My Library Feud - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

My Library Feud


Don't tick these librarians off.  They'll set the bird on you.

I should start this entire shameful history by explaining that I am library challenged.  I am the individual who once literally owed $75 in late fees to the Columbus Public Library.  I was pregnant with LO at the time, and I kept making it worse by not going in to pay the fine because I was afraid they'd insist on my first born instead of the cash.  Yes, I really am that bad about returning books on time.

That should help you to understand that I am certainly not an innocent in this ugly story.  However, I have had a long and amicable relationship with the library, in part because the librarians know that when they see me, it's likely my negligence will pay for the new equipment they've been eyeing.  "Are you sure you don't want to borrow more books?" they'd ask me while checking out my enormous stack of reading materials.  "And not bring them back for a year?  We can wait!  We need a new computer, you know!"

So for much of my life, I have been BFF with my local library and librarians.  And then I came to Lafayette.

My first surprise was in finding out that the local library does not charge late fees.  At first, this seemed like an incredible boon.  I am the individual who could have treated myself and two friends to a nice steak dinner on my 2009-2010 fines alone.  Clearly, fine-less-ness was going to be all right by me.

And for a few months, it was.  LO and I would walk down to the library, where he would play in the children's room and then help me pick out books that I'd plan on reading and never get around to.  (Another one of my library challenges.  The books that seem interesting while in the library are rarely the books I actually want to read at home).  It was a brief and halcyon period.

Then, sometime in the fall of 2010, the library informed me that I owed them a book.  A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace.  In good faith, I looked all around for the book, even though I clearly remembered returning it.  I asked them what their policy was when something like this happened.  I was informed that they would do a thorough sweep of the library to look for it, and if it wasn't in the stacks, I owed them $18.

I was a little annoyed.  First, I'd never gotten around to reading this one, so I was paying for a book without getting any knowledge out of it.  Second, every library I've ever been affiliated with will give you one "benefit of the doubt" book in these sorts of situations.  But, as J pointed out, I would have run up far more than $18 in late fees if I were going to a more traditional library.  Grudgingly, I wrote them a check when the book did not turn up on their end.

Two months later, the library informed me that I owed them another book.  Before I had an opportunity to get my righteous indignation on, the delinquency for that was erased from my online account.  Apparently, the library does sometimes misplace books.  At least that one was found.

At that point, I asked one of the friendly neighborhood librarians what I should do to keep this from happening to me.  One book going missing might be the cost of doing business, but using a known library-challenged patron for a mass book-laundering scheme seemed a tad unfair to me.  The librarian told me I could bring my books to the desk to get a receipt for my return, which I have done for each and every single one of my borrowed books since then.

And that is how a librarian was on hand to notice the slight coffee stain on the edges of a book I returned in early January.  I will admit that I am not certain as to how the coffee stain got on this particular book.  It was in the car with me and J on our road trip to North Carolina, and so the coffee spillage likely happened at some point then, as I am not personally a coffee drinker.  But since the stain was small and confined to the edges of the pages--affecting the readability of the book not at all--I assumed it would not be a big deal.

A week after returning the book, I recieved a notice in the mail that the library wanted $28 from me to replace the book because it had been "rendered unusable."

Perhaps I am too literal, but my immediate reaction was to wonder how on earth the library was expecting their patrons to use the library books if a small stain that did not affect the readability of a single word rendered the book unusable.

I called the library, and inadvertently and officially ended my long-standing BFF relationship with the library.  I believe I suggested that the librarians stop treating the books like Faberge Eggs.  Some sort of discussion about the cliche of reading a book while curled up with a hot drink was bandied about.  The librarian gasped with shock when I suggested that some individuals may actually read in the bath.  Before I got off the phone, I could hear the librarian posting a picture of me captioned "Book Enemy #1: Do NOT allow this woman to touch the books!"  (And yes, you can hear captions being written over the phone.  Those squeaky markers are very easy to interpret).

The next day, I called the Librarian Superior.  She had already been warned about the crazy woman who wantonly consumed beverages while reading.  We agreed that I could find a cheaper copy of the book to give to the library, plus a $3 restocking fee.  I found a way to send along both the book and the restocking fee without setting foot in the library, because my feud brain has decided to override any rational thought that I am otherwise capable of.  (I'm also rather embarrassed at my outraged phone calls.)  Even though the amount of money I've ended up spending at the local library is less than what I'd normally spend in late fees, I still hate the feeling that I don't know when I'll be hit with a charge.  At least with overdue fines, I could figure out exactly how much blood I owed the library prior to the honing of the delinquent patron knife.

I'm now in a strange situation.  The weather is starting to warm, and we're getting to the time of year when a young man's thoughts turn to the joys of long walks to the library.  The other library in this community charges late fees and has never accused me of improper use or disappearance of a book.  But we'd have to drive to get there.  I'm thinking once I've let the stink of this feud blow off a bit and the librarians have forgotten my face and the sound of my voice, LO and I will continue our regular walks there. 

But the books will stay put.  Both I and my former BFF will be happier that way.



palucas6 said:

Great story! I can certainly identify! Being a school librarian has not helped to jog my memory for returning books and I have also racked up library fines. Imagine my delight when I discovered that my library now has a "Digital" check out section. I can simply log into my library digital bookpage, and can virtually check out movies, books, music, and audio books to my computer. I can also download books to a kindle using my library card number. The lending period varies, and the checked out item simply "disappears" at the end of the loan period. No more worries about remembering to return items on loan from the library. Saving money on gas for trips to the library is also a plus!

March 11, 2012 8:21 PM

Live Like a Mensch said:

If you've never read the history of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, it's really pretty fascinating

March 14, 2012 12:50 PM

The Downsides to Common Frugal Living Tips | One Smart Dollar said:

Pingback from  The Downsides to Common Frugal Living Tips | One Smart Dollar

April 3, 2013 7:40 PM

Live Like a Mensch said:

J and I are now three months into our smart phone ownership , and I can tell you--I have no idea how

June 11, 2014 9:48 AM

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