On episode No. 22 “The Library” on the sitcom SEINFELD/NBC/1990-98 comedian Jerry Seinfeld received an overdue notice from the New York Public Library claiming that he checked out a copy of Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in 1971 but never returned it to the 42nd Street Branch Library.
Jerry clearly thought the library was in error but that didn’t stop the NYPL from sending Joe Bookman, the Library Cop (Philip Baker Hall) to reclaim their property and to collect on the fine.
Bookman, an overzealous 25-year veteran, who had no time for hippie’s burning library cards, Abby Hoffman or people stealing books, abruptly told Jerry in no uncertain terms “Don’t mess with me or I’ll be on you like a pit bull on a poodle.”
By the end of the episode, Jerry paid the fine after remembering that he gave the book to his friend, George Costanza (Jason Alexander). It was George who had failed to return the book because he dropped it in the locker room at JFK High School after he was given an underwear wedgie by his mean high school coach, Mr. Hayman (Biff Yeager) who always ridiculed George’s last name of Costanza by saying “Can’t stand ya.”
In the final scene of the episode, we see Coach Hayman, now a homeless man, lying in an alley with the copy of “Tropic of Cancer” by his side.
Script Excerpt from Episode No. 22
Jerry: Yeah, I called before. I got this notice in the mail.
Librarian: Oh, Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller, Uh, this case has been turned over to our library investigation officer Mr. Bookman.
Kramer: Bookman? The library investigator’s name is actually, Bookman?
Librarian: It’s true.
Kramer: That’s amazing. That’s like an ice cream man named, Cone.
Librarian: Lt. Bookman has been working here for 25 years so I think he’s heard all the jokes.
Jerry: Can I speak with this Bookman?
Librarian: Just a second… Mr. Bookman’s not here.
Jerry: Not here? Why was I told to come down here?
Librarian: He’ll be out all afternoon on a case.
Kramer: He’s out on a case? He actually goes out on cases?
Jerry: Well, what am I supposed to do now?
Librarian: I’ll have Mr. Bookman get in touch with you.
Jerry: Oh, I’m glad you’re here, so we can get this all straightened out.
Bookman: You took this book out in 1971.
Jerry: Yes, and I returned it in 1971.
Bookman: Yeah, ’71. That was my first year on the job. Bad year for libraries. Bad year for America. Hippies burning library cards, Abby Hoffman telling everybody to steal books. I don’t judge a man by the length of his hair or the kind of music he listens to. Rock was never my bag. But you put on a pair of shoes when you walk into the New York Public Library, fella.
Jerry: Look, Mr. Bookman. I–I returned that book. I remember it very specifically.
Bookman: You’re a comedian, you make people laugh.
Jerry: I try.
Bookman: You think this is all a big joke, don’t you?
Jerry: No, I don’t.
Bookman: I saw you on TV once; I remembered your name–from my list. I looked it up. Sure enough, it checked out. You think because you’re a celebrity that somehow the law doesn’t apply to you, that you’re above the law?
Jerry: Certainly not.
Bookman: Well, let me tell you something, funny boy. Y’know that little stamp, the one that says “New York Public Library”? Well that may not mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole hell of a lot. Sure, go ahead, laugh if you want to. I’ve seen your type before: Flashy, making the scene, flaunting convention. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What’s this guy making such a big stink about old library books? Well, let me give you a hint, junior. Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we’re too old to change the world, but what about that kid, sitting down, opening a book, right now, in a branch at the local library and finding drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees on the Cat in the Hat and the Five Chinese Brothers? Doesn’t HE deserve better? Look. If you think this is about overdue fines and missing books, you’d better think again. This is about that kid’s right to read a book without getting his mind warped! Or: maybe that turns you on, Seinfeld; maybe that’s how y’get your kicks. You and your good-time buddies. Well, I got a flash for ya, joy-boy: Party time is over. Y’got seven days, Seinfeld. That is one week!
[Jerry writes out a check for the never-returned TROPIC OF CANCER and hands it to Bookman]
Jerry: Anyway, I hope there’s no hard feelings.
Bookman: Hard feelings? What do you know about hard feelings? Y’ever have a man die in your arms? Y’ever kill somebody?
Jerry: What is your problem?
Bookman: What’s my problem? Punks like you, that’s my problem. And you better not screw up again, Seinfeld, because if you do, I’ll be all over you like a pit bull on a poodle.
Jerry: [after Bookman exits]: That is one tough monkey!
Note: On episode No. 302 “He Thought He Could” of the sitcom MARRIED…WITH CHILDREN, shoe salesman Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) finally returns the copy of “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper that he checked out from the library in 1957 while in elementary school, and encounters the same fat librarian that was there when he was a kid.
The September 1977 installment of SECOND CITY TV (“Leave It To Beaver”) featured a PROMO for a new show called LIBRARY POLICE, a drama about the people who protect our libraries. Characters included John Candy as the Criminal; Andrea Martin as his wife, and Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy as the Library Police who bust into homes at gunpoint searching for overdue books. Harold Ramis announced the Promo.
The short story “The Library Policeman” written by Stephen King appears in a collection of his short stories entitled “Four Past Midnight.”