When Kristi shared this week’s Finish the Sentence Friday writing prompt about sharing a reality we’d like to change, it didn’t take me too long to decide what I wanted to write about. I do most of my brainstorming for blog posts while emptying out the book drop – or the AMH (automatic materials handler) as we call it here at the library. I regularly get assigned an hour at a time to wrangle this machine, making sure that it’s checking in books properly and coming the moment it beeps at me that a bin is full. Reaching into the book drop bin is like the library’s version of playing Russian roulette. Instead of a bullet to the brain, you face the potential of everything from touching a booger on a book, handling a pee-soaked children’s book, or a cleaning a coffee-splattered adult fiction novel. I’m entirely convinced that 95% of the illnesses I’ve gotten in the last 5 years have been the result of germs that hitched a ride on our returned books.

One of the things about reality that I would like to change is I would have the ability to actually determine with 100% certainty who damaged a library book and bring them to justice. It’s incredibly hard to be certain when we bill a customer for a damaged book to know if they actually did it. Many customers will stare us down as we hand them the mangled remains of a puppy vs. paperback showdown and assert that they didn’t damage that book. I had a customer try to convince me that neither she nor her two year old son peed on three potty-training books that came sopping wet through our poor, unprepared book drop; she claimed that they were just fine when she returned them. That would leave our staff as the peeing perpetrator, and I’m dubious that someone dropped trow in the middle of the workroom.

If I could change reality, everyone would come and admit that they damaged a library book and pay for it without giving library staff a hard time. I remember only too well young 8 year old Sarah and her precious Pocahontas chapter book that got left outside in a rainstorm. I discovered it the next morning, its pages still damp and wrinkled from the rain. I painstakingly tried to return it back to its original state, but it was never the same after its soggy adventure outdoors. And, my husband Ryan and I once had to cough up $33 to pay for a library book that was the victim of a coffee spill; poor Ryan’s free birthday Starbucks drink went flying from the cup holder in the Jeep and stained the passenger seat and the books piled on it. We understand that most people don’t mean to hurt our books, but things happen. Books get dropped into puddles, fall off of car roofs, and get chewed up by puppies. Just bring it back to us and pay the replacement fee, and we’ll sympathize with your plight. The only exception to this policy would be if the book comes into contact with bodily fluids or mold. Being in charge of billing damaged books for 4 years meant that I got moldy books left on my desk more often than I’d like to talk about, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the musty smell that permeated my desk when one would get left there without the protection of a Ziploc bag to protect me. And I especially have no desire to handle a book that has been splattered in blood or vomit; just let the library know that you damaged it and move along.


And finally, if I could change reality, everyone would treat books as reverently as I do. I don’t dog-ear pages, even in my own books. I know others don’t feel this way about books, but I implore you to at least keep yourself from folding down the pages on books that don’t belong to you. Dog-eared pages will tear if handled as often as library books do, and sometimes, vital information is lost when the pages inevitably tear. I try to fold the pages back into place, but the pages are permanently bent differently. For marking pages, I’d prefer everyone to just use bookmarks – even if it’s just their receipt or a bill they already paid. Don’t use weird things like raw bacon, rusty nails, or used Kleenex. And for my own sanity, please remove your hundreds of tiny sticky tabs before you return a library book because I hate spending fifteen minutes of my short lifetime removing every single one of those tiny, annoying stickers. Also, please don’t underline and highlight library books either. It’s incredibly distracting to others who will use the book after you. We had a customer once who would take BRAND NEW BOOKS and would underline and edit library copies of books and return them with notes scribbled in the margins and sentences crossed out. I about lost my mind when I discovered just how many books had been desecrated this way, and I’m not aware if he ever paid for replacing those items.

Don’t return your items like this. I will find you and I will make you pay. Someday.

I promise you that if you treat library staff and their books well, we’ll be your best friends. And until I receive the superpowers that grant me the ability to wield justice upon errant book abusers despite their claims of “I checked it out like that,” I will simply have to content myself blog posts like this spreading the word about proper library book etiquette.

If you want to join in on the fun of Finish the Sentence Friday, simply go to either Kristi or Kendra’s blogs and link up with your own take on this week’s writing prompt. To find out more about future prompts or to connect more with our group, join the Finish the Sentence Friday Facebook page. Thanks for reading!