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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And the cycle starts anew

Among the books that arrived with this week's B&T shipment was a brand new copy of Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It.

Now, I've not read the book and I've no intention of reading the book. However, looking upon our shiny new copy of it, I realized that this is probably the eighth or ninth copy of that particular book that we've purchased in the past six years.

"Wonder how long this one will last?" I asked Mrs. B, holding up the book for her to see. She took one look and shook her head, knowing well what I meant. Our rookie "liberry" ass., Ms. D, on the other hand, looked on confused.

I explained to Ms. D that of all the books in our library, A Child Called It truly deserves an award for being one of the most-circulated and certainly one of the most-stolen library books of the past twenty years. We cannot keep a copy of it on the shelf for more than a few months at at time before it's gone again.

I used to wonder why a nonfiction book about an abused child would be in such demand and so often criminally overdue. Is it such a good book that people become emotionally attached to it and cannot let it go? Eh, I've seen that happen before but it's not so likely. There are some possible explanations.

The first one that comes to mind is that people are just assholes.

A second, more charitable explanation stems from the fact that I'm pretty sure there's a teacher at the local community college who regularly assigns it as reading for class. My theory on this is as follows: students check it out, read it, maybe take too long reading it, try to renew it, find that they can't renew it because eight of their fellow classmates now have it on hold, discover that it's now overdue, decide they don't want to pay the fine and prefer to wait for some sort of amnesty day (nevermind the fact that we have one weekly), fail to return it and continue holding onto it until they forget they ever had it. Because they're students, their mailing addresses are apt to change, particularly if they transfer to a four year college, leaving their parents to receive all the overdue notices we send out. The parents don't want to deal with it and decide to teach their kid a real-world life lesson by letting them face the consequences, but since we rarely hunt people down with pointed sticks over library books (unlike Mr. Rob, the community college librarian, who has been known to go to people's houses to retrieve books) this amounts to little. And so we order a new copy and the cycle starts anew.

A third, more charitable explanation, is that there are certain people in this world who just don't fathom how libraries are supposed to work. I reason this from the number of people who request A Child Called It who then have to be issued library cards before they can check it out. (If they were all community college students, they would already have library cards, as cards are manditorily issued as part of student enrollment.) These library neophytes, as I think any library professional can atest, are rarely seen in libraries unless there's an outside reason that brings them in. Once there, they might try to play along with our quaint "rules" and "policies" but their hearts really aren't in it.

I think all three explanations are probably true, but the third theory does bring to mind a recent visit by a family of "liberry" neophytes that amused me greatly...

4 comments:

Emily Lloyd said...

A Child Called It is THE wildly popular book at my library, too--there should just be a giant tissue box full of disposable, one-time-use copies. This despite its incredibly ugly cover.

A comic strip offering a way to reply to the next patron who asks for A Child Called It: Shelf Check #105

Jeff Scott said...

That averages only one per year. We have to replace ours much more often than that. Don't you love how teachers provide reading assignments thinking the local library has 30 copies of one book for their students?

Ask me about GED books :(

Anonymous said...

We keep this book in a special closed-stack area. It was stolen so many times that a patron must ask a librarian to pull it for them.

However, this doesn't thwart all "It"-thiefs, as we just ordered about 5 brand-new copies to replace those that have been lost or so roughly handled they're falling apart.

I think a big part of this is who "It" appeals to. This book is almost exclusively checked out by teenage girls who don't put the library or its rules very high on their priority list.

When I see people come into the library who look like they've never stepped foot in a library their entire lives, I know they want one of three things: a notary, the internet, or "A Child Called It."

Kerry said...

You must not have a big Triple Crown Publications reading crowd--not only are we constantly reordering, but even if the catalog says a volume is on the shelf, it's invariably not there. We've joked that we should adapt what another library does for their new DVDs--just make up a list and put them on the shelf and counter, and have patrons write their library card down and circle what they want. We'll just order it from a system library and put a hold on it. Easier on everyone's nerves.