Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Library Scofflaw

I love libraries. I remember going to the public library in Philadelphia when I was a little girl. Mom and Dad would take us every three weeks, and we'd get to check out a huge stack of books almost as tall as we were.

I remember the day I graduated from the little kids' section, with the big print books and pictures, to the big kids' section, with chapter books and only an occasional pen and ink illustration. I was maybe seven or eight years old, and I was looking for a book to read, and the children's librarian was helping me. She'd pull a book off the shelf, and I'd take a look and say, "I've already read it." I had read every single book in that cul-del-sac of picture books, and I was itching for some bigger challenges.

"Well," Marian the Librarian told me, "It looks like you've pretty much worked your way through the children's section. Why don't you come over here"--she led me in among the towering stacks--"and we'll see if we can find something you'd be interested in."

I was in awe. The shelves were so high even the librarian couldn't reach the top ones without a cool, rolling ladder. "There must be a hundred books here!" I thought to my second-grade self. "Maybe even two hundred!"

I was interested in biographies, and Marian pointed me to books about Annie Oakley, Marie Curie, and Babe Didrikson. I'd already read the picture book versions of many biographies, but I was excited to read "real" books, with more than 30 pages.

Now that I'm a mom taking my own kids to the public library, the thing that's hardest for me to figure out is how my parents managed to not only get all of us to the library every three weeks, but how they kept track of all our books. As far as I can remember, my parents never paid a library fine and never lost a book.

The Peevies--not so much. We are constantly losing books and paying fines. I swear, we pay enough library fines to pay the salary of the children's librarian.

When the fines become too onerous on one card, we just check out books using another card. That's what's great about having three reading kids in the house--everybody has a card. It's also what has gotten us in trouble with Lenny the Shark, lending us money at usurious rates to pay down our library card fines.

Today, when I went to throw myself on the mercy of my local librarian, I donned the abject-est face I could summon, and plunked my six overdue books on the counter. "Hi there," I said nervously. "I've got to turn in some overdue books."

"All-righty," said the sweet librarian-child. (I wasn't even convinced he was old enough to hold a job.) "Let's see what you've got here." He scanned our books, and frowned. "Looks like you've got some more books that are still out on these cards."

"Um, yeah," I mumbled. "I'm hemorrhaging fines. Can I renew those books?" Turns out I couldn't, because I didn't have the right card.

"Some of these books were due in June. Of 2007," said the boy librarian. "Did you want to pay for them now, or do you think you might still locate them?" I think he might have sniggered a little bit when he said that.

"I'll just pay the fine," I said. "What are the damages?"

The BL pulled over a giant calculator, and started hitting numbers like a bookie at the racetrack. "Um, yes, that'll be $936.57," he said, and giggled. Oh, no he didn't. No such luck that I'd get a librarian with a sense of humor.

"That'll be $58 dollars and 37 cents!" the BL said, in an outside voice, so that everyone else at the counter turned to look at me, the library scofflaw, with shocked--shocked!--expressions.

I hung my head.

"Do you take a credit card?" I muttered.

Next time, I'm going straight to the bookstore.

10 comments:

Boy George said...

Oh wow, what a depressing story! When you started out with "I love libraries" (music to my ears, of course) I wasn't really expecting something that would end with "Next time, I'm going straight to the bookstore."

Of course, I can't really relate to having three young'uns and (probably) 5 library accounts to manage.

Something you might want to look at as a supplement, if not an outright alternative, to the library is PaperBackSwap -- www.paperbackswap.com

It's essentially a private lending library where you get to keep the books as long as you want--forever, if the book's a keeper. All you do is list the books that you have available for others to request, and mail those books out to whoever asks for them. You pay the postage. In return, for each book you send out, you get a credit to be used in requesting a book from somebody else. There are only two "hitches": 1) you can only post books that you're willing to part with for eternity, and 2) there's no guarantee that the books you want will be available at the time you want them. You can "wish list" books so that when they're available they'll be sent to you (but if nobody ever posts them, then of course they won't be sent). Currently they have 2,404,437 books available--no, make that 2,404,451 (it just went up when I was typing this).

