Rant of the Wild Librarian: Puzzlements Three

Wild LibrarianI’ve been a professional librarian for going on 18 years, now, and before that, I worked college summers at the main branch of my hometown library.*  Before that, I visited the small, storefront branch in my neighborhood as often as Mom would let me.

There are still many things that puzzle me about the job and also about the mindsets and motivations of the patrons who visit the library.

Here are three of them:



Why would anyone steal from a public library?

I’m not talking about thefts of rare books for profit or those enterprising citizens who check out hundreds of DVDs and CDs and pawn them, then think telling the library that their card was stolen or they lost all seventy-five of those CDs—In a fire! In the flood! In the divorce! Locusts!—will get them out of a Grand Theft charge.

I’m talking about people who rip off RFID tagged back covers and walk out with a damaged book they could have easily checked out or do any of a number of things with a CD or DVD to baffle the security gates.

Or who check out an item and keep it forever and always—because that’s stealing, too.

I don’t get it.

Shelf Reading CatPeople . . . if you’re a taxpaying resident,** you and your fellow residents already own these items. The whole collection is yours. We’re just storing it here to spare your overcrowded shelves.

The reason you have to return the stuff you check out is that it’s community property. You aren’t sole owner and sharing is caring.

So if you love an item, return it, undamaged, so others will have a chance to see how fantastic it is. You two can have another sleepover as soon as your schedules match up—and if your Very Favorite Library Item is retired from our shelves, you might be able to find it in our Friends book store and take it home for your very own, like a paginated Velveteen Rabbit.

If you hate something you checked out, return it anyway—it’s not your job to protect people from whatever sinks your battleship. If you’re compelled to make sure everyone knows what a waste of time/danger to one’s immortal soul this evil/ill-plotted/morally re-pugnant/politically agenda-ed/badly edited thing is, write a review.

Just don’t write your opinion in the pages of the book. Even grammar or spelling corrections.

That’s not justifiable post-editing, it’s prosecutable vandalism.



Why do people complain about paying fines?

You agreed to the rules, Sparky. Twice: once when you signed up for the card and once when you checked out the item you returned late.

Fork it over  and quit telling us the game is rigged.

If it is, it’s in your favor.

We make every effort to tell you when the item is due when you check it out; we’ll even e-mail you a couple of days before you have to return it.

We have phone and online renewals for slow readers and those inevitable “Oh, crap!” moments.

If you return stuff after hours, don’t worry: we back date overnight returns.

If you tell us you’ve already returned the item, we’ll suspend our disbelief long enough to do a thorough search. If you claim the item is lost, we freeze the fines long enough for you to make a reasonable effort to locate it.

We aren’t being unreasonable, here.

We just want all taxpayer property back on time so that other taxpayers—including you—can borrow it.

If fining you a dime a day—a dime a day***—is so unreasonable, maybe should should stick to short books in the reference collections; you know, thing that can’t be checked out in the first place.


Apple Orange

Why would one stand in the Orangetown Public Library
and tell the staff that the Appletown Public Library
is superior in every possible way?

Is the Appletown Library closed today? Have the buses stopped running?

Do you really think that library systems have match pricing for printouts? Do you think Orangetown librarians will give you extra computer time because Appletown has a higher limit?

Do you think we’ll bend ourselves into pretzels to prove that our library is the best?

No two library systems are alike and our library policies aren’t arbitrary, they’re tailored to the community they primarily serve.

Here are two math problems to illustrate:

The Orangetown Public Library System has 70 public workstations from which patrons print 900 pages a day and the Appletown Public Library System has 20 Public workstations from which patrons print 400 pages a day.

If both library systems have the same budget, per capita, and both get the same discount on printer toner and paper, which library is statistically more likely to offer five free printouts to patrons who print from their workstations?


The Orangetown Public Library System has 70 public workstations. On average, each workstation is in use 95% of the hours the library is open.

The Appletown Public Library System has 50 Public workstations. On average, each workstation is in use 50% of the hours the library is open.

Which library is statistically more likely to offer higher computer time limits and still be able to accommodate the majority of patrons who wish to use the workstations?

If you need any help with these, I’m sure  the Appletown Public Library will be able to assist you.  They don’t look busy over there . . .


Ahhhh.  That’s better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go spelunking under the kids’ beds for overdue library books. And yeah, I’m planning on complaining about that at great length.

But not to the library.


* Yes, ’twas fate.  Fate, and a sincere loathing of the local frozen yogurt place, where I worked the summer before college. But that’s a different rant.

** If you aren’t a taxpaying resident and you have a library card that we accept, you are our honored guest and our collection is also your collection. But that doesn’t exempt you from minding the House Rules. Guests that steal from their hosts aren’t invited back.

***Yeah, some items are a dollar a day, now. But those items are iPads, so . . .

13 thoughts on “Rant of the Wild Librarian: Puzzlements Three

  1. I cannot believe that anyone would have the chutzpah to complain about a dime-a-day fine. As a fellow who sometimes has to pay these fines, I find them ridiculously skimpy. I would vote in favor of an increase.

  2. That is one of the reasons why libraries are wonderful–saving shelf space. Though it somehow only helps me so much.

    I once had a book I returned somehow fail to be recorded, so it can happen… at least once. 😉

    • You’d think I’d have fewer books at home, too, caitlin, but space is still at a premium here . . . especially on the shelf where we put the library books . . .

      It does happen, which is why we do searches. But it doesn’t happen as often as people hope it does. 😀

  3. Not to mention the fact that it would be cheaper for the patron to buy their own copy rather than pay the library for a copy. It’s amazing how often things are “found” after the patron finds out that they have to pay for any rights purchased along with the material, and the cost of staff resources to repurchase it. I used to be the person in charge of obtaining replacement pages for things that were damaged by patrons who just had to have that chapter/article/plate. The stories I could tell would curl your toes.

    • My toes are nearly uncurlable, Dee. 🙂

      But, yeah, our replacement fees are often higher than the book.

      We’re also toying with charging patrons for not picking up holds received from libraries within our consortium. They don’t understand that we still pay for the van and gas and staff time . . .

  4. Wouldn’t it be great if the late fines were used for the librarians? Pizza one night? Bagels in the morning? I mean, we misplace bpoks all the time and it totals a couple of bucks. My vote is to do something fun with it!

    • Unfortunately, that money is spoken for, already, Lyra, but it’s a terrific idea. 🙂

      (We don’t carry a lot of bpoks anymore–they went the way of the Betamax. 😀 )

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