Friday, July 11, 2008

Why I Can't Get A Library Card

Or perhaps a better title would be “Why the Library Thinks I am Dead.” Dead, you may ask? Yes, dead.

My love for the library started many, many years ago. My appetite for books was insatiable. During the summers I insisted that my mom take me to the library sometimes multiple times a day. I always had to be the reader who read the most books for the summer reading programs. Even then I took great joy in just burying my nose in a book and losing myself for hours at a time in the pages of a novel. I would solve mysteries with Nancy Drew and The Bobsy Twins, wish I was creative as Claudia Kishi from The Babysitters Club, and wish I had a twin sister like the twins from Sweet Valley High. I devoured books at astonishing rates and was on a first name basis with the director of the library by the time I was 10. I knew all the librarians, the high school kids who shelved books during the summer, and the custodians. More importantly, I had my own card and proudly handed it over each and every time I checked out books.

My fall from grace occurred during my freshman year in high school. I had checked out 3 or 4 books for some book reports I needed to complete. Now, as a former English major, I can tell you that just about any book someone tells me I have to read for a grade or report is horrible. Being forced to read a certain book takes the joy out of reading, at least for me (and yes, I passed my Shakespeare class in college by watching all the movies and reading cliffs notes, so it is possible, just not advised.) I grudgingly checked out classics such as Moby Dick, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and a few other novels I was being forced to read for an AP English class. For some reason or another I didn’t get the books back to the library on time. I ended up misplacing the books and couldn’t find them no matter how hard I looked. Instead of just going up to the library, admitting I lost the books and paying the fine. I became a fugitive.

At first it was just a notice in the mail (this was back in the early 90’s before the library was even online). The standard you owe XX amount in late fees. Every few weeks I would get another one, then another one, each time the XX amount growing higher and higher. Who knew that 10 cents a day could add up so quickly! After several weeks of ignoring the letters and phone calls reminding me of my tardiness in remitting the payment I was turned over to a “collection agency” (please keep in mind I was 14 at the time) and they even went as far as calling my mom at work to tell her I owed them what now amounted to over three hundred dollars (WTF! For THREE or FOUR books?!?!). Always the rebel, my mom laughed at them and told them I was 14, didn’t have a steady job and that I has just lost the books and to NEVER. EVER. call her at work again.

As you might imagine, my once coveted library card was revoked. I refused to even set foot in the library and my mom started checking books out for me on her card. After Big T laid down the law with the library, all phone calls and letters ceased. My friends aunt (who is also a librarian) assured me that I wouldn’t be taken out in public and flogged, the library would simply remove the books from their catalogue and hang a WANTED poster in the library with my picture on it. Years went by, I graduated from high school (which may or may not have involved an elaborate plan that including covertly smuggling books in and out of the library for junior and senior research papers) and I went to college. Another four years later, after I had finished with college I was in our basement rummaging around for some thing or another and low and behold found the lost library books. The books who had lost me my beloved library card. The books which had long become a running joke among family and friends. After much debating about what to do, I decided to return the now several years late books but I didn’t want to pay the fine which I am sure would have been able to pay for a brand new Mercedes or something. I also didn’t want to wait for the Amnesty Day the library has like one day out of a year where you can return late books without paying the fine. I had lost the books once and if I didn’t return them I probably never would.

I remember the day I returned the books to their rightful home. I was very worried about what the librarians reaction would be. For months I had been using my moms card. (The library eventually not only decided they had to have actual cards but also gave out those keychain things like some grocery stores have so both my mom and I could have one, which is very convenient when you are a fugitive from the library.) The director I was on a first name basis with as well as just about every one else I knew had long ago moved on to another job or retired. If there was a WANTED poster with my picture on it, no one seemed to know. I slowly emerged from the car, contraband in hand. As I made my way to the desk I was horrified that someone was standing in front of the book return bin so I was forced to hand over said contraband to the waiting librarian. Can you believe she had the nerve to strike up a conversation so I couldn’t just dump them and flee? Out of habit she flipped the book opened and gasped. The books I had given her did not have the new scan-able bar codes, no; instead they had the pocket and an actual card with the due date that was punched by some old fashioned machine long gone. “These books have been overdue for like 8 years!! Are they yours?”

Now it would appear my days as a fugitive were over. I would be handcuffed and shackled, a disgrace to my family which includes English teachers, librarians, and avid readers. My days undercover, checking books out under an identity other than my own were at an end. I opened my mouth to speak, to implicate myself of my wrong doings, to throw myself at her feet begging for mercy while crying out, “Yes, they are, I am irresponsible and reckless, I LOST the books for 8 years!!”

But, that’s not what happened. Surprising myself (and to this day I have no idea where this came from) I said “Of course they aren’t mine, do I look like someone who just doesn’t return library books. We were cleaning out a dead relative’s house and found them.”

She accepted my explanation without question, thanking me for returning the books after all those years and we proceeded to have a few more minutes of random chit chat before I was able to flee back to the safety of my car. I can only assume that my name has been either been long purged from their system or added to the deceased patron list (if there is such a thing). For the past 6 years I have quietly handed over my mom’s keychain card library card and continue to remain somewhat of an undercover fugitive at the local library. So that my dear friends, is why I can’t get a library card or perhaps more appropriately, why the library thinks I am dead.


Jenny and Matt said...

Ha! I love it!
We have this audio book in the basement that's a wee bit overdue (2 years)... when are you headed back to the library? Could you do me a favor..........

Andy said...

Hahahaha... I have so many overdue books... everytime the librarian asks for them I just say I habven't had the chance to read them . Hopefully, by next year, none of the books will be taking in consideration.

chickbug said...

lol. so funny. i can't even remember the last time i went into a library. this inspired me to go!

Rachel said...

This story was great!

I had late books but got off because I gave birth. Then I moved and had late books again....that fine I have not paid, but I think they stop at $25 and just send you to collections.

*starts planning on faking her own death*

MeLaNiE said...

haha that's great! Atleast you found them & they didn't make you pay for them!

Mandy said...

Jenny and Mat--sorry you're one your own there.

ANdy--procratination worked well for me for a long time! :-)

Chickbug--GO! Go!

Rachel--and people think you can only fake your death in the movies!

Melanie--I had no idea what I would have done if I hadnt decided that I was the dead relative.

Bayjb said...

Holy cow. Wow. I need to go pay off my fee now in fear that a collection agency will come for me. Ouch too far.

Unknown said...

Wow! That is awesome. I can't even remember the last time I visited a library. Even in college, I would occasionally go there to study or look something up but I don't know that I ever actually checked out a book...huh. Now I want to get a library card just to test the system.

Mandy said...

Babyjb--I'm not sure if it was a collection agency or just the library saying they were a collection agency.

RebeccaC--Anyone can checkout a book, smuggling books is much more fun!

Mandy said...
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Mandy said...
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