On Being A Good Borrower of Library Books

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47 Responses

  1. Kolohe says:

    8) Try not to look at pics of nekkid people on the public internet terminals.Report

  2. aaron david says:

    #5 is huge, and about half of the reason I never go to libraries. ( I was a buyer for a few different used bookstores, and there are few things as disturbing as seeing a first of Blood Meridian with a cracked spine.)Report

    • Maribou in reply to aaron david says:

      @aaron-david Heheheh. See, this is where libraries and bookstores differ. I don’t care at all if the spine gets cracked! I don’t care if the pages start to fall out! Actually I do care because it makes me kinda happy – unless the publisher sucks (possible), that kind of wear is an unavoidable consequence of many people enjoying the book, so I positively revel in it. It helps that we have a book mender at my library. Those other things I mention are different, in my eyes, because they can interfere with other people’s enjoyment of the book and they involve a deliberate entropic choice.

      (I have a friend who collects modern firsts, and he has Strong Opinions about how libraries are full of evil people who let horrible things happen to marvelous objects. And yet, we are still friends.)Report

      • aaron david in reply to Maribou says:

        Well, your friend is right!

        Somewhere in the back of my mind, I imagine a Borgesian world, where book scouts do battle with librarians for the fate of the known world. Vicious fighting indeed!Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Maribou says:

        Can you tell us about the book mender, @maribou ? How does one become a book mender, how is such a person compensated for her efforts (if at all)?Report

      • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

        @burt-likko I don’t think I can go into a lot of details without basically doxxing my coworker (and myself by extension) – because it’s not such a common job – but preservation and processing is part of most large academic libraries and in those places it is usually a full-time job (sometimes more than one) unless it has been outsourced. In smaller places, if the library is lucky enough to have one, she or he will be part-time. Most of the book menders I know are also fine artists and/or textile artists, but that might be a fluke.

        I think the most interesting alternative to actually asking a book mender about their job (which has always proven interesting in my experience) is to read the book A Degree of Mastery: A Journey Through Book Arts Apprenticeship by Annie Tremmel Wilcox.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

        Book menders usually just get paid regular wages, within library systems – but they only mend books it is worth mending, ie they estimate how long / how material-costly it will be to fix something and if it costs too much it gets replaced instead. There are special machines that automate fixing split bindings of glue-bound softcovers! (A detail I mention only because I thought it was basically magic the first time I saw it.)Report

    • giovanni da procida in reply to aaron david says:

      I would add “do not make corrections to the text” to #5. When I used to live in Berkeley and commute to work by bus, I would check out a whole stack of books every weekend to read on my lengthy commutes.

      Some 66% of the books that I checked out had previously been borrowed by someone who had corrected any (perceived) grammar and spelling errors in the book. This used to irritate me greatly (particularly when the spelling or grammatical correction was itself in error), far more than the slight errors themselves.

      In my more kindly moments, I felt sorry for this poor soul who felt compelled to correct library books. Most of the time, I hated him.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to giovanni da procida says:

        Do you think it was all by the same person?Report

      • giovanni da procida in reply to giovanni da procida says:

        It seemed to me that the vast majority were the same handwriting.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to giovanni da procida says:


        Of course that happened in Berkeley. Of course it did. I can almost picture what the person looks like. The same stuff happens in SF. I dislike it most when someone is writing marginalia corrections where they think the author got his or her facts wrong.Report

      • @giovanni-da-procida OH yes. Once in a very blue moon I come across marginalia that I love. (In fact, there’s a tattered copy of a book that gets used for reserves, at my library, that we tried to withdraw and replace because it’s so marked up, only to have the students in the class say “noooooooo, we all love that one because whoever that was is SO smart and helpful!” So we kept it.) But for every brilliant annotator there are another 900,000 people (approximately) who think they are smarter than the author of the book.Report

      • Michael M. in reply to giovanni da procida says:

        There was a time, right after I ceased copyediting professionally, when I felt a strong compulsion to correct errors that made it through the publishing process and into print. Luckily, it was outweighed by my lifelong aversion to writing in books.

