Vickie Shufton proposes a system similar to the one public libraries use for books in order to guarantee the return of classified documents - only with much stiffer fines.

How is it that in the United States of America, government officials can leave office with highly classified documents in their possession and keep them indefinitely, but you can’t check a book out of a public library and keep it past its due date without incurring a fine?

Anyone who has ever had an overdue book is undoubtedly aware of this, since they are charged for every day the book remains in their possession. I myself have fines dating back to 1962. All have been paid — or at least most. I’m a slow reader.

So how, exactly, do classified materials go missing for years — in Joe Biden’s case, many years — without the Top-Secret Documents Librarian in Washington, D.C., demanding their return? My librarian in Shorewood, Wisc. — let’s call her Miss Peasley — would not rest until a missing book had been safely returned. Threatening calls and scary letters were her specialty. Bloodhounds were not out of the question.

One can surmise that the currently identified individuals who have not returned their highly classified overdue materials to the Top-Secret Documents Library — namely Donald Trump, Biden and now Mike Pence — either deliberately or carelessly kept those documents without attracting the notice of the Top-Secret Librarian. In the case of Trump, it is pretty clear that he intentionally took his documents as trophies and was never going to return them. This would never have happened if Miss Peasley had been on the case. Those papers would have been returned pronto. Such was the ferocity of Miss Peasley.

It seems that the fallout from the Trump calamity made current and former office holders extremely nervous. They hastily began to turn their homes and offices upside down, fearing that they might also have documents that didn’t belong to them. As it turns out, they did. Lots of them. All over the place.

Not a good look if you are preparing another run for public office.

It has been made clear by any number of current and former high-level government officials that there is a protocol for viewing classified documents, including being required to view the documents in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).

The documents are brought to the SCIF by an employee with top security clearance, who carries the documents in a locked briefcase. The employee remains in the room, vigilant, until the documents have been reviewed, after which they are handed back to the employee, placed in the locked briefcase, and returned to the agency that provided the material.

Except, evidently, when the documents magically dematerialize, escape through an air vent and end up in a file box at Mar-a-Lago or in Delaware or in Indiana. How and why the documents in question were allowed to escape the rigorous retention process is a mystery, but it seems to me that careful application of the Peasley Principle would provide a logical remedy to the problem:

1. All classified documents should be properly marked and numbered (remember the Dewey Decimal System? It was Miss Peasley’s bible).

2. The Top-Secret Document Librarian should maintain a list of all documents that have been loaned to elected officials, including who last reviewed them, the date on which they were reviewed, and the date on which they were returned. Miss Peasley had a big ledger and a large rubber date stamp for this purpose.

3. If the documents are not returned promptly, a Top-Secret Librarian Enforcement Squad (Miss Peasley didn’t need one — she was scary enough on her own) should be dispatched to retrieve them. It would be helpful if the enforcers look like Godzilla.

4. Before officials can leave public office, a designated Very Serious and Meticulous File Master should be assigned to comb through every piece of paper in their possession to retrieve anything that may have slipped through the cracks. Once the materials have been inspected, they should be boxed, sealed, labeled and loaded onto the moving van.

5. A significant fine should be levied for every day that an overdue classified document is missing. By significant, I mean financially ruinous.

6. Individuals removing classified documents from their workplace should be disqualified from ever holding elected office again. Anywhere.

There is every possibility that Miss Peasley is still among the living, and if so, I am confident that she unequivocally endorses this plan. I am also sure that she has already dusted off her ledger from 1962 to investigate which of my fines remain unpaid and how much I now owe, adjusted for inflation.

Please don’t give her my address.

Vickie Shufton is the school psychologist for Berkshire Hills Regional School District and Richmond Consolidated School.