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A Shipping Container Isn't a Library Book

A Shipping Container Isn't a Library Book

USA Today reports that the Pentagon has paid $720 million in late fees for rented shipping containers since 2001. Seven-hundred-and-twenty million dollars.

One specific thing did stand out for me--and probably not for many others--in the story:

The cost stems from the mistaken belief that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be brief and late fees would be minimal, said John Pike executive director of, a defense policy group.

"This is real money," Pike said. "And we've spent a lot of it on what amounts to fines for overdue library books."

A quick note, though: Military supplies aren't library books. As "transporting" (as eighteenth century writers were especially fond of saying) as books can be, and as much as technologies like bookmobiles can transport books, Pike's conflation is rather distressing--and wrong on several fronts.

First of all, despite the WWII-era insistence that books were weapons in the war of ideas, books don't fight wars. They've pretty frequently started them and, perhaps, occasionally ended them. But library books, in particular, seem an odd and troubling comparison.

Second of all, library fines go to funding the operation of a key civic institution in our democracy. These late fees take the money freely given by the taxed for the betterment of the country and, for deeply idiotic reasons, give them to corporations.

Third of all...huh?

[re-posted from bookmobility, my blog about information on the move]


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