Sunday, July 15, 2018

Can I skim some books from my friend's donation?


A reader we're calling Josh, owns a pickup truck. Josh seems a good enough fellow, indicating that in addition to using his truck as an occasional means of personal transportation, he also regularly comes to the aid of family members and friends who need a vehicle such as his to lug stuff to or away from them.

For readers concerned about carbon emissions, Josh believes his carbon footprint is fairly low. The truck is more than 10 years old and he rarely puts more than 3,000 miles a years on it. More importantly, Josh has no intention of either getting rid of the truck or buying a new one.

So Josh remains the go-to friend for friends who are in need of a haul.

A few months ago, Josh agreed to pick up about a dozen boxes of books from a friend who planned to donate them to a local nonprofit's annual book sale. Since Josh lived in the town where the donations were being accepted, he agreed not only to pick up the books, but also to drop them off for his friend.

As it turned out, the timing was a bit off for getting the books to their desired location. No donations were accepted for the two weeks leading up to or following the annual weekly book sale. When Josh's friend realized that this year's sale was only a week and a half away, he worried that he would have to find another destination for the boxes of books. But Josh agreed to store the boxes in his garage until donations were again being accepted.

"I lugged the boxes back and unloaded them," Josh writes. But as he did, he decided to take a quick look through each of the boxes to see what his friend was donating.

Most of the books didn't pique Josh's interest, but he found at least six or seven titles that drew his eye. A few were classics Josh had meant to read but never did. A couple seemed liked first editions of well-known writers' books which might be worth looking up online to assess their value.

"Is it wrong for me just to take a couple of books from the pile as sort of a carrying fee?" asks Josh.

If Josh agreed to haul the books away from his friend and to the annual book sale for free, then he shouldn't expect a "carrying fee." Initially, Josh thought he'd be driving the boxes right to the charity for drop-off. Any value the books might have were intended to help out the charity running the annual book sale.

While no one but Josh would know if he skimmed a few titles from the boxes, if he's interested in keeping a few, the right thing is to give his friend a call and ask him if he minds if Josh keeps a few titles that might interest him. The friend is not obligated to, but it would be gracious of him to agree. It would have been better to agree upon this once Josh learned he'd be storing the books in his garage for a few weeks, a lesson learned for his next friendly haul.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Can I skim some books from my friend's donation?

A reader we're calling Josh, owns a pickup truck. Josh seems a good enough fellow, indicating that in addition to using his truck as...