This week I had a library book that was so absolutely and forlornly lost, even after six weeks of searching, that I simply had to up and pay for it. Fortunately, it was only four dollars. Unfortunately, it wasn't one I particularly would be thrilled to own, if it ever does turn up. But the occurence did put a thought in my head. Suppose I find a book at the library that I really, really want to own. Suppose further that this book is rare or out of print, and even further that it looks like something the library is going to ditch soon in favor of more shelf space. Of course, the chances of me happening across it at just the right library sale are very slim indeed. How evil would it be to, ah, "lose" the book and pay for it, and then "find" it again but decide not to bother about getting my money back? Evil, evil, evil. I blot the thought from my mind.
Let's recast this scenario into science-fictional terms:
If you had a time machine and could go back to the Library of Alexandria just before it was destroyed, would it be wrong to grab as many texts as you could and jump back into the present with them?
Would that be "stealing"? Or would that be "preemptive salvage"?
(That very old, very decrepit, one-return-away-from-discard former library copy of an UNKNOWN collection sitting on one of our shelves has nothing to do with this discussion. Nothing, I say.)