I don’t visit libraries much.
It has nothing to do with the books. As a confessed bibliophile, I love them. I read often, and I read a lot, and any place I can find interesting books is – almost by definition – a good place.
The problem with libraries isn’t that they have books, or even that they’ll let me take them. It’s more that they expect me to return them. And that isn’t exactly my strong suit.
It’s not that I don’t want to give the books back when I’ve finished them. I don’t mind borrowing and returning (though I do have to remind myself not to read them in my usual fashion – pen in hand and notes in margin). I don’t even mind buying the ones I want to keep. It’s more that I’m forgetful by nature, and the idea of “read this now and return it in two weeks, on a date certain for our purposes but not necessarily fitting easily into your schedule (yeah, I wander)” – well, nice in theory, but years of practice prove otherwise.
I’m not normally an irresponsible yak, but among My Great Failings is this: I cannot get a library book back on time. Strange as that seems, it’s true. Between circumstances conspiring against me, a mind that leaks like a sieve on the best of days and …. (SQUIRREL)
What was I saying? Oh, right. I’m also prone to distraction.
At the end of the day, I’m just not good about returning library books. In fact, “not good about it” seriously understates the problem. I crouch and run past libraries – even ones I’ve never visited before – because I’m sure when they institute the Library Sniper Program to Eliminate Unexcused Tardiness in Returns, I’ll be the first one between the crosshairs. Public (Library) Enemy #1.
All of which is a very long setup to a relatively short payoff for you, but a lifetime’s worth of consolation for me.
In October 1789, George Washington borrowed two books from the New York library (one on International law and the other containing debate transcripts from the British House of Commons). Although the books were due back in November (1789…), the library recently reported them … still missing.
Making Washington’s books approximately 220 years overdue.
Suddenly, that 4-month late fee I ran up the last time I thought I’d prove I could actually borrow a book and return it on time doesn’t look so bad. In fact, nothing I could possibly do would equal Washington’s colossal late fees (estimated at somewhere between $90,000 and $300,000, depending on how you adjust for inflation and whether or not there’s compounded interest involved). Of course, he could decide to just pay for the books, but antique manuscripts like those sell for a pretty penny these days. Either way, he’s in more trouble than I am.
Even putting to rest the jokes about the deceased I find it strangely comforting to learn that I’m not alone in this difficulty. Ironically, Washington may have failed to return them for exactly the same reason I do … he got started on something else, and the books got forgotten in the process. It probably wasn’t intentional, and almost certainly would have embarrassed him if he knew. Which, being George Washington, he probably did.
In fact, I bet he ducked when he went by the library too. In his day, they did still use snipers.
(Tip of the horns, Lowering the Bar)