Some Superheroes Wear Cardigans

When Kristi shared this week’s Finish the Sentence Friday writing prompt about sharing a reality we’d like to change, it didn’t take me too long to decide what I wanted to write about. I do most of my brainstorming for blog posts while emptying out the book drop – or the AMH (automatic materials handler) as we call it here at the library. I regularly get assigned an hour at a time to wrangle this machine, making sure that it’s checking in books properly and coming the moment it beeps at me that a bin is full. Reaching into the book drop bin is like the library’s version of playing Russian roulette. Instead of a bullet to the brain, you face the potential of everything from touching a booger on a book, handling a pee-soaked children’s book, or a cleaning a coffee-splattered adult fiction novel. I’m entirely convinced that 95% of the illnesses I’ve gotten in the last 5 years have been the result of germs that hitched a ride on our returned books.

One of the things about reality that I would like to change is I would have the ability to actually determine with 100% certainty who damaged a library book and bring them to justice. It’s incredibly hard to be certain when we bill a customer for a damaged book to know if they actually did it. Many customers will stare us down as we hand them the mangled remains of a puppy vs. paperback showdown and assert that they didn’t damage that book. I had a customer try to convince me that neither she nor her two year old son peed on three potty-training books that came sopping wet through our poor, unprepared book drop; she claimed that they were just fine when she returned them. That would leave our staff as the peeing perpetrator, and I’m dubious that someone dropped trow in the middle of the workroom.

If I could change reality, everyone would come and admit that they damaged a library book and pay for it without giving library staff a hard time. I remember only too well young 8 year old Sarah and her precious Pocahontas chapter book that got left outside in a rainstorm. I discovered it the next morning, its pages still damp and wrinkled from the rain. I painstakingly tried to return it back to its original state, but it was never the same after its soggy adventure outdoors. And, my husband Ryan and I once had to cough up $33 to pay for a library book that was the victim of a coffee spill; poor Ryan’s free birthday Starbucks drink went flying from the cup holder in the Jeep and stained the passenger seat and the books piled on it. We understand that most people don’t mean to hurt our books, but things happen. Books get dropped into puddles, fall off of car roofs, and get chewed up by puppies. Just bring it back to us and pay the replacement fee, and we’ll sympathize with your plight. The only exception to this policy would be if the book comes into contact with bodily fluids or mold. Being in charge of billing damaged books for 4 years meant that I got moldy books left on my desk more often than I’d like to talk about, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the musty smell that permeated my desk when one would get left there without the protection of a Ziploc bag to protect me. And I especially have no desire to handle a book that has been splattered in blood or vomit; just let the library know that you damaged it and move along.


And finally, if I could change reality, everyone would treat books as reverently as I do. I don’t dog-ear pages, even in my own books. I know others don’t feel this way about books, but I implore you to at least keep yourself from folding down the pages on books that don’t belong to you. Dog-eared pages will tear if handled as often as library books do, and sometimes, vital information is lost when the pages inevitably tear. I try to fold the pages back into place, but the pages are permanently bent differently. For marking pages, I’d prefer everyone to just use bookmarks – even if it’s just their receipt or a bill they already paid. Don’t use weird things like raw bacon, rusty nails, or used Kleenex. And for my own sanity, please remove your hundreds of tiny sticky tabs before you return a library book because I hate spending fifteen minutes of my short lifetime removing every single one of those tiny, annoying stickers. Also, please don’t underline and highlight library books either. It’s incredibly distracting to others who will use the book after you. We had a customer once who would take BRAND NEW BOOKS and would underline and edit library copies of books and return them with notes scribbled in the margins and sentences crossed out. I about lost my mind when I discovered just how many books had been desecrated this way, and I’m not aware if he ever paid for replacing those items.

Don’t return your items like this. I will find you and I will make you pay. Someday.

