An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Today's Odd Bird

The "Liberry" was mostly uneventful today, save for one odd bird.

A patron came in bearing our paperback copy of the book Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families as well as a brand new pristine paperback copy of the same book.

"I checked this out a while ago," she explained, "and I decided I'd like to have it for myself, so I brought you a new copy to replace it."

I blinked for a bit. "You want to replace our copy... with a brand new copy?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

I blinked some more.

Normally when patrons enjoy our books and want one of their own, they return ours to us and go buy a fresh copy for themselves. Or they simply steal ours, which is more often the case. Patrons usually only bring us new copies of books when they've lost or damaged the original and feel guilty. As well they should. Our original copy was right there in her hand, though, and looked much the same as when it left some weeks before. Maybe a little shelf-worn, sure, but still respectable. There were several bookmarks and paperclips in the pages of our original, but I only noticed them as she began removing them, I assume to show me that the book was still in good shape.

"I didn't write in it, or anything," she said.

"But you still want to give us the new one?"

"Oh, yes."

Then she opened up the front flap, exposing the Date Due slip and our cataloging barcode. "All you really have to do is just put this paper in the new book and we can call it even, right?" she said, pointing to the slip.

I had no idea how to deal with this. It's just not the sort of thing that ever comes up. I couldn't really fathom why she would want to replace a perfectly good book on bipolar disorder with a brand new copy when she hadn't damaged the original in the first place. It was like she was emotionally attached to the book and was offering us a slightly better copy of it so she could keep the one she'd fallen in love with. I had a little instant vision of this lady sitting up in bed, reading our bipolar disorder book, musing to herself that it had helped her understand the disorder quite a bit better than she had before and how much she wished she could keep it forever. Yeah, it's a terribly goofy vision to have, but that's how my brain works.

I excused myself to go see if it was all right with our librarians, in particular the one whose hassle it would be to catalog the new book.

Normally it might be as easy as slapping on a new date due slip and new barcode and changing its book record to reflect that new code. Unfortunately, we in our particular neck of the WV "liberry" system are in the process of switching to new and hopefully better software to keep up with all our books, patrons, etc. and have had the infinite headache of having to re-barcode every book in the building.

"All three?" I hear someone say. Look, dickweed, you try spending your entire summer rebarcoding 30,000 filthy, dusty books, popping down Claritin's like they were Altoids, repeatedly jamming rigid plastic barcodes under your fingernails and then you come back and try to be Mr. Funny Pants!

Now, for reasons too time consuming and slack-jaw boring to go into, (but which involve all of our collection data being taken by the company who's selling us the new software, just to inconvenience us), we can no longer alter existing item records.

See. Boring.

Anyway, it's pretty much library policy that we prefer the patron bring us the money and we get to buy the preferred edition of the book we're replacing. This policy is in place for the benefit of the flukes of the universe who try to bring in the Dell Paperback edition of Tom Sawyer to replace the $30 leather-bound hardcover that they so thoughtfully left on the roof of their car during a rainstorm.

I tried to plead the lady's case, pointing out that she was replacing a paperback edition with an identical paperback edition, but the librarians didn't go for it. In the end I had to go back up front and break the news to the patron that we were taking her beloved old friend of a book and rejecting her gift of the sparkly fresh new one.

"But you could just move the slip to the new book," the woman argued. We assured her it would be a good deal more complicated than that and she finally relented and left wearing a sad, sad look.

I think we may have shattered her psyche.

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