A few years ago, Megan traveled through the age-old rite of passage that is obtaining her very own, very first library card.  She had been begging me for one for months, but the prerequisite for this shiny, steel-gray gem was the child’s ability to write her first and last name without help.  Megan was but a wee preschooler at the time, and despite her parent’s conviction that she was surely a genius (our child?  could she be anything but?), the little darling could not yet patch “Megan” and “Smith” together without a bit of prodding by mom.  When the blessed day arrived that she could finally do so, she marched up to the desk, signed the form, and emerged triumphant with her first (of what I fear will be many) credit-card-of-sorts.  She felt grownup and proud, and I thought the whole episode was so cute.  Until today.

Meg had an unusually voracious appetite for books at the ‘ole Mid-Columbia Library today, and she wanted to check them out on “her” card.  (Out of convenience, we usually use mine for the whole family.)  I agreed, and she whipped that baby out of her embroidered back pocket with the flair of Poncho Villa.  She slapped it down on the desk, shiny as new, and waited for some service.  A pale blond woman, whose white face disappeared into whiter hair, sat behind the desk.  She scanned the card, then peered down her bifocals at the young patron with a smile/frown.

“You can’t use this today.”

“Why not?”  Meg’s eyebrows would have furrowed, had there been
hair there to furrow.  (Her face is still completely smooth and hairless, with spider veins on her temples, like a newborn’s.  I love it.)

“You have a fine of ten dollars.”

I felt Megan’s hand stiffen in mine, and saw her flinch behind a calm face.  Ten dollars!  Ten dollars!  Such a sum of money!

“Yes.  Ten dollars,” said the librarian, as if she could read our silent thoughts.  (I am not kidding with these italics.  She actually repeated the amount emphatically, in a sort of stage whisper.)

I stood quietly, unsure whether to lecture or reassure my daughter.  Before I could speak, she looked up at me with her toffee-drop eyes and said, “Mom, I think I have enough allowance to pay for that.”  I wanted to hug her.  She didn’t even consider asking me to pay for it, though I had already begun wondering how I could justify doing so.  Her sweet offer, however, gave me a perfect launch into Teaching Responsibility.

“Yes, honey, ten dollars is alot of money, and you’ll need to pay it.  We’ll come back and pay it next time when you can bring your allowance.” 

Her upper lip visibly stiffened as she braced herself to part with such a dear sum of money.  How I wanted to pay it for her, and relieve her suffering!  But I dared not, for then what would become of this child?  She may go through life without an understanding of care, responsibility, even the value of a hard-earned dollar.  No, I must be strict, much as it tore at my pulsing mother-heart.  For the good of my children, I would set an example of careful accountability.  After all, they would someday take after their mother.  Passing on my discipline and frugality was the least I could do.

I then pulled out my own library card so I could check out the entire family’s materials.  I decided to use the self-checkout machine this time (I’d had enough of Pasty-Face Drama Queen behind Customer Service.)  I went to scan my first book, but was promptly halted by a large indicator on the screen:




You know…I’ve decided that the only industry weathering the storm of this horrific economy is the wretched Public Library System, and they do so off the backs of harmless little borrowers like me.  If the Civil Engineering industry was clearing half the profit that Public Libraries were, I’d be buying all my books in brand-new hardcover, folding the corners and staining the pages all I liked, and then shipping them to you, my less fortunate friends, in a gracious and condescending gesture.  And I wouldn’t give that shabby MCL the view of my upturned nose.  (Oh, the twisted fantasies I keep.)

16 thoughts on “A FINE howdy-do.

  1. Jen,
    Our library does send email reminders. I get them when my books are due. By the way, I'm betting that a dollar of those fines may be from books you checked out for Tucker when watching him – Sooorrryyy!!

  2. Aghh… The library told Evelyn she owed 97.00. Is there a limit on fines?? They told my poor 8 year old she lost a kids book and the cost of replacement was 97. She looked like she was going to be sick. After avoiding the library for a year I went in to ask if there was a payment plan. Guess what they found the book on their shelves, nice if they would have let us know. Evelyn is very apprehensive about anything she checks out now!!

  3. My last check of my fines amounted to $8.40. I'm trying to be a good borrower and keep it under $10 – then I can keep getting books and such. Unfortunately, there is little hope for me. I'm a library junkie. I go incognito now – sunglasses and hat so Miss Pastey won't track me down.

  4. I don't even want to know what I owe! I haven't been to MCL for months because I can't afford to come clean. I think I know which librarian Meg had the pleasure of interacting with today. And, honey, she makes my skin crawl!

  5. I checked out Thomas the Train dvd for Tanner and not knowing dvd's are only a 7 day check out, I mean the books are 3 weeks so they could have printed in large type on my receipt perhaps with red ink, "dvd 7 day rental or we'll charge you big bucks". So now I owe our lovely library $5!! I could have bought Tanner the DVD at Target and then we would OWN the movie!!!

  6. Funny thing is that I couldn’t wait until my kids got their own library cards so that I could use their cards and avoid paying the fines sitting on my card.

    Clever title by the way.

  7. Great write! Ever think of taking a job with the local paper? Perhaps in the editorial dept. to offset the high price of media borrowing?

  8. I feel your pain, Jen. With all the fines Noelle and I have paid over the years, we should have a plaque with our names on a bookshelf that was paid for with our money.

    We have a friend on the West side that told us their library NEVER charges fines unless the books are not returned at all. It makes sense really. It’s a public library. It’s paid for with our tax money. Where do they get the right to charge us for returning OUR books just a day or two late?

  9. Poor Megan! I am grateful our library has email reminders and a print out that you get when you check out! Another reason for you to move to Toledo – I have a good record at the library!

    Sorry Megs! I love that girl she is so adorable!

  10. Someday we will not only be able to afford hardbacks, but also the library’s fines. Poor Megan…tell her she can come wtih me to the library. somehow, the fees never show up (although I know I owe them money).

  11. Sarah,
    We actually go to a new library that is on the other side of town. It’s much bigger and nicer, but I’m still loyal to the old downtown one. And why don’t I have that photo of me and Mike anywhere? My one shot at fame, and of course I have no proof.

    I think the fines are from when we went a while back and checked out about 75 things, and then we were just a couple days late with ALL of them, so it added up. And you’re right–an email alert would help, they don’t do that. Mostly, it’s my own carelessness. Ask Ashley–I had this problem when she and I used to go to the Gilbert library, too. (Miss those AZ days!!)

  12. Are you patrons of the old library the we used to go to as kids? The one where you and Mike Hazel were photographed donating the KOG sun? My family visited that branch like there was no other entertainment in town -bi-weekly it seems like.

    What kind of videos/books are you borrowing that you’ve accrued such fines? Do they not have an email alert for your overdue items? You should suggest that.

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