I promise you that if you treat library staff and their books well, we’ll be your best friends. And until I receive the superpowers that grant me the ability to wield justice upon errant book abusers despite their claims of “I checked it out like that,” I will simply have to content myself blog posts like this spreading the word about proper library book etiquette.

If you want to join in on the fun of Finish the Sentence Friday, simply go to either Kristi or Kendra’s blogs and link up with your own take on this week’s writing prompt. To find out more about future prompts or to connect more with our group, join the Finish the Sentence Friday Facebook page. Thanks for reading!

8 thoughts on “Some Superheroes Wear Cardigans

    1. Yes! Books are precious. It makes me so sad when a brand new book is damaged. It’s one thing when we have to discard an old children’s book that has been checked out 200 times and probably read ten times more than that, but when it’s barely had a chance to circulate, I get so frustrated. And I too have books that I refuse to lend too – because if something happened to them I’d be heartbroken.

  1. I can’t believe people would return a pee-soaked book and then say “it wasn’t me.” Just own up to it. A couple of years ago, my son brought a school library book back to school, and it didn’t come home. I got a bill for it a few months later and was SURE he’d returned it but then was like “hm, maybe he gave it to another kid or something?” It was one of the popular ones then. So I just paid it, as I would if he bled, vomited or peed on it! Gah. But, um, sometimes I dogear my own books. I know, I know.
    Are you back from the beach?

    1. Dog-earing your own books is completely a personal decision. I don’t do it, but you’re the only one affected by it. Plus, your book is being handled by hundreds of people over its lifetime.

      I know, the things people try to get away with is appalling. And I’ve had some people get really nasty about having to pay for the damages when I do hold my ground and tell them that it was impossible that the damages were our fault or some other customer’s.

      I am back home now, though I wish I was still there. 😭 It was absolutely wonderful. ❤️

  2. Wow, I rarely check out books anymore. I do the digital checking and and read from my Kindle. Mostly because I’ve gotten used to a larger print and not holding something heavy. I have had a few that we’re a little gross and I mean maybe the last read ate cheetos or Doritos as they dog-eared. So sorry for what you have to go through with the over and above grossness. I would have never thought someone could be so callous to return a pee soaked book.

    1. I am a huge fan of digital checkouts – mostly audiobooks if I’m being honest. Perhaps my many years of handling nasty books, watching expensive books that we bought with taxpayer’s money get destroyed after a couple checkouts, and arguing with people over $1 or less fines has made me a huge a proponent of free digital books. No fines and the money we spend goes to a book that a customer cannot damage or return late. I’m amazed how many people don’t know about the free e-books and purchase so many from Kindle when they could get them for free so I’m always going around telling people about it. XD I do buy some from Audible/Amazon/iBooks if the library doesn’t own it or I love it so much. I wish I could understand why people try to get out of fines for items they clearly destroyed. I’m full of sympathy for people who damage items and own up to it, but do not accuse me of damaging or mishandling your book!!

  3. Oh Nooo!
    Oh my!
    I (accidentally) ruined a library book once as a young girl, *Little Women* was in my bicycle basket when we got caught in a torrential downpour. I was so distraught! I recall meekly explaining the circumstance upon its return.
    I can’t believe people mark and highlight library books! What is this world coming to?

    1. I know – it’s been 22 years but I still remember that Pocahontas book that I left outside to a similar fate as your Little Women book. It was my book, but I was heartbroken that it was damaged. I put it back on my book shelf, but it never laid quite right after that. It started me down the road that I am today with a career in libraries, trying to get people to not make the same mistakes as me, I guess. 🙂

      I once had a person return one of those practice test books with ALL the answers filled out, and they couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t circulate the book anymore. Who in the world is going to want a practice book that tells them the answers. The whole point is to take it yourself so you can see how you’d do, and when you have to share it with hundreds of other people, you can’t just be writing it in the book. I don’t understand why people can’t seem to control themselves with the highlighting and marking of books. If you have to do it, buy your own copy please. <3

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