Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No Books For You!

I spend large parts of my day explaining to my kids why they can't have everything they want, right now.

No, you can't have five pieces of candy before breakfast.
No, we're not watching any more shows right now.
You need to have some of your apple and sandwich before you can have some chips.
Yes, you need to do your homework.
No, we're not going to leave the family room a mess for yet another day.

Right after Christmas we had a frustrating weekend where O. and N. were on the verge of tears for two days straight because we refused to take them to Target and buy them a toy. As if Santa and all the people who love them did not practically fill our home with new things for them at our three different Christmas celebrations. I worried that we were really doing something wrong and were creating selfish and spoiled little people.

Mostly, I know they are just kids. Yes, they are a little spoiled. But they don't understand much about delayed gratification. Most of the treats and material things they receive are for important occasions like birthdays and holidays. It's hard to wait for those things when every day seems like the whole world to them. Maybe I'm rationalizing. It's true there is more J and I could do to instill the traits of gratitude, charity and empathy in our children. But these are skills difficult for adults sometimes, built over a lifetime. And it sure does feel like I say 'no' to my kids an awful lot.

So, when it comes to books, especially at the library, I'm all about YES. You want to check out Iris Has a Virus for the eighteenth time? Fine. You want all three of the Dinosaur Cove chapter books that are on the shelf this time? Great. You want a whole stack of books? Absolutely.

We are pack mules on our trips in and out of the library, nearly every week. I do a pretty good job of keeping track of all of them, given how many we have out at any given time. Due dates often overlap, since DVDs are only allowed out for a week, renewable once, and books are allowed out for a month. We renew online, I print out lists of what we need to return when.and
mostly we stay on top of it. Sure, we don't always get everything back on time, but I am pretty good at staying well below the ten dollar fine limit. (Impressive, if you ask me, since the going overdue rate is twenty cents a day for books, and a dollar a day for DVDs, we usually have at least fifteen books and five movies at a time). We take good care of the materials, not leaving fingerprints all over the DVDs nor ripping up pages. N. is highly offended when she sees a page has been torn or someone has scribbled on a picture. Point is, we're good library customers.

So, imagine my surprise tonight when I had to tell my kids that NO, we cannot check out the stack of books and movies you picked out tonight. Yes, we have to leave them all there on the desk and go home empty handed.

We had neglected to return one book that is now one week overdue.

When we went to gather all the books up to return to the library today, we didn't come up with that one. Yes, I was irritated with the kids that we couldn't find it. And of course it was one of the overdue books that we couldn't find. But I was tired of trying to look under beds and couches with a baby on my hip, figured it would turn up as soon as we weren't actively looking for it. Also, I suspected it had gotten packed away with the Christmas books, and I really did not have it in me to go down and go through stacked bins of Christmas decorations.

This is not the first time we've had a straggling missing book. Usually they turn up shoved behind someone's bed or between books on the bookshelf. One time, I knew we had left one at a soccer game and it was gone for good. In the past, the attitude of workers at the library branch we go to has been "keep looking" -- maybe it will turn up. The soccer game one, I tried to pay for twice because I was pretty positive it was a goner from early on, but was put off for another week or so.

So, I had no idea that apparently these situations were a violation of library policy, that I was actually supposed to be in "lockdown" mode as soon as any book hit seven days overdue, and that the employees had been doing some sort of override in the system to avoid the lockdown of my card. The override option has since been disallowed.

Not even the branch manager at my library could do anything to get me and my children out of the door with books back in our bags tonight. We all stood there waiting for her to come and release us and our books, the kids growing ever more panicky that Dora, Digimon, the books about the armadillos, bears, princess mice, and Arthur's new baby might have to stay where they were. I made apologetic faces to the other people waiting in line and made loud comments like "It's okay guys. She's going to go ask someone else if it's okay. And then we'll go home and look for that one missing book." But no. No exceptions.

I can't even say they were all that sympathetic, even when I started crying. With J. on the road for the first time since Christmas, those books were my entertainment plan for the evening, and I saw it all dissolving into a long stretch of hysteria. The poor woman who had been trying to check me out kept apologizing, and awkwardly making moves to transfer the book pile over to a table where she promised she would hold them for me until tomorrow. This only made N.'s tears increase. It was all mostly awkward repetitions of the policy, and some sort of reference to an "administrative committee" who was clamping down. I couldn't even have the books back that weren't due until the end of the week, because I had asked her to check them in for me to extend the due date. O. and I wouldn't be able to read our chapter of The Cricket in Times Square. "We'll have to start all over!" he wailed.

We left, all the kids except L. crying. O. loudly proclaimed that the next time he came to the library, he was bringing soap to spray in people's eyes. So then I was left to lamely explain why we have to follow the rules. And that we really do need to keep track of our books, and bring them back because they don't belong to us and other people want to borrow them too.

I was pretty near to hysterical myself. Not so much at the policy itself. Just that it seemed like the rules had suddenly been changed on us without warning, and then I was treated as if that were not the case, like I was trying to get away with something. If I had known that all books needed to be accounted for before checking out others, you can be sure we would have not spent a half hour picking out new ones. If some sort of change in practice has been instituted, then there should be a notification to that effect.

J.'s response was to ask why we couldn't just pay for the book right then and there. And I guess we could have, though it seems to me ridiculous to pay twenty two dollars rather than a couple more days of a late fee for a book I will probably find next week.

But chances are, we'll be going in tomorrow to pay for that darn book, and claim our pile of books. To do otherwise seems to risk leaving a terrible bad feeling about libraries in my children's memories. As I said, they get enough of no, and learning about waiting. Books and curiosity about learning, (and how about a little grace, while we're at it??) are things I always want to be a 'yes.'


Heather said...

I read your status on FB last night, and can totally sympathize. We went to the library, too, and I had forgotten that I had to pay an overdue fine from the last time. If I wouldn't have had cash on me, we would've been in your position...no books, and a sad momma (only Elijah was with me, and I doubt he would've cried). I so feel your pain, though. I agree that they should've notified you about the change in practice.

Hoping you survived your night, sans library books and traveling husband.

tracey.becker1@gmail.com said...

Awww.... I understand. We owe money and can't go which kills my kids. It's like I'm deliberately withholding books from them. Sigh...

Good luck finding it!!

Stacia said...

I want to spray soap in their eyes, too. What a sad story! I hope you got all your books ... and survived with your husband out of town!

PS: How ironic that my verification word is "readist."

mep said...

Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous. Is it a few lost books here and there that are bankrupting the system? Puh-leaze.

I am so sorry for your evening because I know that feeling where you cry and are frustrated and just can't shake it because the weight of what's wrong with various systems and people is all too much.

I am taking a temporary break from the library because I paid about $12 in fines in December. Not the end of the world, but I was just frustrated with myself for not managing to renew things online in a timely fashion.