Give me your tales of library loss woe

I once left a library book on  a train. I was terribly upset for two reasons. One. It was a library book, not my book, and it felt almost like stealing through negligence. Two. I hadn’t finished reading it!

And, actually, three. It was a library book. I know that’s just One again, but I felt really bad about it.

Losing library books feels like stealing food from the starving poor. Or being mean to puppies. Or something.

The book was Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, so it wasn’t like I was waiting to find out whodunnit, or whether the secret plans were recovered, or if Frodo really got to Mordor. But it was a damned good book.

Lost and Found never found it, so I duly called the library and paid for the replacement, and because I couldn’t wait, I also bought my own copy of the book and finished it.  *aaaaah, the literary relief of it*

I thought of this incident at the beginning of the year when I read about the anonymous return of an overdue library book 27 years after the fact.

I was impressed that someone wanted to do the right thing after all that time, and the financial cunning they showed in doing it anonymously.  Even though I know the library would not have charged them the nearly $3000 in overdue fees, because libraries don’t actually work like that.

Sadly, when I was a teenager, I met someone who confessed that they stole books from the local library. I can’t even remember now whether or not she read them, or just nicked them for the fun of it. I remember being horrified and we stopped being friends shortly afterwards.

The weird thing is that I was mortified partly because, you know, theft, but mostly because, you know, theft from a library. I don’t know why that makes it worse, except, of course, that libraries are sacrosanct.

I’m assuming I’m not the only one with an intense quasi-sacred regard for library books. So please, share your library-book-pain stories with me, and we can all go seek therapy together.

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Posted on April 3, 2012, in writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. naturallydotty

    I may have told you this story already, but others won’t have heard it.

    Not long after we got Shiraz (our Dalmatian) we went to the Melbourne Show with our niece Danielle – to see the Dalmatians. The Dallie people were amazed that we’d been brave enough to leave her alone, in the house and had tales of damage wrought by their dogs. Hah – we were clever – we’d shut her out of the bedroom, and didn’t expect any trouble.

    The joke was on us. When we returned, it was to find several books taken out of the book case and chewed – and in 2 cases totally destroyed. One of the chewed books was a library book – and we had no hesitation in taking it to the library, showing them and paying for a replacement.
    The book in question was a Ramsay Campbell book – which has now been read and reread many times. It was a roundabout and expansive way to acquire our own copy of a good book.

    • Perhaps Shiraz is in the employ of a bookshop syndicate… I’ve had my cat Petra chomp thoughtfully on a page or two, but only of my own books. Mostly, she likes to sit in the middle of them while I try to read. Logical, really, since that’s where my attention is, and that she should always be the centre of my attention…

  2. As a librarian, I’ve encountered several times people attempting to steal books from the library. I don’t quite understand why. All they have to do is check it out for free. I just don’t get it. Libraries are for everyone and when people purposely try to steal books from a library, it makes me mad and frustrated. The people who are taking the books are not just taking it from the library, but from everyone in their community. It’s just not cool.

    I always like to see people who come in admitting a mistake they make whether it happens to be returning the book late, damaging it, or even losing it. I believe these library patrons have an amount of respect for the library and what it means to have these materials available to the public.

    I agree, there’s something sacred about a library. I think it has something to do with the collective use by others than just yourself as well as the library representing a community gathering place. It’s where you can learn new ways of thinking and be introduced to characters or subjects you never would have encountered elsewhere. Libraries hold a special place in my heart as well. It’s my home away from home.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Gina. Yes, the whole stealing from libraries thing is puzzling, especially since you can simply borrow the book. It’s like stealing from yourself.

      Perhaps we who hold libraries sacred don’t need therapy at all. It’s everyone else who is out of step.

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