        Still, the desire to mark up text to instruct the printer to break stack when I encounter a stack is pretty powerful. I really hate stacked text.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to aaron david says:

      My wife’s aunt… who is quirky in a number of ways… will only buy books new because she *has* to crack the spine while it’s still fresh.Report

  3. Michael M. says:

    Regarding #3, our (Multnomah County) library’s online request/reservation system won’t let patrons renew an item if someone else has a hold on it. This seems fair to me and keeps me from getting complacent about due dates — I can’t necessarily presume that I’ll be able to renew something, though often if it is something older there won’t be any holds.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Michael M. says:

      Yes, both my local public and the library where I work have the same setup. In fact, most online systems won’t allow it and I was assuming the patron being scolded in #3 had already tried renewing online (thank you for making it explicit!)

      Special pleading at the service desk, asking us to renew something even though it has a hold, is rampant where I work though, despite the fact that we won’t do that. I try to see it as an educational opportunity.Report

      • Michael M. in reply to Maribou says:

        Yikes, it would never occur to me to ask to renew something that someone else has a hold on. I was presuming people were asking because they didn’t know there was a hold. I wonder what part of “sharing” people don’t get.

        So much is automated at our library now that you no longer have to talk to staff to do any common tasks — you can reserve, pick-up, check out and return material, without any human interaction required. It’s a little weird.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Maribou says:

        Ours too, with one exception: interlibrary loan books have a huge fine attached if they get lost, so a human checks them in and out, to ensure chain of custody.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Maribou says:

        Michael – it’s the same with all the libraries in my city. All of the checkout procedures are automated, and I do all my holds online.Report

  4. Michael Cain says:

    I admit that a few weeks ago I was tempted… the interlibrary loan provided me with an essentially unused first printing, with a note and author signature on the flyleaf. I could have claimed it was lost and purchased a replacement online for $25 (the book is long out of print).Report

  5. KatherineMW says:

    Oh, I have a question!

    If you rent a DVD and it skips or doesn’t work, should you take it back to a library worker and let them know rather than just returning it through the ‘returns’ slot? I generally do, because I figure if a DVD isn’t working then it should be taken off the shelves, but I’m not sure if that’s regarded as overly picky if it just means you have to skip one scene on the DVD.

    Out of curiosity – what’s your view on what kind of materials/services libraries should provide? There seems to be a variety of opinions. When I was in Ottawa, for example, most of the DVDs the libraries stocked were arthouse movies, foreign films, and documentaries, with relatively little in the way of blockbusters – tending strongly towards the “libraries are there to educate” perspective. The libraries at home are the opposite end of the scale – still plenty of books, but also lots of DVDs of popular blockbusters, and a lot of computer terminals, fitting a “libraries are a public service, and should provide what the public wants” ethos. Which side do you lean towards? (Personally, with the near-disappearance of movie rental outlets, I find being able to pick up DVDs at libraries extremely convenient – and great for introducing myself to new TV series.)Report

    • Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW says:

      Along these same lines… what about kids’ sections? Some libraries have awesome ones and some have cruddy ones. I like the ones that have some simple, open-ended toys in them.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy As someone whose mom was a kid’s librarian and whose favorite refuge from family trauma starting at about age 6 was the public library…. I could probably write a book on what I like and don’t like about kids’ sections (mostly what I like since I’ve been fortunate not to see many cruddy ones). I agree about toys. What exactly are you wondering about the kids’ sections? The same educate/popularize thing? My mom used to say something along the lines of “You need the Goosebumps because some kids only want to read those and you need SOMETHING for every kid. But you need more than just Goosebumps because a lot of kids need your help to figure out how much there is out there and how much they will love it.”

