This excitement for new books and love of learning spills over to our home. The kids have library books on their nightstands, under their beds, in the playroom, in the living room, in our room, on our bookshelves mixed in with our other books, just about everywhere. I think this is great. The more good books around, the more likely they will want to read them instead of answering the Siren song of video games or mindless television.
But sometimes, in all this excitement, and hustle and bustle, it’s hard to keep track of where each of these books is at any given time. Some books end up in the car. Some books are taken in backpacks to school. Some are secreted to friends’ houses. Usually they are not lost completely (though this too has happened, which I will talk more about in a second). But we may not know exactly where every book is on the exact day it is due.
I get due dates and I even get late fees. Before we moved here, we lived near a library that adopted a much more laissez-faire approach to due date/late fee enforcement. In fact, while checked out books theoretically had due dates, there were no late fees of any kind and, as a result, you could essentially keep a book forever. The thinking was that they did not want to discourage learning through threat of monetary punishment (and there is something to be said for that, especially in lower income areas). But the result was that the library’s shelves were almost completely bare. And you could forget about any new acquisitions. Many hold requests languished unanswered in perpetuity.
There has to be a happy medium, something between the the draconian regime we currently face and the pure honor system that clearly was not working at our last library.
It’s not even that $17 is some outrageous, unpayable amount of money. We’re good for it. And would have paid it eventually. I know libraries are underfunded. I know library workers are overworked and underpaid, and they do what they have to do to keep their libraries stocked and otherwise make up for those deficiencies. But it was the threat to send us to collections that left us so incensed. We are good library patrons. We visit frequently. We have donated numerous books. Purchased items at the friends of the library sale. We pay taxes. My best friend is a librarian, and I applaud and encourage him every chance I get.
And maybe some of the fault is our own. We are not completely organized and are not as diligent as we could be about checking due dates and keeping our checked out items in one or two specific locations at home. But that seems kind of like a chore. The library should be fun. Librarians should be friends, not oppressive authority figures we should dread interacting with. So what do we do?
One thing I will say, the libraries in our area have the best selection, the most knowledgable staff, and the most impressive facilities I have ever encountered. I like all of those things, of course, but at what cost? True, one nasty letter won’t offend us so much that we will stop going to the library completely, but that may not be true for everyone. What is the answer? What works or does not work in your area?