A Guide to Book Borrowing Etiquette

Book borrowing can be a touchy subject. Some people love to loan their books out and don’t really care if they get them back. Others, like my sister circa 1999, have their own library-esque book loaning system wherein the date you borrowed the book is logged and you receive periodic reminders that the book is expected back. I consider myself a relatively low-key book loaner, especially if I have already read the book and it wasn’t an Instant Favorite™, but I have had the experience of loaning a favorite book and never hearing from it again, so I can empathize with the more businesslike book loaners. Therefore, when I borrow a book, I try to be really respectful of the person whose book I borrowed. Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to do just that. 

Most importantly, when you borrow a book you want the person you borrowed the book from to feel that their book is safe with you. That’s why the first thing I like to do after borrowing a book and bringing it home is send the loaner a photo of the book in their new home. Hopefully seeing the book nestled comfortably between my open window and very full coffee cup will make the loaner feel confident that their book is being well taken care of. I mean, personally, that is my happy place, and I can only imagine that books feel the same — close to the outdoor elements and a steaming cup of joe!

Next, when you borrow a book, you want to put it right on the top of your book pile. You know, the book that you have next in the queue but that you get so used to looking at it becomes unremarkable and you sort of never actually get around to reading it? That is where the book you borrowed should live because you should be reading it first. You should definitely get to that one next. You will definitely read it after you finish those 400 library books that are due yesterday. It would just be rude not to prioritize a borrowed book. 

It’s also important to give the loaner periodic updates. Just like when you drop your dog off at daycare and the dogsitter sends you pictures of your dog happily socializing and licking its butt, the book loaner wants to be constantly reassured that their book is safe, healthy, and happy. Send photos and short summaries of what you and their book have been up to, such as: “book and I are still having a great time! here we are hanging out watching some early morning cooking shows, again, with coffee always close by!!!”

Never, under any circumstances, leave the book unattended in an unstable place. An example: you have been taking great care of the book for about two years. You’re moving to a new apartment. Make sure that book you borrowed is in one of your early “fragile stuff” loads. It would be disrespectful to subject the borrowed book to the same abuse you allow the rest of your stuff to undergo in a move. Once you have changed addresses with the book, begin the process all over again. Here is photo of book, here is book back on top of book pile, here is book enjoying cooking red sauce right next to me! Book is being so well taken care of!!

The main thing is this: show the book loaner how much you value their book. When someone loans you something, it’s a sign of trust. You want to return the book in the same condition you found it: well-loved. When you eventually return it to them, return it with your best margin notes in black pen so they can see how much you appreciated the book. Keep all of your favorite passages dog-eared so the loaner can see how meaningful the book’s words were. Maybe you want to add an inscription thanking the loaner. The highest compliment of all would be to loan the book you were loaned to someone else. What better way to show you loved the book than by passing it along?

Book borrowing and lending can lead to an uncomfortable social situation if you don’t take it seriously. Luckily, I am here to help you navigate the waters. Simply follow these few tips and your friends will never hesitate on whether or not to loan you their books. They will just say no.