Saturday, September 23, 2006

Are All Library Operators Stupid...

...or is it just Tacoma's?

Here's the scenario. Several months ago I checked out a western by the late Bill DeAndrea, one from his Lobo Blacke series. A month or so later I got a letter from the library saying it was overdue and I owed them ten bucks. Somehow, I'd forgotten that I'd borrowed the book; I thought it was mine (I rarely get books from the library since my own is better stocked). I decide that for a few dollars more I could say I'd lost the book and decided to pay for it.
I went to the library with this offer and was told I owed $31 and change. What? The book couldn't have cost more than $15. Turns out it was about $18. PLUS they wanted me to pay the $10 late fine on top of that, plus tax.
Hold the wedding, says I. Why should I pay for the book AND pay the fine? And since when is an ex-library copy worth full retail?
They were adamant. So was I.
Anyway, I think fines are bullshit.
Some weeks after this I decided to return the book (plus a tattered paperback Kristine had misplaced after checking it out on my card). So, according to their lights, I should owe only $20, a fine I have no plans to ever pay.
However, I receive many review copies every month and I thought of a brilliant way to both get the library off my back and increase their stock. I offered eight pristine new hardbacks as a payment for the fines. The books I offered were worth ten times what I owed.
That's when the bureaucrat hit the fan.
The head of the branch library I approached decided such a decision was above her authority and promised to consult someone higher up. After ten days of high-level discussions, no doubt involving a bevy of middle-management pencil gnawers, I was told they must decline my offer. Their ultimate fear was of setting a precedent. "What if someone should offer us furniture?" I was asked.
Decline, I said. You're a library. You buy books. I'm offering you ten times what you want. You save money. I also told them I'd have other books to offer in the future, free of charge.
I was given some malarkey about their computer and accountings, but I know they can wipe out a fine with a keystroke and it won't destroy their ledger.
I finally got the phone number of someone higher up the ladder to call.
What galls me is how impotent this bureaucracy is. It's like no one has the courage or brains or authority to make a simple decision, even one favorable to them. They are paralyzed by the prospect of dealing with a situation that requires someone to show foresight and initiative.
I've always been favorably disposed towards libraries, but when I hear the inevitable cry about their budget woes next year I'll be saying tough turkey. You had a chance to make a killing and you rejected it. And they can expect my vote to reflect this disgust.

4 comments:

Bill said...

You're a haaaaard man, Cap'n Bob.

Andy J said...

I actually don't mind paying library fines since I've convinced myself that it's for a good cause. I actually would love it if you had to pay a daily rate to rent books but you had every book available at your access. I'd stop buying books in an instant then. Short of that, there doesn't seem to be any hope of my stopping.

Some libraries impose a $10 (or so) processing fee in addition to the cost of the item since they have to expend effort to reorder the item. Others will let you deliver a new copy of the item and call it even.

I know exactly what you mean about the frustration of your generous offer. I once saw an elderly couple come in the library and try to donate a couple of bags of BRAND NEW once read books. You'd think they were trying to drop off toxic waste. The library people were so indifferent to the offer that I couldn't believe the people persisted in trying to get them to take the books. I'd have bought them myself except I pretty much knew they were all probably mainstream popular fiction which IS toxic waste for me.

As a government employee you should know how irrational people like library types are. You'd probably get cited for littering if you abandoned books in the library and they could trace them back to you. There must be a Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Books.

You must find a way to make peace with this transaction somehow though. Methinks it is bad juju to carry this baggage around.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Several months ago I did drop some new books and ARCs in their bin. I was being charitable, but now I hope it caused them a bureaucratic nightmare.

Livia said...

I guess we're lucky. Our local librarian goes out of her way to help us. Many years ago she just told James not to ever worry about late fees. She understood that sometimes research couldn't be done in two weeks. Of course we returned the favor by giving copies of our books over the years.

I can, however see the employees at the Fort Worth library reacting like yours did.