The ethics of underlining library books?

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by BayouHuguenot, Jul 25, 2015.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I don't annotate books that aren't mine. However, I was wondering about it. I am fairly competent at underlining (always in pencil) books and making annotations that aid in recall. Suppose you are in a college library and you know a section of books isn't used (which is more and more the case). Knowing that a book will probably never be checked out, and knowing that even if it is checked out, your annotating in it will actually help the future reader, are either of the following scenarios wrong:

    a) Underlining in pencil.
    b) Underlining in pencil but erasing before turning it back in.
  2. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    When I was an undergraduate at Queen's an underlined book usually meant that someone had kindly done a lot of work for you (i.e. highlighted the important bits). ;)

    I suppose it all depends what library you are borrowing from. Some libraries do not care, and have no rules against it. The books are there to be used, and if people find it helpful to mark the books then so be it. Others, such as Cambridge University Library, employ people to check every borrowed book for underlining and will charge the offender the price of the book. I am actually not joking; I met someone a while back who was employed to perform this very task!
  3. jambo

    jambo Puritan Board Senior

    What you may deem important enough to underline may not be what anyone else would want to underline. I believe both are wrong as it's not your book and you should treat it the way you would expect others to treat your books. Even erasing a pencil line still leaves a mark. If I loaned a book to someone and it came back underlined (erased or otherwise) I would be cross and feel if they can't respect someone else's property then I would not be inclined to letting them borrow anymore books.
  4. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I wouldn't treat a library book that way. The book is not mine to mark up.
  5. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Ain't your book. Don't mark it up.
  6. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    I would not expect a balanced opinion from someone with the username "bookslover". Thy books perish with thee! :lol: ;)
  7. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    If you have to ask then maybe you shouldn't. This is what sticky notes are for anyway.
  8. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    That might be a solution to the dilemma Jacob is facing. :)
  9. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    Ha! Back in my seminary days a "friend" asked to borrow a book of mine. It was in pristine condition. He gave it back and he had highlighted in marker, underlined, circled, and even written comments - all in ink, he had dog-eared several pages, etc. and this jerk had the audacity to act shocked when I told him that I expected him to buy me a new book to replace that one.
  10. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Underline and erase enough times, and a hole is going to get worn in the paper.

    If someone is too lazy to write down what they need, and too cheap (or broke) to scan copies to mark up, then they probably need to give up their academic pursuits and get a real job.

    They didn't have Post-it notes when I was in college, but I was able to figure out ways to keep track of things without having to vandalize property that didn't belong to me.
  11. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    That's not relevant to the discussion. Just because I'm not using my lawnmower doesn't mean you can appropriate it for your own use.
  12. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I agree but Thomas Aquinas made a defense that I could use it.
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I use sticky notes (and hten place them in my journal. I have many pages to the effect).

    I asked for the sake of ethical discussion. I try to ask open-ended ethics questions to get us to reflect on what we consider "The Good" to be and how best to pursue it.
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I currently take notes on Google Drive. I have probably around 150 pages of notes I have taken from this year alone.
  15. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    Seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. What 'ethical' person would mark up a book that didn't belong to them ?
  16. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    I am shocked, Jacob, that you would seriously propose the question. And I'll assume that Daniel was being friendly and jocular in the way that he replied.

    But I can tell you, as a librarian (as well as a historian), this is a no-brainer. Books borrowed from libraries are not your property and should never in any way be intentionally marked by you.

    Sometimes people wrongly assume that it may be done because they observe that we have more than a few books underlined in our collection. But some books in libraries are purchased used from private collections, in which circumstances the owner had every right to mark the book as he chose (if we don't like it as a library we need not get it for our collection). But even in such cases, you should never add to the already-marked book by further marking.

    You noted that your markings (or annotations!) might aid future readers. I fear what an assumption of such on your part might indicate.

