Despite the temporary switch to online schooling that came with COVID and the rise of PDFs and other online textbooks, Lisa Willard, the attendant of the Salem book room for twenty years, says a lot of classes still require physical books.

“Well, all courses still–the majority of classes still–have textbooks, especially the AP ones,” said Willard. “Of course, a lot of novels for any ELA class. We circulate a lot of novels.”

Despite this, a lot of students don’t return their books until the last few days of school.

“It makes for a longer line. Because we’re open all three days during finals, it would be nice if people started returning earlier than that,” Willard said, “but it seems they hold onto it until after their finals, and then we get a lot of it the last three days.”

This causes problems for Willard and her volunteers, who then have to sort through the piles of books.

“It’s hard to then go through [the books] and look to see if there’s any ripped pages, or if they need taping or gluing because you get overwhelmed. The volunteers, they put them on the shelves without really taking the time to go through them all,” said Willard, “so when we go back to hand them out in the fall, that’s when we’re noticing any damage that needed to be fixed.”

Late book returns cause trouble for more than just the book room. The problem affects the libraries, too. John Heilman, media specialist at Canton High School, has also been dealing with the issue.

“It’s something that I deal with, certainly, every year as well. I have no idea how [Willard] gets her textbooks back, but I didn’t realize it was an issue because I thought it’d actually be easier for her since they’re tied into the student accounting system,” Heilman said. “So if you don’t return a textbook, it goes right onto your bill. Whereas for me, if a student doesn’t return a book, I have to kinda get them to pay in a different way, because we’re not actually connected to that system.”

Why exactly students aren’t returning books is unknown, but Emily Hratchian, media specialist at Salem High School, thinks it is commonplace for students to return books late.

“I think it’s kind of standard in libraries, especially school libraries, because the students are here for a longer period of time, so it’s a little bit different from public library spaces. In my experience, it seems to be pretty normal,” said Hratchian. “But it would always be nicer if kids return their books a little bit more on time. And it’s better if, you know, you’re not using a book anymore, to bring it back so other people have access. It could always be better, that’s for sure.”

Regardless of the cause, late book returns tend to be an annual issue for Willard. Though students usually return their books in their senior year, Willard wishes students would return them the year the books are checked out.

“I will say, at the end of the day, we get a majority of [the books] back. It’s just that they don’t come in on time. Because, when a senior is getting ready to leave, their account has to be clear. So at that time, they usually rectify and return all of their books,” Willard said.

“But we don’t want students to sit on their books every year until they’re a senior, you know,” said Willard, “we want them back at the end of every year.”