The Library Cop: “Just the Books, Ma’am”

Ninety-nine percent of my job consists of being the ‘good guy.’ We’re the ones who help students find books and other sources when they despair of ever doing so. If they forgot a pencil to take a test, we have one. If their calculator died, we have one to lend. I love going home each day, feeling that I have helped to make the day better for others in some small way.

But then, there is the one percent of the time that the Jolly Librarian has to bring out her dark alter-ego (Justice Librarian). I have to go after those patrons who refuse to bring items back. Now as a group, the overdue people are few, and the vast majority of them are simply forgetful. One simple reminder is all it takes. But, like in most fields, the one or two egregious offenders can take up a lot of time and mental anguish.

In almost every case, these offenders take home textbooks on reserve, meaning that other students without the textbook are left in the lurch. So it’s not the rule-breaking, but the  selfishness that gets me. And as anyone on the library staff can tell you, it can turn “jolly” into “holy terror.”

Now we have a procedure to deal with these folks: We either call or send an email with the gentle, “You must have forgotten that the book shouldn’t leave the library. Please return it immediately.” Each succeeding message gets less and less gentle until we have to turn the student over to the Dean of Student Services for disciplinary action. 

This takes up our time and energy; it upsets other students who need the book, and it probably isn’t that much fun for the offenders who are having to withstand our many, many attempts to contact them. Still most books come back with an apology, and the matter ends there.

But then each year, there a few who take the textbook removal to a whole new level. I am now dealing with a student I’ll call Clementine. (I’ve changed names and details to protect the guilty.) Clementine took home a physics book. After being contacted four times, she brought it back, claimed she didn’t know the policy, and promised never to do it again. The next month, she checked out the book and once again took it home. 

After calling her cell phone repeatedly (always getting voice mail) and emailing her (never receiving a response), my staff told me about it. I went to her classroom and left a message for her to come see me immediately. 

Which she did, but not to return the book. Instead, apparently not knowing she was talking to the very person who had left the message, she tried to check out another textbook. When I reminded her of her current troubles, she said that she had no idea she couldn’t take the book home. A reminder that she had been in the same situation last month did not jog her memory. 

Finally, the book returned after she had taken her final. She must have supposed that this would be the end of it, but we had already turned her case over to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action, and I refused to drop the ‘charge.’ So now that dean is the only person who can remove the hold. (And she happens to be out of town at the moment.)

“But it’s not fair,” she says. “I brought the books back.” And that’s true. But it was also unfair for other students to not have access to the book while the class was going on. She was told what would happen. She just didn’t believe us. 

And while I am usually upset when anyone is angry with the library, I’m bearing up rather well this time.



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