Monday, March 23, 2009

Felonious Book Borrowing

Although I don't seem like the criminal type, I am. Sometimes I'm able to forget it for long stretches at a time--mostly by avoiding the scene of the crime. But sooner or later the kids want books and we have to go to the library.

A few months ago Chris went to the library with his mother. He has just sold a custom-painted RC body on eBay and had a little cash, so he inquired about my account. Contrary to my report that there was a huge overdue fine there waiting for me, it was only $3.50. Chris paid it. I was astonished. I was sure it was more.

My biggest overdue fine ever was $196.00 back in the fall of 2007. I usually get into trouble when I'm working on a textbook project and I'm asked to find some great children's literature to suggest for the project. I'm allowed a certain amount of copyright-protected product (mostly means the author, or the author's estate, is still alive and well) and a certain amount of public domain stuff (mostly means it was published loooooooooong before we were born, and most of it is therefore too intense, too Left, too Right, or too SOMEthing for us to use in today's publishing). And while I can go to the library and peruse stuff right there, sooner or later I'm down to the short list and I have to check those books out, take them home, make illegal copies of them, and send them to the client where they then decide what makes the final cut and do the rest of it all on the up-and-up.

Then the books sit on the corner of my desk until I have time to take them back to the library. This can look like 50 books waiting six months until the project ends and I'm cleaning up my office and find the pile and realize that I've done it again. I've kept the books so long it'll take a mortgage payment to get my library card back.

So I take the books back to the library, usually using any outside shutes available, and slink away until the next time I NEED to check out something from the library.

One time, when we were moving from CA to PA, I accidentally BOXED UP all the books ready to go back to the library and moved those out to PA with us. Not only did the overdue fines exceed the rest of our debt combined, (okay, no, but it was $175 for like 8 books) but they sent a collections agency after us and threatened to report us to the credit bureau. I didn't really care about either, but I'd never meant to STEAL the books, and I could see that they must have seriously missed them, so I boxed them all up again and mailed them back to CA in a sort of plea bargain that involved them agreeing to drop all charges if I just paid the $8 replacement charge for the one book I couldn't find. I figured that and the $34 in media mail postage was sufficient punishment.

But I never learn. It was only two years later that I incurred that $196 fee.

I couldn't pay it, of course. It wasn't just that I have a tendency to reason that, for crying out loud, they GOT all the books back. ALL of them! And there wasn't one coffee stain or pencil mark on any of them. A little dust, maybe. And I don't dog-ear the pages. My mother(s) raised me right. I plain old didn't have $200 to give the public library. So I talked the nice teen-aged library aide behind the counter into halving the fee. I paid $98 for my indiscretions. It hurt, but I had it coming to me.

Anyway at the end of last month, we (Gramma Gaye, Max, the twinks, and I) went to the library and checked out a bunch of books. I got mostly Rita Mae Brown mysteries. The kids fare varied. This afternoon we rounded up ALL of the books and even the three VHS movies they'd checked out and took them all back FIVE WHOLE DAYS before they were due.

I felt angelic.


This month the library was switching over to a new card system, so you have to turn in ALL of your old orange and red library cards and trade them in for new green cards--that manage to be incredibly unattractive. It's hard to mess up green. Who approved these? So I let Ben check out his book on his card, and Milo on his, and me on mine, whereas last month we just checked out everything on my card.

And that's how we found out that the LAST time I needed books for one of my work projects I had inadvertantly used BEN'S library card. The poor guy is sadled with $45 in debt because his felonious mother checked out 30 books and kept them for 90 days, give or take a few.

I hadn't even BROUGHT my wallet, much less my checkbook, to the library, and THIS teenage library aide was TOTALLY not going to let me check out any books on that card. But when I asked, "Well, can we check them out on one of the other cards that DOESN'T have any fees on it?" he caved. Ben was tearing up. There were 15 people in line behind us. Milo wasn't paying any attention to the problem and was pestering him to let HIM check out HIS book. "Okay." said the kid. I handed over my card, it was traded in for one of the new ugly green cards, and we checked out the new batch of 25 or so books for Ben, Max, and I. Milo's card was "clean," so he got to check out his book on his card.

We fled with the goods.

Now I just have to find $45 worth of something to sell on eBay to pay Ben's overdue fines so we can clear his good name sometime in the next three weeks. The kid is only 7. I can't have him taking the rap for me. Even a hardened library criminal like me has some ethics.