An Open Letter

Dear Library,

Before I get into the hard stuff, Library, I want to tell you that I've always loved you. You were one of my first favorite places. For you I learned to write my full name, small and neatly, at age four, to fit on the signature line of my very own library card. You outfitted me, at age nine, for my first-ever term paper, "Climate Zones of the World," with great patience. You were a home for my teenaged spiritual questions, providing me with a quiet place to peruse The Varieties of Religious Experience and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as well as most things in between (not to mention space for some valuable sneak-peeks at Our Bodies, Ourselves). Without a single word of judgment, you let me check out volume after volume of mindless chick lit novels the summer I was recovering from graduate school. And you supplied me with infertility, pregnancy, and parenting books by the heavy armload.

You've been as generous with my daughters as you were with me. They love you, too, Library, and seeing it is one of the most gratifying parts of being a parent.

I've done my best to treat you as well as you've treated me. I've never lost a library card. Until this week, I'd never lost a library book. Overdue books...ok, I've had a few of those, but aren't my late fines part of what keeps you in the black, Library? In addition to donations from me and other library fans, I mean? Anyway, it happens, right? You expect that, right? I'm a little late, I pay my fines, we move on.

And you can't say I never come and see you. I'm there a couple of times a week, at least, and always checking something out or bringing something back. Story time, the whole bit. I'm there for you, Library.

And I take good care of books, too. When Ingrid, my super-shy then-three-year-old, colored with a crayon in a book, I made her carry it to the counter and show the librarian what she did. I am that dedicated to taking good care of your books, Library. I even tape up kids' books that other people have ripped, because I know you don't always have time.

But lately, Library, I'm getting grouchy with you. Most of this isn't your fault, but let me get it off my chest: You're hardly ever open. When you're open, you're so busy that there's no place to park. You've hired that one guy who doesn't even seem to be able to read, and I'm all about understanding the tragedy of illiteracy and not discriminating, but come on, Library! You are the LIBRARY! You deserve better than that! And you are all computerized. Remember those cards that librarians used to stamp? They opened the back cover of every book and stamped it, and it was like the librarian knew something about me by doing that, and we could talk about the books I was checking out. But now we check our own books out. Beep, beep, beep. My daughters, age four and two, know how to use a laser scanner, but they don't know a librarian by name. Don't you see something a little wrong about that, Library?

And I know you're starting to hate me too. Look, I've lost Dim Sum for Everyone, ok? I know that's wrong. I should know where all the books I check out are, and when they're due, and get them back on time. But I lost this one. Somehow. Somewhere in my house, probably. I'm sorry, ok? But you didn't have to send me such a mean email message about it, with all those capital letters and so terse and grouchy. How about this: Caro, you've been one of our most dedicated patrons, and you've gone over 35 years without ever losing a library book! I'm sorry to see you've lost this one. Please pay us for it as soon as you can. Don't you see how that would be kinder? I am not just card number 220880085451xx (although that is my card number, and yes, I have it memorized, all fourteen probably unnecessary digits of it). I'm a person. With feelings. Aren't you? I'm just asking for a little love, Library.

And then. Then! Here is what really does not make sense: I paid for Dim Sum for Everyone. Fifteen dollars. And then I asked you: If I find it, can I return it and get my money back? And you said: No.

I'm happy to support you, Library, but I have to admit I was a little hurt. It was like you were going to hold a grudge. That didn't seem right. But I kept trying: Oh, ok. Well, I'll just bring the book in and donate it back, then, if I find it. When I find it. You can keep the money. It just seems like the book should still be yours.

And you said, We can't take it back. Once you've paid to replace it, its yours. If you bring it back in we won't put it back into circulation.

Now, Library. THAT DOES NOT MAKE ANY DAMN SENSE. I know you're having a hard time financially. A lot of us are these days, and I know you've been worried about your budget for a long time. But I think the financial stress may have started to eat away at your brain. I know the reason you can't be open more and can't have more parking spots and can't hire people who know how to read is that you don't have the cash. So for God's sake, when a person wants to give you a book—and not just any book but a perfectly good $15 book that up until it spent three weeks under my couch cushion (or wherever) you considered A-1 library-circulation-eligible material—then you TAKE THE BOOK.

You know?

Assuming I end up finding Dim Sum for Everyone, that is.

Anyway, I'm going to try to turn over a new leaf, because the strain in our relationship is making me sad. I'm going to get a better system for turning my books in on time. And I'm going to try harder to connect with the librarians, who must be awfully pissed that these days all they get to do is troubleshoot the computers.

But I'm asking you to do the same, ok, Library? I'm just a book lover doing my best to get through my to do list and keep my house together and teach my kids to love you as much as I have. I'm not looking to rip you off or get away with anything. I just want a little compassion, and a little acknowledgment that I've put something into this relationship over the years, too.

Yours in the Love of Books,



  1. Well done :)

    My old library, back before we moved, you know, (I get very wistful about The Time Before We Moved), they were awesome, and so close. The place here is okay--they're nice, but they're far, and their storytime is kind of scattered, and shows a video, but Nora likes it, and they have hardly any audio books, but...where was I going with this? A good library is a wonderful thing. I hope in Sweden I can get a good steady stream of English books.

  2. The little library in my hood is still like that, thankfully. They can't make their own rules, but I do know all of them by name, as do my boys, and they still check my books out for me and talk to me about them. Thanks for the reminder to value those things. I do feel for the person near my space on the hold shelf whose last name begins with "SO", because "Bacruptcy Made Simple" and "The Sex-Addicted Husband" (or something like that), well, those are a lot for one marriage to take...

  3. Oh, I love this post. I have a similar relationship with Library, and have felt a bit betrayed lately, too. Our current library hasn't had to cut hours yet, but... I wouldn't care if they did. :( The first or second time I checked out books from them after moving here I returned my little stack three weeks late - after receiving a really nasty threat to send me to collections! After three weeks! Of course, shouldn't've been late, blah blah blah, one-car-family-with-little-kid blahblahblah... but THREE WEEKS? And then when I went in to pay it and made a comment to that effect, both librarians at the desk took the opportunity to be kind of nasty, too. Libraries shouldn't be allowed to betray people!

  4. Pointy headed bureaucrats is what they are. Alas.