Friday, May 05, 2006

Damage Noted

"I need to return this book. I think it's overdue . . . and it was just like this when I checked it out."

It was like this? The cover was torn off and replaced upside down and backwards and scotch-taped by a fine-motor-skill-lacking, thumb-less three-year-old? It was like this when I ordered it from another branch and held it on our special reserve shelf for a week and checked it out to you? The pages were pulled away from the glue and webbing, creating more traumatic spinal damage than a free-fall skydiving accident from 10,000 feet? It was like this? Was it my coffee cup back here behind the counter that was unwittingly planted on page 68 with a brown ring bleeding all the way through to page 84? For real?

"Yeah, it was just like this, seriously."

And this other book you're returning, this paperback sci-fi novel with the front cover torn most of the way off and the pages dog-eared through about page 45 where it's obvious you gave up reading? You found it on our shelf like this and you didn't say anything about it and neither did I when I checked it out to you two months ago? Really?


What about this Celine Dion CD that was tied to the rear bumper of your brother-in law's car after his wedding reception and dragged sixteen miles to the airport parking lot where it sat in the sun and rain for three weeks until the disc resembles a distant, asteroid-scarred lunar surface? And is that cat vomit?

"It was like that when I checked it out, sir."


Luckily, I can't imagine any of our patrons--or that many employees, for that matter--are fully aware of an obscure notation in the library policy manual regarding our belief or non-belief of "customers." Basically, the policy is as follows: "believe them." I really thought I read this wrong when I went through new-employee orientation, so I asked the trainer two or three times for confirmation. Surprisingly, it is indeed the case.

Beyond being relieved at not having to challenge my mostly conflict-averse personality by daily calling people out on their lies, I thought about how much I liked working for a place that officially basically takes people's word for things. Sure, occasionally some cheating bastard will take advantage of this and lie his way out of having to pay for a brutally bludgeoned book, but most of the time it just makes for a humane, decent environment. Not having to challenge people on their relatively minor transgressions and basically believing that everyone has good intentions seems to make for a better world all around.

This is not to deny that we have a bookshelf so full of undeniably damaged materials that it swells like John Daly's gut. We're definitely going to charge people for their wanton destruction of public property. I'm just glad that in minor cases I don't have to jump over the front counter and wrestle elderly ladies to get them to pay for the damage incurred when their cat threw up on the corner of a Rita Mae Brown mystery that can probably be repaired.

In fact, one of the small pleasures of my job involves marking these repaired items with the "DAMAGE NOTED" stamp so the next friendly patron won't get blamed for the faint whiff of cat vomit accompanying their returned book. I usually write a little explanatory note along with the stamp to describe whatever mishap has befallen the item, and I desperately look forward to the day when anybody else will notice my descriptive efforts. I especially enjoy when kids scrawl something like, "Awesome!" somewhere deep in the text of a book they loved. Along with my initials and the date, I like to note something like, "Exuberant editorial comment" under the official-looking "DAMAGE NOTED" mark.


On a vaguely related note, just this morning I took the graduate school examination that is the first step toward my becoming one of the employees who sits down in the library versus one that stands up and runs around most of the time. Lately I've been especially bitter about mentally cataloging how much of the sitting-down people's job I actually do in my far-lower-paid, less prestigious, often menial standing-up capacity.

Clearly this sort of class warfare is absurd and hilarious in a profession where even the most lavish benefits involve not having to pay for one's own library fines. Still, I can't help but feel a little bit like I'm selling out my brothers and sisters who stand and move around all day as I move toward sitting-down status. Whether or not I eventually live up to archaic librarian stereotypes one day, I resolve to not forget my homies on the front lines dealing with the serial book-abusers, the reluctant fine-paying complainers, and the terroristic mothers who check out 30 items on their own card and 30 more on each of their seven kids' cards and then betray the slightest hint of impatience with the speed of the process. I hope my damn chair will be a comfortable one.


Blogger Tara (aka) Fu Manchu said...

Didn't know that you took the GRE. Whoppee! Keep up your 1,000 page reading logs and you'll outsell Pearl with your own rendition of Book Lust!

9:09 AM  

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