Well, it’s one thing, really. But it’s a doozy.
When I was in grade nine, one of the big projects for my art class was to find a painting — I think it had to be by one of the Group of Seven — and reproduce it with a graph scale. I chose Northern Lights, by Tom Thompson (below) which I found in an art book from the public library.
And time went by, and I eventually finished the project (pencil crayon on sketch paper, slightly skewed) and handed it in, and that was that. Except, and there’s always an “except”, it had taken longer than I projected time allotment to finish the darn thing, and my library book — my big, expensive-looking library book — was now overdue.
And it was overdue, and then very overdue, and then crazy overdue. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been able to get it back to the library within the first week or two of it being past time. The fine would have been reasonable, but more to the point, the shame would be somewhat mitigated by the fact of its being so barely overdue. I mean, everyone is a few days late with a library book sometimes, right?
But it didn’t work that way. I didn’t get it back within a reasonable amount of time, and the phone calls from the library kept coming, and the book lay on my bedroom floor thinking nasty thoughts at me. After a time the thought of actually bringing the book back just made me writhe. What would they think of me, Book Thief, who had it out for so many extra months? How big would my fine be? Would the librarian glare? Would they restrict my card? I was mortified that I still had this book, but I was even more mortified at the thought of returning it.
(I did eventually return in; the fine was about $14 and the librarian was very nice. And it all would have turned out all right in the end, except for the fact that forgetting to bring library books is not, shall we say, a rare occurrence for me.)
Fast-forward nine years, and my copy of War and Peace is currently overdue. I know it’s overdue. It’s sitting right there on my desk, waiting patiently to be returned, should I ever get my butt in gear to actually do so. I do plan on returning it, but I feel I must at least make my case for why it’s overdue: I simply had no idea of the due date.
I realize that this is a bit of a cop-out. I am a grown woman. I am able to look up due dates online. I know how to look at a calendar and figure out what day it is. And yet I can’t keep a date in my head — and especially not for this particular loan, which was quite a bit longer than usual, perhaps because War and Peace is a giant chunkster of a book, or perhaps because they figured nobody else would want it in the meantime. I don’t know. So the first indication I had that a deadline was near or missed was that annoying computer voice on the telephone telling me that I blew it again.
What is the deal?
When I was in university, the library would automatically email you two days before an item became due. This is a fantastic system, my friends. Even if you can’t keep your loans straight, it can, and two days is more than enough warning for a return or renewal.
Is there a reason that the public library can’t do this? They certainly jump on it the moment you cross the line to overdue territory. If they can phone me then, why not two days before? Why can’t I attach an email address to my library card, so that I can be sent the same sort of message in text form? Is the technology not there? Are they just trying to get more fine money? Or does it not matter, because everyone else on the planet is so much more diligent about these things?
Tell me. Does anybody”s public library offer this kind of service? Librarians, have you any yeas or nays? I want to know!*
*so I can wave it in my own library’s face, obviously.