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Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2001 / 29 Kislev, 5762

Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy
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Consumer Reports

Confessions of a serial library fine payer -- AS I walk through the doors of the public library, an old man wearing a security guard uniform and a nightstick around his bulbous waist approaches me.

"Just where do you think you're going?" he says.

"Um ... to the bookshelf," I say. A crowd of seniors on their afternoon out has begun to form, eager to watch this drama unfold.

Clucking his tongue like a chicken, he holds onto my arm and starts turning me around back toward the door.

"No, no, no. Now, you certainly know better than that, don't you, Ms. Kennedy? You know that we can't have your kind in here?"

"My kind?" I am mystified.

"Yup. Now I know you mean well, but we have all been warned about you ... you ... overdue book returners. There's a poster in the office with your picture on it, you know."

Guilty as charged. It is absolutely true that on the very rare occasion that I actually return a library book on time, librarians all over the country rejoice. I think they have e-mail alerts set up much like CNN's breaking news e-mail updates, details to follow.

While I have never actually been dismissed from a library, I worry sometimes that such a day will come. To keep tabs on my "account," before I actually go about the business of deciding on a book on that I would like to take home, I check my card in the self-checkout machine. If it doesn't say, "Hold placed on this card," then I know I am good to go. This is rarely the case, however, and so I make sure that before I go into the library I have at least $20 on me, so that I can pay for my frequent indiscretions.

I used to be ashamed of my rather large library account. Standing in line, waiting for the next librarian to check me out, I count the bills in my pocket without taking them out.

OK, that's a 20, I think to myself, and there are one, two, three ... OK, five or six ones. That should be enough. The nervousness that overwhelms me is the same nervousness that occurs when I am at the checkout counter at the grocery store and I am waiting for the machine to approve my card, even though I just deposited my paycheck on my way to the store. When that little LCD screen finally blinks "APPROVED," it actually bolsters my self-esteem.

"See ... approved!" I want to tell all of the people in line behind. "I am an approved member of society."

The lady behind the library counter motions me forward and I present my card to her - adding that, "Um, I might owe some fines on this."

Smiling, she clicks a few buttons on the keyboard. Her fingernails click on each of the keys as she types. Her smile quickly turns into confusion as she first squints at the computer monitor, and then puts on the reading glasses dangling from her neck to creep in for a closer look.

"Is this right?" she asks me. "Do you owe $23 in overdue fines? Hang on - this can't be right. It says that two months ago you paid $45."

I try to explain that I am sure it's right, but she doesn't believe me. She calls over Mildred - the lead librarian? - to verify my neglectful status. They both look at me, stupefied.

Mildred peers at me over her glasses.

"You know, if you just return them on time, you don't have to pay anything?" "I know," I say, looking at the floor.

"Well, I hope you can pay it because we have never had to arrange a payment plan here at the library before."

"I can pay it," I say. "I'll try to do better."

In my shame walking out the door, I pass the collection box for the "Friends of the Library." I started thinking - you know, I must be one of the best "friends" they have, only my money is put under the category of delinquencies - not donations. So, rather than getting a mention in the monthly newsletter, I get nasty letters in the mail.

Instead, there should be an "Overdue Friends of the Library" club. This club is exclusively for those of us who so love the library that we cannot tear ourselves away from their materials in due time. We will be revered not only for our dedication to reading, but for our diligence in coming in and paying our overdue fines.

The newsletter - The On-Times - will regale its "members only" club with new fine records. In addition there will be a rotating trophy - in the shape of a cash register - with the name of the member who "donated" the most in overdue fines during the past year, presented at the annual banquet.

Although, with such a crowd, you'd have to make sure that the invitations were engraved with a time at least an hour ahead of the actual start time.

JWR contributor Michelle Kennedy, who reads and responds to all of her mail, is a reporter and columnist for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. Comment by clicking here.


12/06/01: Too good at my job, I quit

© 2001, Michelle Kennedy