Friday, December 5, 2008

A Clean Slate at the Library

Does your public library have a Happy Hour? Countywide, on the last Friday of every month, at every branch, ours does. Alcohol is not served; everyone's just very happy to return late materials with no fines whatsoever, no questions asked, no due dates checked, no snickering.

Thirsty one day, and not at my usual branch, I noticed the sign on their counter. Not to be believed! Could this be? I inquired. Yes, indeed, they would rather have their books back--no matter how late--than leave them missing in action. They waive all fees, even their potential profits from replacement fees. I had incurred upwards of $50 a month before this happy time. This was very good news for me!

My husband jokes that I have lost library privileges in every state in the union, which is not quite true. We haven't moved that much!
What is true, is that I am frequent library user, a horrible procrastinator and an avoider of conflict (Harmony). So, when I have books that are more than a couple days late, I go into avoidance mode feeling I can't show my face at the local branch. I bury my head shamefully in the sand while the fines steadily increase, like a taxi meter headed for the airport, finally exceeding replacement value. Of course, loving books as I do, I eventually own up and pay the exorbitant fines, considering it a good deal compared to the equivalent cost of much shipping and handling at Amazon. The library is certainly a good cause.

Until I learned about Happy Hour! Now, I mark my calendar for the last Friday of every month, anticipating another new grace period, while I search under mattresses and behind furniture for the rogue book or tape. The library has long been my favorite institution, all the moreso now! Between my over-consumption of books and Reid's penchant for stickers and de-constructivism, we have tried the patience of many a librarian.

When we were home schooling I would routinely check-out a stack of 15 or more books. Allie had her own stack; maybe she could carry 8 in those pre-backpack days; and Reid got books then too (not movies). Most of our weekly loot, I had requested online from other branches in order to keep the county employees busy pulling titles at every branch in the system, trucking them across town for my convenience, and flagging them with my name on a special shelf. (This is a commonly available service at most libraries, although not widely publicized.) I was compulsive about gathering resources that correlated with each of our unit studies or whatever curriculum-of-the-month I was using.

If that wasn't enough to rebuff the proverbial Marian Librarian, Reid was infamous for obsessively removing stickers from library property. I didn't think of it as criminal when he was young (neither did they). It just irked him to no end that they obstructed the illustration and text on the covers of books and boxes of CD's and DVD's. When forced to pay $1 a piece, one is quickly aware of the astonished array of stickers they use on one library book. There's the barcode, of course, then the color-coded juvenile tag, genre stickers, branch letters, alphabetical filing tags and sometimes a donor acknowledgement. "Why oh why oh why?" I asked myself many a time, as we'd recreate their placement on the gummed up vinyl, en route to ditch them in the return vault. (Maybe Amazon is better?) In Reid's mind, they all had to come off so he could see the information he cared most about: the production studio and ratings or the author and copyright. For both these reasons, the library was our family's version of Cheers!, a neighborhood place where "everybody knows your name."

I was there yesterday, my slate having been freshly cleaned. A new clerk scanned our selections at the desk. I know she's new because she didn't know Reid or me. They all know us and we know all of them. "It's such a good feeling," as Fred Rogers would chant. So, when there's a new hire, it feels strangely rude not to introduce myself. Yet, to do so, seems just as oddly presumptuous. Why should she should recognize us, yet? In this case, bubbly Joanie walked over to do the honors. Wishing me a hearty, Happy Holiday!! with a two-handed handshake (it's impossible to hug across those wide counters) she intervened, "Have you met Mim?" In short order, we were introduced. I'm not sure Mim will remember my name, but she will remember the title Joanie assigned us, "She's our best customer!" Now I've heard Joanie call other people this, but I must say I swell with pride, just the same. In mock humility, I joked that I was definitely their highest paying customer. Surely, I must be underwriting a renovation or expansion or something they're drafting. At that point, the head librarian chimed in, "yes, see that whole wall over there? It's hers!" So, you see, I have not lost any privileges whatsoever.

Like a flagrant credit card user, I am all the more revered. In fact, they want to increase my credit limit. After Reid destroyed one too many DVD cases, they designed a special system for the Moriarty family. We got our own thick, plain white, vinyl 5-disk case in which to carry disks home and back. This required additional training of all the staff (much of which I did pro bono. They kept the DVD box and artwork encrusted with its priceless (to them) and annoying (to Reid) barcode and inventory stickers; we got the movie. At that juncture, I told them I'd almost rather they revoke our privileges, so Reid would experience the natural consequences of his peeling fetish. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, we don't want that," they cried in unison. "We need the circulation numbers." Apparently, circulation numbers drive their budget. The more titles people check out, the more county money they are allotted to purchase new materials and enhance their collection. Now I see why they love over-users like us.

When I carry a debt at the library, my heart is heavy. I feel banned from my favorite place to browse and choose books. Trapped at home, unable to find my Get Out of Jail Free card (the missing book) I enter a stubborn refusal to pay for something I only intended to borrow. Grounded from a favorite activity, then a paralyzing guilt of neglect and tardiness set in. Chastising myself is depressing and being angry at Reid for his part in it, is not productive. Now, I don't want to over moralize this but, isn't sin just like that?

Happy Hour sets me free! Last time, I was visibly uplifted, walking out to the car with a fresh stack of free books! The parallel hit me with the salt air; Jesus forgives and forgets our iniquity. He gives us privileges back; the right to pray to Him and be heard without obstruction; the carefree feeling of innocence and childlike faith return; the squeaky clean shine of having unrighteousness removed as far as the east is from the west. The only difference is that His happy hour can be daily or hourly, as needed.

Yesterday and the day before, Reid and I were searching, searching, searching for the 3-disc Fraggle Rock set we'd borrowed the day my sins were washed away (November 28). Videos being 7-day rentals, it was due back this Friday, library day. Yikes. Trying to repent from my wayward ways and demonstrate real improvement after a recent reclusive hiatus, I told Reid, "we can only go if you find Fraggle Rock." I was determined to keep short accounts and stay "in the black" this month. I tucked him in saying, "let's ask God to show us where it is. He sees everything and He knows where you left it." We prayed in earnest and turned off his light. I no more than stepped into the hallway as an "aha" popped into my mind--the laundry basket! There it was, buried halfway down. Saved again! Praise God, He wipes away our sins, gives us third and fourth chances AND answers prayer. We returned it today as an even exchange and I have library privileges out the wazoo, thank you very much.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:1-3

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:6-8

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."
Luke 5:19-21

"Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Romans 4:6-8 far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:11-13

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  1. i liked this post a lot, its good that the library is down with your celebration of not paying fines, maybe a nice Cristmas card will level the scales. I have actually been reading a lot more lately and the lib is one of my favorite study spots.

  2. You had me laughing on this one! I, too, have incurred some late fees from my library. My main gripe is how do they expect me to read all those books I checked out in 3 weeks??? Instead of facing the music, last week I slid my stack of late books in the book drop outside. Bad, bad, bad. Um, can your library suggest Happy hour to my library???
    Wonderful parallel to the amazing forgiveness and saving grace of Jesus. I love it!

  3. Oh yeah, and one of Rhema's favorite pasttimes is ripping the lubrary cards to shreds.