I'm in SwapaDVD, another related club. (There's also SwapaCD.) It's really cool, except that most everything I want is on wish list, so I'm racking up credits to spend when the DVDs are available.

Anyhoo, just thought maybe this might be something you're interested in, in case you have a bunch of books lying around that you've read and probably won't read again.

But NOT library books! ;)

Elbee said...

Here's what works for us. We go every 3 weeks and the girls get to fill a large canvas bag. Within reason. My 8yo isn't going to finish 4 paperbacks no matter how much she wishes she could. The books must stay in the bag. Whenever we are done reading a book, or a chapter, it must go back in the bag. We right the due date on our calendar so that it's visible. Make sure you really didn't return the book. Bc of our little system, I was certain that we'd returned abook the library said we lost. I found it on the shelf. In your case, maybe each child could have their own little library tote to fill. We get about 12 pic books for my 3yo and 3 juvenile paperbacks for 8yo.

Elbee said...

Here's what works for us. We go every 3 weeks and the girls get to fill a large canvas bag. Within reason. My 8yo isn't going to finish 4 paperbacks no matter how much she wishes she could. The books must stay in the bag. Whenever we are done reading a book, or a chapter, it must go back in the bag. We right the due date on our calendar so that it's visible. Make sure you really didn't return the book. Bc of our little system, I was certain that we'd returned abook the library said we lost. I found it on the shelf. In your case, maybe each child could have their own little library tote to fill. We get about 12 pic books for my 3yo and 3 juvenile paperbacks for 8yo.

E. Peevie said...

Boy George, I knew you'd like the start and hate the end of that post. You and J-Ro, both.

I'd look into PBswap except for the fact that I hate/am no good at getting to the PO to mail stuff. The only reason Netflix works for me is that they supply mailers and I can just drop them in my mailbox. If I had to go to the PO, fuggedaboudit.

E. Peevie said...

LB--I know there are good systems for minimizing fines and lost books--I'm just lame at implementing them and following up and making sure my kids follow the "put it back in the bag" rule.

At this point, I feel like we should just use one library card, and cut up the others--like people do who get in credit card trouble.

But what a terrible lesson to teach my kids! No! You can't have a library card because Mommy is too disorganized!

No, here's the solution: I need a personal assistant. I need a wife!

Boy George said...

Oh my gosh, is that what the world's coming to? Cutting up library cards because you're in "library card debt"? Egads!

Seriously, I think Elbee's on to something, although I concede it may be tough for the more disorganized among us (I most certainly count myself in that group). But ain't it worth a shot? Who knows, maybe something will stick, and even spread to other areas beyond library books! (Okay, okay, I hear you: enough with the fantasizing already...)

Anonymous said...

JRO: I read this and was at first thrilled by your post. Yes, at the end I was dismayed but I certainly understand as I have two books way overdue which do not belong to me! I'll return books for you ... don't lose faith in your FREE public library. Remember, you can use the FREE databases from home, download free audiobooks and attend all sorts of wonderful and free programs. (sorry, I couldn't resist the chance to advertise) I did enjoy the part about the librarian's inflated fines total, accompanied by a giggle. OH NO, you Di'n't!

Juicebox Mom said...

I think you are living my "library life". I have the same exact experiences, thankfully we have a 15.00 limit for overdue fines (not including lost books) so no matter how much you owe in fines, you only have to pay 15.00 (per card that is). Of course if you have a lost book, you have to pay, but I like that money is going to to a good cause at least.

E. Peevie said...

JB Mom-- I like that $15 per card limit. J-Ro--can you do something about that at CPL?

Anonymous said...

JRO: can't do a card limit but there is a cap on fines for each item. I liked the idea about keeping all of the books in one bag.... try that