Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Madame Librarian

Yesterday I decided to go return my very-very-overdue library books. That by itself is not a problem, since the library in question no longer charges overdue fees; the problem, though, is that the library appears to feel that books are not to be lent in the first place, but should be locked up in display cases and admired by the patrons as if the books are rare, priceless objects d'art. The scenario goes something like this:

I've taken up knitting -- AGAIN -- and decided to look for some good books for beginners so I can have something to build on. I went on Amazon and looked for knitting books, but I thought it might be a good idea if I went to the library to check out those very books before I bought them, in case they turned out to be duds. After I went on Amazon, I went to the library website and looked up those books, all of which were listed as AVAILABLE.
When I got to the library the next day, I wrote down the call numbers and went in search of those books, which were still listed as AVAILABLE. Problem: I only found one of the books on my list. The other was missing or reshelved in such a way that even the library staff had no clue where it was, and the other was locked in a nice little round display case near the circulation desk.
I approached the desk and said, "Hi. One of the books I was looking for is in that display case over there. Do you know if there's another copy in the library? That way you won't have to change the display."
Librarian: "Let me look." (starts typing on the computer and looking for the book listing) "No, I'm sorry. That's the only copy we have. If you'd like, I can look to see if any of our affiliates have it."
Me: "Umm.. Okay. I really don't want to put you to any trouble."
Librarian: (more typing) "No. Our closest affiliates don't have it. Would you like me to put a hold on it?"
A hold, for those of you who don't know, is when a book has been checked out and people are asking for it, which means that when the book comes back, it's not put back in citculation; the people on the list are then notified that the book is back at the library and that they can come pick it up. Why, if the book is listed in the catalog as AVAILABLE, would I need to ask for a hold, let alone getting it through interlibrary loan? And if the book ISN'T available because it's in the display case, shouldn't the catalog entry reflect that?
Me: "That's okay. I'll go back upstairs and try to find more stuff."
I went back upstairs and spent about half an hour looking through the knitting books which, it seemed, weren't in any particular order. I found several more books and went back downstairs to get some books to read for fun.
Me: "Um.. the third book on my list seems to be missing. I spoke to the lady who was reshelving books and she didn't have it, and when I looked on the carts down here, it wasn't there either. She said I should let you know, in case it really is lost."
By this time the head librarian had been rousted out of her office by lackey-librarian, and she was discussing the possibility of removing the book from the display.
Head Librarian: "Would you like the Idiot's Guide?"
The book in question was The Complete Idiot's Guide to Knitting and Crocheting.
Me: "Yes, please. I do hope it doesn't ruin the display." (By this time, I was getting tired of being polite, but I still wanted the book.)
Head Librarian: "Oh, no, no, no. There are plenty of other books." (Head Librarian goes and removes book from display case, then goes back to the circulation desk to start checking out my books. Now, whether she meant there were plenty of other books on knitting and that I should exercise some creativity by going in search of those -- which I already had... twice -- or whether she meant there were plenty of other books on display in the case -- which there were -- I'm not sure. I assume she meant the latter.)
Head Librarian: "Are you trying to learn knitting or do you already know how?"
Me: "I already know the basics, but I thought I should try here before I bought those from Amazon... I always say that I don't take more books than I can carry.. I guess I didn't do that this time." (I have a stack of five knitting books and five books to read for fun, most of which are fairly large. I'm on vacation, after all, and I like reading. Which is why I go to the library in the first place. Grrrr... I realized, then, that I'd taken a book off the shelf that I own a copy of; I thought I'd taken the book next to it, and wasn't paying close attention.) "Oh! I'm sorry! I already have a copy of that at home."
Head Librarian: (She's been checking out my books, and pauses, book in midair) "So you want to leave this one?" (She slams book on the counter and looks annoyed.)
Me: "No. I'm terribly sorry. I wasn't paying attention when I grabbed the book."
After she finished checking out my books, I fled, and when I got to the car, I called mom to tell her about the exchange.
Mom and I have decided that some of the people on the staff of this particular library are of the opinion that a library's job is to keep books, rather than lend them to the public. Mom pointed out that the library is funded mostly by taxpayers, which makes the librarians the taxpayers' employees and, as such, they should try to remember that. She also suggested that I take the Idiot's Guide back to the library and say I didn't need it after all. I thought, "After all the nonsense I had to go through to get it in the first place? They've already replaced it with another book in the display case... Besides, it was listed as AVAILABLE."
I guess my problem is that I'm triying to apply logic to people who don't fit with a logical pattern: Libraries lend books, therefore patrons should be able to check out books that are available. So, if the library HAS a copy of the book -- it's not checked out, lost, stolen, or being repaired -- and the copy is in circulation, shouldn't I, as a patron, be able to check out that book? If my logic works, the answer SHOULD be "Yes". According to the Head Librarian's logic, the answer is, apparently, "No".

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