For more than a few years, I have had a running feud with my local library. Really, it was a one-sided feud, but it did keep me from checking out any books for a long, long time. I bought a lot of books during that time, but not enough to keep Borders in business.
Recently, I decided that my feud was a bit silly, and that I really should start using the public library more often. So, a few months ago, despite my reluctance to show my face at the library, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and went to talk to the stern librarian.
I need a new card, I told her politely, handing her my driver’s license and another proof of residency.
She looked up my name. We have a problem. You’ll have to talk to… and she muttered some unintelligible name.
What do I have to do to talk to her? I said, guessing that Muttered Name was feminine.
I got an odd look from her. Just stay here. You have several fines. She turned and walked into the small office behind the circulation desk.
I looked toward the door. I wondered if there were librarian apprentices ready to pour hot oil on me if I tried to escape. Not that the modern automatic doors looked anything like a portcullis, but I’m sure that there were at least a few books in that library that taught me about hot oil, portcullises, and stern librarians, though I doubt all at once.
A second librarian came out. She looked at me and my driver’s license and scanned the computer.
You can’t have another card until you pay your fine. That will be $36.10.
Maybe that feud wasn’t so one-sided.
I tried to keep my cool. Could you please tell me what those fines are for? I thought I had cleared all my fines before I decided to not darken the door of the library again.
There was a book that you never returned.
Yes, it was a book about glassblowers in New Bedford, Massachusetts in the 1890s. Lost.
She looked at me. Yes, it was. You have a good memory. $36.10 is the total.
So does the library, I thought.
I paid for the book — twice. I thought that after five years perhaps you had finally updated your books. I looked towards the stacks quickly and then added: Your receivables books, I mean.
I paid the library, and then they referred it to a collection agency. I wasn’t very happy with the runaround I got trying to work that out. Eventually I just gave up. That was about five years ago.
Seven years ago, she corrected me.
I paid the credit agency. Really, $25 gets you referred to a credit agency? And I had paid! I didn’t want that on my report, but I really don’t like it that I already paid $50 for that book. Guess I’ll have to wait another seven years?
She looked at me. Then, she looked at the computer.
The book wasn’t even suppose to be on the stacks. It had a discard notice in it when I checked it out. It hadn’t been out of the library for years.
I thought about adding “Maybe even centuries” but I didn’t think that this woman had much of a sense of humor.
I don’t know why it would have been on the shelves then.
Hmmm…because someone made a mistake, I thought. Don’t you think they happen here?
I kept my mouth shut and took a deep breath, which came out more like an exasperated sigh.
(Okay. Okay. It was an exasperated sigh!)
What’s the extra charge?
A charge for referring you to the credit agency.
She stood looking at the computer screen for another minute.
Well, what can we do to resolve this? Please give me the number of someone who can help me at the main branch. I’d like to use this library that I pay lots of taxes for. My voice was starting to quiver and I knew I was standing on the corner of Mean and Smart-Ass.
I have to charge you the $10 agency fee. I don’t have the authority to dismiss that. I’ll mark the book as ‘Lost’. So, $11.10.
What’s the $1.10?
Another late charge. Book returned.
I vaguely remembered the book. It was something read for Book Club. I paid the reduced fine, got my new card, updated my library web access and email, and looked moronic as I tried to figure out how to use the barcode scanner. Apparently the library now has clerks stand there and watch you check the books out, one at each self-serve scanner.
I’ve been back a few times since, feeding my book hunger. Today I received a notice that three books that I’ve had on hold had arrived. When I looked on the hold shelf (because the librarians and clerks don’t keep those behind the desk now either) I discovered that 11 of my hold requests had arrived. I should have brought a bag. One had not been checked out of the central library in decades and sported a check out card that looked like the kind used when I was a child.
Now my dilemma: Which of these do I read first? I’ve narrowed it down to four:
Just Kids, Patti Smith. I’ve been wanting to read this for months!
The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls. My November Book Club book. I think the person who selected this is going to hate it.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz. I heard Diaz speak at a panel discussion at the New Yorker Festival a few weeks ago. Later that same weekend I was having dinner with friends. The book got one thumbs up, one thumbs down, and one person gave a mixed review, but added that I would love it.
Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. The lovely Anne Fernald posted something from the Kindle version of this book to FB recently. I think it sounds intriguing.
Two novels, two memoirs. I hope it will be a busy reading weekend.