Friday, May 21, 2010

Bibliotards In Good Company

I remember once when my brother-in-law, Mr. Weathercolour, announced that he had found a word for "people like us."  "It combines Greek and Latin roots," he said, apologetically.

"People like us?"

"People who check out way too many library books and then turn them in late and rack up huge library fines. We're bibliotards."

And, unfortunately, I can't really deny that that title is pretty apt for me. You know you are an unusual patron when the librarian is shocked that you aren't shocked at the size of your library fine.

One friend was telling me the other day that during a recent discussion with her children, they offered to give up their allowances if that would allow the family finances to stretch so that they could get in to a bigger house-- but she had to inform them that reducing the amount they paid monthly in library fines would actually help more. (Though, this story could also-- correctly-- be read as a commentary on how small said allowances are more than how large the library fines are.)

Several years after that initial "bibliotard" conversation with Mr. Weathercolour, I was lamenting a huge (seemingly un-pay-able, at the time) library fine to my bishop at the time (since I'm a Latter-Day-Saint, this means that my interlocutor was a leader of a local congregation, somewhat like a pastor, rather than of anything larger). In response, he told me this wonderful story about when he was living in a little teeny town in Michigan, decades earlier-- before the library had become computerized. Under the Old Regime, your library card was a 3x5 card with your name on the top and the titles of the books you had checked out running down the long side of the card, with their due dates next to them. You crossed out the title of a book once it was returned. On one occasion, when he went to check out a book, the fierce-as-a-dragon-little-old-lady-librarian said, "You see this?!?" She was pointing to his card, which had, at that point, racked up a sizable fine. "I'm not going to check anything out to you until you pay that fine!"

His wife's response was, "Good for her! Someone needs to stand up to you!"

So he sheepishly paid the fine.

And then, several months later (we all joke about this happening, but you knew that it actually had to have happened somewhere, at some time, right? ("we" meaning bibliotards, of course)) the library was going through its records and sending out invitations to a black-tie dinner being held for people who had contributed over a certain amount to the fund for the new library, and guess who got an invite to the fancy dinner? With his wife, of course.

And now-- I'm sure you've seen the article, but just in case you hadn't, I had to post it-- now I believe we've been officially joined by the most illustrious member of the club yet. George Washington himself failed to return a couple of books to the New York Public Library within his lifetime, though one of them has recently been returned by the nice people now running his estate. (What this second article does not make clear is whether the book returned was the one originally checked out, or just the same edition of the same title. I'll let you know if I find out.) I will say, if they'd been raising funds for a library addition, I might have rooted for them to hold out for the $300,000 fine to be paid-- it could have been an excellent start for such a fundraiser-- and then again, in New York, maybe it wouldn't have paid for more than an extra couple of square feet anyway.