“Man muss”: Returning Library Books

Once I figured out how to be allowed inside the library, it was only a small matter of time before some other obstacle raised its head. In this case, I didn’t bring a library book back…correctly.

“How many ways are there to do this?” you may wonder. In Germany, there is only one way to do anything. It just always happens to have multiple steps, which inevitably end in me holding multiple pieces of paper that can go right in the trash. And sometimes I am also crying. Thankfully, it was only one of these this time.

I returned a book to the library the day before it was due, leaving it on the counter as I checked out some more books that I was taking out. Seems fair, yes? It was going back to its home behind the big scary library counter, and a quick scan on the computer would surely check it back in.*


I got an overdue notice a few days later over e-mail, and had to go to three different libraries within the library (don’t ask) to sort the whole thing out. I didn’t try to explain this in German once I realized that it was technically my fault, but it turns out that when you return a book, you can’t just drop it off at the desk and go on your carefree way. You have to check the book back in, same as you checked it out, and you are given a receipt. A receipt for what? To state that you checked the book back in. I would think this information would be readily available on my library card account, but what do I know? They even have a trash bin on the “patron” side of the check-out desk, which is usually filled with these receipts.

Not in Germany, you don’t! Don’t even think about it! (Photo courtesy of NoWin)

I guess that the book was just refiled without ever being scanned. Again, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t scan a book just to be sure before putting it back into the ROLA-style stacks, but I must have broken the laws of German physics by just leaving a book there. There is no way that the book was not scanned, and therefore it was ready to go back without a second thought.

I’ve been a patron at libraries in three U.S. states and three different countries now, and this is the first I’ve seen this system. Is it something unique to Germany?

*The silliest part about this is that I never even opened the book I was returning – it was a textbook on probability, which I took out with plans to use it along with a free online course. Oh, the things we Hausfraus do to try and stay busy.

5 responses to ““Man muss”: Returning Library Books

  1. Well, we Germans ARE bureaucrats, aren’t we? 😉 But, there might be different ways in which the different libraries handle returns. Maybe this here depended on one overly bureaucratic person in charge?

    • That could totally be the case! I mean, it is a library within a university, so that’s two layers of bureaucracy right there 🙂 It seems like you’ve worked a lot within the academic world of Germany – do you know how libraries generally handle returns?

      • Hi Sam
        even if I once, for close to two years, was in charge of the library of the English Department at the University of Bonn, I really don’t know how libraries generally handle returns as I used public libraries only very rarely. Even while I was still studying, I preferred to buy the books, if possible, I needed so that I could study at home. Sorry that I can’t help you with your question. The only thing that I (seem to) know: I really think you need to return the books personally to the librarian. At least, if you return them within the library. Btw. I was quite surprise to see that return box. I had never seen such a think before.
        Best regards from southern Texas,

  2. Wow. That just seems unnecessarily complicated. I have passed by some libraries here but have yet to attempt to go in one. I’ve also just opted for going on post. I’m pretty fortunate that, while pretty small, the library here allows me to request from any other army library in europe.

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