        I really like small animals in children’s sections although I completely understand why most libraries don’t want to mess with them.Report

    • Maribou in reply to KatherineMW says:

      @katherinemw “If you rent a DVD and it skips or doesn’t work, should you take it back to a library worker and let them know rather than just returning it through the ‘returns’ slot? ”
      Oh, yes please! Preferably, if you can, note down the time of the skippy-freezy, or at least if it’s a multi-volume disc what disc it is, but I know both here and at my public library *we want stuff to work right* and there are all kinds of ways to fix messed up spots without replacing the whole thing. I’ve chatted with my public library folks before about “how” messed up it is because there is some tension between “30 people want this disc and it only has a 30-second messed up part” and “unwatchable…. but they definitely should want to know.

      As for your second question, it sounds like a dodge but I am a big advocate of “buy the stuff your community wants, including the stuff they don’t know they want but will like once it shows up” – but I *don’t* think that always means best-sellers. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it means the really weird obscure thing that some random dude asks for, that then ends up checking out 4 or 5 times. Or the really interesting documentary that costs 300 bucks so NO ONE is going to buy it unless they can watch the library’s copy. Or providing the things people won’t find in bookstores, because they are niche readers/watchers/viewers, but intensive ones. The “your community” part is really important – every community is different and wants different things. I also think librarians have a positive responsibility to provide materials to people who are marginalized or otherwise excluded by the mainstream of their community – but again, that has to be through dialogue, research, and getting to know those patrons (at least some of them), not guesswork.

      One great joy I have as a patron is that our local public is very reliable about buying stuff I ask for in the patron request form, including obscure-ish self-published genre books – and then there are often 3-4 holds on the item by the time it comes in. They trust their patrons to improve their collections.

      For the best-sellers thing, I think that public libraries being able to short-term rent many many copies of bestsellers and then send 90 percent of them back is a huge godsend in large cities. I think our public library has some collection development rules around how many people in the queue triggers an available copy, and I know my little sister’s library does.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    I dog ear. I will stop. Maybe I should invest in a good bookmark.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

      At one point, I learned that my parents — both voracious readers — were working their way through a box of 2,000 virgin punch cards that I had left at their house at some point rather than haul across the country again. I have ~1,200 old business cards that say “Michael Cain, Something-or-other” that I’m slowly working through. Both make terrific book marks.Report

      • Guy in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I usually use receipts. My current bookmark is a 1″ x 2.5″ or so slip from my local hardware store from when I went to buy some mirror mounts. It fits perfectly, doesn’t fall out, and doesn’t crease. Best possible bookmark!Report

    • Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy Or a whole bunch of crappy ones! Then you won’t care if you lose them. I bet your public library even gives bookmarks away for free…Report

    • Fish in reply to Kazzy says:

      I have a whole stack of things I use as bookmarks: the cardboard wrapper for a B&N gift card my oldest gave me a long time ago (he wrote on it in pencil and that is fading), an Iron Man 2 bookmark I claimed when one of the boys left it lying around, a business card from a fantastic book store in Wichita, Ks, and a bunch of cards from a board game which we made extraneous when an expansion replaced them.Report

  7. Crprod says:

    My wife has spent her working life in library technical services. She started as a cataloguer and then became the supervisor of holdings management. That includes not only knowing how many copies of each item are at each library in the system, but also sets and series. I frequently hear about the terms discussed here (which is not the academic library where she works): http://web.library.yale.edu/cataloging/multipart-workflow

    She would want me to remind you all that paying for replacement library items includes not only the cost of the item but also the cost of recataloging it and entering it into the system. We had a dog destroy a book and escaped the latter cost by having her recatalogue it.Report

  8. Tod Kelly says:

    @maribou Thanks again for letting us do this. I love this post.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      @tod-kelly It’s nice to have someone other than library people to talk to about this stuff 🙂Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      As I said from the onset, I think we should tap others (be they regulars or elsewhere) who work in little or misunderstood industries/professions and encouraging them to do something similar. I know a bunch of us have done it one way or another (you with risk management, me with teaching, Burt and others with the law, Will via Clancy with medicine, Russ with medicine), but there are a bunch of others that’d be lovely to learn about.Report