The Ultimate Guide to Book Borrowing Etiquette

Have you ever lent someone a book? Borrowed a book? I would expect that you would have! (Unless you’ve got good reasons not to, which I’d love to hear about in the comments section) Whether it’s from your personal library or the state funded one, borrowing books is something that is fairly normal.

Alas, social blunders are often made when books are borrowed. Now, I don’t think anyone makes these blunders on purpose (at least I hope not) they just happen! In today’s post I thought some discussion about the proper etiquette when borrowing books could be beneficial to us all!

This post is a fun guide to help us avoid the pitfalls and social awkwardness of the book borrowing experience. What to do when a book has been borrowed for too long, what to do in the case of damages and much more! (All views are my opinion and you’re welcome to disagree) I hope you enjoy! Let me know in the comments below what you think about these issues.

Hanging onto Books too Long

How long is too long to borrow a book?

For books borrowed from the library: have your books back by the due date. This shows respect and consideration of your fellow library users. Returning on the due date saves you cash in late fines too! However…I’m guilty of breaking this rule on occasion! It’s usually because I haven’t quite finished reading the book I’ve borrowed. Thankfully my library has a three time auto-renewal system. Otherwise I would have many more fines over the years!

For books you’ve borrowed from a friend or family member…That’s when it gets tricky.

As a general rule, I would suggest don’t borrow books you don’t intend to read in the next month or so. I personally know the awkwardness when someone asks: ‘Did you enjoy [insert borrowed book title]?‘ If it’s one of their favourite books, or a really popular title try and finish it ASAP so that they can have it back in their possession or loan it to someone else.

As someone who lends out books, it can be really frustrating when someone has had one of your books for months without reading it.

That leads me to my next point…

Accepting books forced upon you

Perhaps this has happened to you: a friend of yours read a book and LOVED it, they give you a title and insists you read it. You take it to be polite, but it doesn’t really sound like something you’re going to enjoy. Maybe you’re the one insisting your friend reads the book and you know they’ll enjoy it if they just give it a chance.


Someone you’re getting to know finds out you’re a book lover. Excited, they tell you all about their favourite read. The next time you see them they’ve brought their copy to lend you. What do you do?

Both these are situations I have faced and I really struggle with each of them. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t like disappointing others, or rejecting something they’re so passionate about. Usually I accept that book and force myself to read it (even if I end up disliking it) or I give it back to them with a lame reason why I didn’t get to it.

I don’t think this is a particularly good strategy as its very stressful! Let me know what you’d do in the comments on this post!

In more recent times when this happens, if I don’t want to borrow a book someone is offering me I politely tell them that at the moment I have quite a few books waiting for me to read (which is always very true!). I thank them for the offer and I will let them know if I decide I’d like to read their book.

If I accepted borrowing a book but I’m not enjoying it, I stop reading it. This is a bit controversial in the company of some book lovers, but I do not finish books if I don’t enjoy them. I then return the book to its owner and politely tell them the book wasn’t for me. I find this really hard to do! Honesty is a valuable thing I believe.

Damaging Books

Hopefully this has never happened to you! However, accidents do happen, books become damaged and hearts are broken. Well, maybe not quite but it is a nuisance when your stuff gets damaged.

There’s a difference between your own well-loved book and someone else causing the damage. What do you think?

I personally have accidentally caused water damage to a book. It feels awful. The book was mine so it wasn’t as bad. Still, the pages dry and are never quite the same, with a crinkled edge. It was my own fault though, for reading in the bath! If you’ve borrowed a book, don’t be careless with it. Out of respect for its owner try and keep it safe from damage (this means probably don’t read a borrowed book in the bath, or eat Doritos while reading!).

I lent someone a book once where they confessed the books pages were torn out by their children. They replaced the book for me without me asking even making sure they had the same edition! This is best practice if you do damage someone else’s property, offer to pay for it or buy them a new copy. If you don’t they may be less willing to lend you books in future.

Lending the Book to Someone else

Have you ever asked for a book back only to be told the person loved it and has passed it on to someone else? I have!

Whilst it’s flattering the person enjoyed my book enough to want to share it with someone else, it’s nice to know before hand! It can be easy to lose track of books when they’re passed from person to person.

However, I am usually fine for my books to be passed around so long as they eventually return to me, in the condition I lent them out in! It can be fun to share a book around with a group of friends.

