Yesterday, Aaron and I went to the library. When I tried to use the self check-out, a little message popped up and said there was a problem with my card. This was not surprising since our library recently revamped their computer system and changed their check-out/check-in systems, and in the last two months, I always seem to encounter some kind of problem.
So I made my way over to one of the real, live librarians and told her I couldn't check out. She scanned my card and said it was because there was a $29.00 fine on it and they only allow fines to go up to $25.00. My mouth gaped open in astonishment, and I spluttered, "That cannot possibly be true." I said that in good faith since I had checked my account just that morning and seen with my own two eyes that my fines amounted to a measly 80 cents.
"It's for a damaged item," she said. "A Mind at a Time."
I had just returned that book a few minutes before, and I feverishly racked my brain for what kind of damage I had done to it. Thrown it into the fire? No. Stomped on it in a wild dance? Not this time. Ripped it up in a fit of rage? It wasn't that kind of book.
The librarian could see I was getting flustered, so she beckoned to another librarian, who came over holding A Mind at a Time. I refrained from snatching it out of her hands.
"How is it damaged?" I asked. As she opened up the front cover, I remembered.
When I checked out the book, the first grouping of 20 pages was beginning to pull away from the binding. During the few weeks of opening, closing, holding, and reading it, the pages had come all the way out--but were still glued together in their own little group.
So there it was. My abuse was not in burning or stomping or ripping, but in reading.
I rushed to defend myself: "I didn't do that! The pages were already coming out when I got the book."
Apparently, the librarian holding the book had been in the process of writing me an email. I almost wish it had been sent before we got things resolved. I would have loved to know what she was saying. Instead, she said, "Oh, that's fine. Next time, just make sure you tell us about the problem when you return the book."
So the fine is gone. And I should be happy. But I'm still a bit rankled for three reasons:
- I check out well-used items from the library all the time: board books with flaps missing, paperbacks that are bent and scuffed, DVDs that are so scratched they skip more than they play. Am I really going to have to start reporting how all these items are damaged when I return them just so that I don't accrue unwarranted fines?
- As items get read and used, it should be expected that a certain amount of wear and tear will occur. Even under the best handling, an item can only be passed between so many hands before it starts to show its age. How do you decide who is responsible for the damage when it was the work of several different people reading the book?
- The book was still very readable (so readable I forgot to even mention the damage when I turned the book in--and, rather ironically, I did mention some problems with a picture book I was checking in at the same time). Even if the damage had been completely the result of my negligence and my mistreatment, I still don't think I should have had to pay the full cost to replace the book. If the book was so damaged it had to be retired, then yes, of course. But if it was merely going to be repaired and placed back on the shelf? Then charge a fine for damage but not an entire replacement fee.
However, I also want to be fair.
And in all fairness, there have been many times when I've mentioned damage that we've done to books. I'm definitely not trying to get away with abuse. The funny thing is, because the damage was small, they've always just smiled and said something like, "Oh don't worry about it. That book has been around forever. That's what happens when you read a book."
This time was just so surprising and unexpected. I don't know if they're trying to crack down a little and make patrons more responsible or if this particular librarian was just a little over-zealous.
I would welcome any feedback, particularly from current- or former-librarians. Is it too optimistic to hope I have a silent reader or two who works in one of the Salt Lake City libraries? How about other moms who have had to deal with the dilemma of reporting damage? Do other libraries charge a damage fee, or is it all or nothing? Please share your opinions (but of course, do so kindly!).