My Library Shame: Part 1

[Note: This is the first in a two-part series. Part 2 will appear this Friday. — Blog Ed.]

On a recent visit to Serendipity, a cafe in Frederick, Maryland where I live, I parked in a garage that was close by. There, I drank coffee, had a nosh and wrote for several hours. Upon leaving I headed back to the garage to pay my parking fee when I was stopped by a gang of elderly retirees. I was pummeled with all kinds of questions about my parking choice for the day:  Where was I parked? How long had I been gone? What was I going to do next? Didn’t I have a need to go into the library?

I was always taught to be polite to everyone but most assuredly to anyone older than myself.

Can I help you? Yes or no Ma’am/Sir, Please and thank you, That is very kind of you.” I had been trained from the time I understood words the importantance of showing respect. I am glad to report my training kicked in as I answered all the questions posed to me.

My response: “Second level, a bit over four hours, going home after stopping at the food store for cat litter, no, I had no need to go to the library and thank you for your kindness in asking.”

There was a moment of total silence save for the amplified car noises as people came and went.

One of the gang turned to another one and nodded. In unison, they all said, “The library validates parking!” Aha, now I understood the reason this group of rouge seniors were barring the way to the pay station.

“You’ll say $2.00! That’s two cups of coffee at Common Market if you use their mugs.” How could I refuse their earnest demand? So with my thanks for their diligence in helping my finances I started to march toward the library entrance.

Suddenly my insides were pulling at every step my feet took, my hands began to sweat and that little voice, so rarely followed in my younger years, was pleading for me to run the other way. An image of me fleeing down East Patrick Street with this group of cane and walker users in lukewarm pursuit filled my field of vision. I glanced back once to see their smiling faces beaming their pleasure at imparted deep wisdom to a younger generation and cheering me on to take frugal action. Go get that parking ticket validated!

You see, I have a problem with libraries and have my whole life. Every since I got my first library card in elementary school.

Words can make me giddy and I love books. I also adore libraries. They have always been a happy and safe place for me. The smell of books, God how I love the smell of books. The older the better. And books would take me to other worlds, other lives and it was the first place I started connecting to my desire to write. The library has always held magic for me. In my rough childhood there was a connection with so many other people in those pages that soothed me. So what’s the problem, you might be asking?

In every new county or state I have moved to in my life, one of the first things I always have done after getting a local driver’s license was locating all the branches in the library system and get my card. After spending countless hours reviewing their collections I would happily take out as many books as they would let me. As I grew, that included cassette tapes, CDs, books on tape. I would find an author whose work I really enjoyed and would rush forward to read everything they had ever written.

The problem is I don’t always get around to returning the borrowed items to the library. I start out with the best intentions with a new library card in my hand and for a while, it all goes smoothly. I get books back on time, returning the ones I am done with early even. If I was late by a day or two I would march right up to the desk, like any normal person ready to pay my ten-cent fine. This always made me secretly feel very adult. I have gotten a lot better with this issue over time.  Years of therapy might have helped; hard to say.

But back then, given time I would start to slip and library books would bump along in my car with me turning the volume up on the tap deck to block out the sound of their judgement  At some point, I would drop them all in the overnight drop slot and wait for the bill to come. When it did I would pay it. It was never very much. I would feel so ashamed it would take months before I would go back into the library, usually visiting a different branch. Regardless of my chronic bad behavior in regard to library etiquette, loaned items were always returned at some point, and late fees were always paid. Even though I was certain my picture was on a notice board under a list of bad patrons, I seem to have come through most of this without affecting that all-important permanent record, a threat we all lived under during our tender school years.

All of that changed however when I first read Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. I fell in love with this book in my late teens. I had never read a more powerful protagonist than Dagny Taggart. She was kick-ass and a girl! A Kick Ass Girl! Wooo! I had never come across one in print before. I read and re-read the loaned book several times, not a small feat since the book is 1,168 pages. It was the largest book I had read up to that point. I renewed it the allotted three times until I had lost total track of the days and months I had that book. At some point, it dawned on me that I needed to just take it back. Face the music. Take control of my own destiny. Had I not learned anything from Dagny? But how could I part with it?

Regardless, I would indeed return it and face the consequences of whatever they might be. Lining the book up with my money on the coffee table for the return the next day, I was ready.

At some point in the night, my cat threw up a massive furball all over the book’s cover. As I wiped the cover off the best I could I wondered if this was fate interceding. Was I meant to keep this book? What else could I do? Well, actually it appears I could have done several things but none of them made their selves known at the time.

I did something I have been told just doesn’t get done. Leaving the book drying in the dish drainer, I marched into the library with my card in hand and said I wanted to speak to someone about an overdue book I had out. I wanted to pay for it.

“You lost the book?” I was asked.

“No, I just want to purchase it.” The Librarian just stood there blinking at me.