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.