg’s 6 volumn “Abraham Lincoln” (Sangamon edition). They sell it. What you get is what couldn’t be given away. Really, people are dumping on you.

The librarians sort out the ones that might be salable and put them in a corner where the patrons can get them for 25 cents to a couple of bucks. The rest go in the dumpster; otherwise they would just pile up.

So one day they found a guy with a pickup taking all those books. He’s retired. He makes some good pocket change at, eBay, and yard sales. He also has a fireplace for the cold months. Very efficient.

So they made a deal with him. They save them for him and when they get a certain amount they call.

Everybody’s happy. What’s not to like? They are a library. They’re not the Salvation Army.

But call the cops if that’s what you want to do. What’s the charge—illegal possession of books? I can’t think of a crime that this falls under.

Being an asshole isn’t a crime. Hey—you don’t see me doing time, do you?

Not everybody’s happy, cookeze. I’m sure the people the books were intended for aren’t. The books were offered as a charitable donation to anyone who wanted to read them. Instead, one person swept up the whole bundle (under the false pretense that he was passing them on to shut-ins) and is now selling them - presumedly to the same people who would have otherwise gotten them for free.

I don’t understand you. It’s a library. They have books to lend. You can get them to read for free. Nobody is going without reading material.

By the way, how do the people the books were “intended for” know they are the intended ones? Or that they are missing their books? I would have thought that finding someone who wanted them was a lucky break.

Also, maybe the guy did offer the books to his relatives. And they didn’t want every single one of them. How do you know?

And if I were taking some free books and someone came up to me and questioned me about it, I’m afraid that my reply would have woken up every sleeping bum in the building and taught all the kiddies a few choice new words.

The thing is, at the libraries I know personally about, donated books are a nuisance. You wouldn’t believe the junk people read. And it piles up quickly.

There are thrift stores where you can get paperbacks for a quarter. Hardbacks for 50 cents. Books that are donated are not a rare commodity. Having librarians or volunteers tend to them is a waste of resourses.

God, I wish I could get certain people to understand that.

Just to play devil’s advocate here. What makes the library think they can ban any ONE person from making use of the free books on the cart out front? Couldn’t that man just as easily say, " You cannot ban me from taking some books, while you allow Joe Schmo or Janey Brainey to take books. I live here. I pay identical municipal taxes, a part of which goes to the budget for the town library."

I do agree that what he did was pretty skeevy. But just as a D.A. may be hard pressed to do something, your library will be equally hard pressed to prove that you have the right to selectively give way free books that were for all intents and purposes a part of a library system that is supported by the taxes paid by The Schmuck.

Just a thought.

Or, to put it another way, what about someone who gets something through Freecycle, then sells it on eBay for $ 200.00 ? Do the owe Freecycle some cash? Do they owe the former owner of the item cash? I doubt it.


I have to agree entirely with cookiez. The jerk has done nothing illegal and is not “wrongfully converting” the books to cash. Nor, as I read it, is he taking ALL the books available at any given time, so what he is doing is maybe not even all that jerkish.

I think if the library was putting them in the dumpster, and this guy was “saving” them, everyone would feel differently. But actually it is not different at all. The library cannot use these books nor do they profit from them. If they want the books to benefit some specific group of people (old folks, soldiers, homeless shelters, whatever) they should donate them directly. If they are “free to the public” well - this guy is the public.

What setup? What storage? If you’re putting them out in the lobby for people to take, just hang a sign that says “book sale - fifty cents,” and collect the money at the desk. That’s what my library does. If you’re not doing this as a fundraiser, I really don’t understand the point of the exercise. At $0.50 a book, you’re giving away $15k a year.

If the volume of books concerns you, you can find a wholesaler who will pay you for large lots, or make an arrangement with a local used bookstore, or get a volunteer to sell them on ebay. I’d wager that hundreds of libraries are doing the same thing.