When I was in high school I went on a several week long school camp to central Australia. One of my favourite memories (other than the amazing scenery) was that my friends and I all took one book each on camp. As we finished the book we’d brought, we swapped with someone else on camp. It was great fun! I got to read multiple books, but only had to carry one.

The great debate: Bookmark or Dog ear

Keeping your place when reading is important. Unless you’re able to hide away for a day, start and finish a book, it’s likely you need a way to remember your spot. Some people use a foreign object, be it a cute little art printed strip of paper, or an old receipt inserted into the pages of their book to hold their place. Others fold the corner of the books page down, forming what is known as a ‘dog ear’.

The question of dog earring pages, or using a book mark is one that many people feel strongly about.

However, I personally both dog ear and use bookmarks. I used to dog ear quite a lot, and still do if it’s a paperback edition of a classic. It might sound unusual, but I like my classics to look as loved as they are! They’re old books, so they should show their age.

For my general books I tend to use a bookmark. I like to collect bookmarks as souvenirs from where I travel, it’s a nice reminder of the places I’ve been, the memories I’ve made. However! Bookmarks betray me in a way the dog ear never could.

If I drop my book, or carry it around in my bag, bookmarks can fall out. They have done on several occasions. It’s a frustrating and tragic moment.

Anyway! My ranting aside, if you’re borrowing someone else’s book use a bookmark. You don’t know where they fall on this issue and whether they will class a dog eared page as damaging their book. Better to be safe than sorry!

Some people don’t like lending books to others

Whilst I am not in this camp, I know there are people who do not like to lend their books out. Perhaps because of bad experiences with the topics we’ve covered above. Perhaps they just don’t like it. Whilst I’m not entirely sure myself why others don’t like to lend books out, we should respect their wishes! Everyone places value on different things, and just because someone has lots of books does not mean they are a library and have to lend them out. Ultimately books are bought by people for their own enjoyment.

I personally think it is nice to share books with others. It’s enjoyable to discuss a book with friends, to share a visit to a magical land or hear their theories about what happens next in the book. (Whilst you sit smugly of course and try not to give away spoilers).

Happy Reading!

I hope today’s guide has been useful for you. Do you agree with my guide? Have you had any book borrowing disasters from breaking these rules? Share them in the comments below! I’d love to hear them.

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Until next week, happy reading!


  1. What a great post! I am a big lender of my books as I know most of my friends and family use me as their go-to for recommendations. As a lender, I am very patient about the books I lend, especially if it’s an entire series.
    I generally use my blog to decline offers for books as I have a pretty set schedule on reading. I haven’t had anyone get offended or upset when I’m honest and say “oh I would love to, but I am on so many deadlines that I would hate to keep it for too long.” That seems to keep people happy and not feel rejected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s great that you’re a generous and patient lender! I think it’s wonderful to share stories with family and friends 😊
      Your method of declining books sounds like a good and honest one. It’s definitely something I’ll be improving upon. Unfortunately there’s too many books in the world and just not enough time haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. floatinggold says:

    So much to unpack here.

    I borrow books from the library. From time to time I borrow a book from someone I know who read the book, liked it, thought I would like it and does not want it back. Once I am done with it, I pass it onto someone else. That way we all get to read it and save storage space.

    There’s this feeling inside of me that tells me I’ve lent a book in the past (in my early school years) and something bad happened. I think I’ve blocked that memory on purpose. If I plan on keeping a book, there is probably only one person in this world that I would lent it to. I do not trust anyone else.

    Dog ears – NEVER! However, I totally hear you on the “bookmark fell out” thing. So annoying. I tried the ones that are like paperclip, but they fall out, too, or worse – rip the pages a little. My newest one is by far my favorite – it’s a piece of folded, laminated, glossy paper with some drawings on it and it has magnets on both ends. The magnet is strong enough to NOT fall out of the book, but weak enough not to rip the page when I want to take it off.


    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!
      I like the idea of passing books along to save on storage space! I’ve seen the Little Library movements which play into this idea too.

      It’s a shame that you had a bad experience with lending books. I hope that person you would lend to knows how special they are haha!

      It’s certainly a challenge to find the perfect bookmark! I’ve had book hooks that are too small and damage the spine of the book too 🙈 your favourite bookmark sounds lovely. I haven’t tried any magnetic bookmarks as yet, so that could be the solution I’ve been looking for!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. floatinggold says:

        Yes! I adore the Little Libraries. I wish they were more popular. In fact, when I get a more permanent residence, I might establish one myself.


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