I work at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, in a town of less than 8,000 people. It’s the kind of place where it’s very easy to run into friends, colleagues, students, former lovers, and that guy who walks around town wearing fishing waders. All the local businesses know your face, which can be convenient when running a tab at the one town bar but is also kind of a nightmare for someone with overdue library books. That’s me.
I’ve always been an active library patron. When I moved here last summer, I cut out my public library card’s bar code and punched a hole in it so I could keep it on my key ring. In October, I checked out four books. I always meant to take them back but procrastinated reading them through the fall, over the winter holidays, and far into the spring. The unread books have become fixtures on my nightstand, small monuments to my shame. As of this writing they are overdue by 148 days. The late fees are 25 cents per day; multiplied by four books, that means I owe $148. I know, I know — why didn’t I just renew them?
The sight of my key ring now fills me with trepidation. I scurry past the library on my lunch hour and avoid eye contact with patrons on their way in. I concoct elaborate stories about losing my books in a cab in Mexico City while running late for a Christmas Eve mass at the convent where my four great-aunts live. But the reality is that I didn’t take a cab to mass, nor did I take those unread books with me on my trip to Mexico City over the holidays. I just want to read them and return them, and extinguish the shame I’ve lived with for the past 148 days. Tomorrow, I say, tomorrow.
And here’s the worst part: I’m a librarian.