  17. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Ask the librarian. Their reaction will probably answer your question ;)
  18. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    It would be defacing someone else's property! I'd scotch tape some paper inside the front or back cover to make my notes, and remove it when finished.
  19. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It was a hypothetical question designed to generate a discussion on ethics. I don't annotate books that aren't mine
  20. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Part of ethical reasoning is not simply having the "right" answer but how one got to the right answer.
  21. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

  22. Nicholas Perella

    Nicholas Perella Puritan Board Freshman

    Exodus 20:1-17
  23. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    What I mean by that--as any cursory glance through Plato's Dialogues will show--is that the questioning and answer process reveals hidden assumptions. We address those assumptions--which probably won't happen on this thread--and then continue towards The Good. This is what dialectics is all about.

    I'll go ahead and say it for the fourth time (not that it will really matter): I don't underline books that aren't mine.
  24. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    We have a saying ,"three times for a Welshman." So don't say it four times Jacob,
    join the Celtic race! But I got it first time when you originally posted. Methought,
    this is too simplistic for Jacob,what underlying reasons prompted him.? Is he
    rattling the cage,or looking for cause and effects.? Anyway, I am sure you are delighted
    that your name is written in the Lamb's book of life!
  25. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

  26. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior

    I know that you began, Jacob, by saying that you don't annotate books that aren't yours. I got that the first time. But you went on to ponder whether underlining infrequently used books might not be harmless, suggesting even that "your annotating in it will actually help the future reader" if such were ever to check out this esoteric book. Again, I know that your bottom line question was about underlining not annotating.

    They are not, however, necessarily different in substance, since any sort of intentional marking involves you materially altering something that you've borrowed, something that is not your property and which you have an obligation, a moral, biblical obligation, to return as much in the same condition as possible when you borrowed it.

    And this is not refusing to engage in a discussion about it. That's what I am doing herein. It's just that this seems so plain that it's hard to see what's to discuss. If the thought is that someone could benefit from your underlining, ask your local librarian. He will say, "no," of course, because he will not be able to distinguish you as a worthy underliner from other patrons. And you don't get to make this judgment about yourself.

    Perhaps you could seek to persuade a friend from whom you borrow a book, "Let me underline it for you and you will actually be helped by such." Maybe even someone lends you a book and says, "Jacob, I would so benefit from your insightful underlining, please do such as you read this book." That's fine, since it's his and he gives you permission to alter his property.

    But a library is never going to give you such permission. So, how can you possibly justify it? Please, a bit of conversation to reveal the hidden assumptions. Employ the dialectic to show us where this might go.

  27. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I find underlining/highlighting and annotations immensely distracting to the point that it ruins a book for me. There's a reason used books that have been marked up generally fetch a much lower price than pristine copies--some may find those things useful to their study or enjoyment, but one ought to respect the many that do not.
  28. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I think the dialectic has gotten us there. Rarely in life do we have plain ethical situations, where we input one of the ten commandments into our ethical machine and the output is our determined course of behavior. Ethics is sometimes more complicated than that. Perhaps I should have chosen a different example. Mea culpa. I meant no offense.
  29. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.

    I'll stand with the others who have said "It's not your property, don't write in it or mark it up in any way."

    Additionally, I would say that even post-it notes are eventually destructive, the adhesive pulling away paper fiber. They can even remove the printed text.

    And with all that standing, there is nonetheless the whole subject of marginalia. In fact, there's at least one whole book devoted to the subject:

    in which the author discusses times and cultures where friends would loan books to one another with the expectation of receiving them back with annotations. It was part of the larger conversation, a way for them to get to know one another better. But in these cases, there was that prior understanding of the practice, not the unexpected surprise that Ben got from a well-meaning but sorely mistaken friend.
  30. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Basically, follow the rules of the library from which you are borrowing the books. If you do not like the rules, then do not join the library. Personally, if I was a librarian I would not mind people marking books in pencil. In my mind, that would reassure me that the books were being read and put to good use.

    I hope I never have to borrow a cement mixer from some of the contributors to this thread. ;)
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page