NASHVILLE—There must be a million people inside the Music City Convention Center, gathering for the Public Library Association’s annual conference. These are all librarians.
This conference is the Olympic Games of the library world. Dedicated library professionals from all over the nation attend to represent their communities with one goal in mind, namely, to locate free alcohol.
I’m kidding. But not totally. They also visit for the free books, the engaging speakers, and to learn about breakthroughs in the field of self-inking rubber stamps.
I love librarians. Though I’ll admit I’m also a little afraid of them. This fear dates back to when I was younger. I used to visit the library and check out lots of Louis L’Amour novels. I was terrible about returning them on time. I still have overdue books that have been accruing debt since the Coolidge administration.
Thus, I have become very good at spotting librarians in crowds so that I can hide from them. In fact, if you were to line up ten people and hide one librarian among them, I could pick out the librarian. She would be easy to find. Just look for the sweet older woman wearing tennis shoes and scented bath powder.
Another dead giveaway would be that everyone would be calling her “ma’am” and promising to return their overdue books under threat of the death penalty.
As it happens, the subject of late fees is a big issue at today’s book convention.
“I hate late fees,” said one librarian from Alaska. “They ruin the whole experience for kids who forget books, the kids are always embarrassed when I tell them they owe me lots of money. I feel like a mafia boss, like I’m threatening to break their legs or something.”
“Hear, hear,” said another woman from Michigan. “Most kids are so scared of me they leave with their books and never come back. Which only makes MORE late fees.”
“It’s pitiful,” another librarian said, sipping her free whiskey sour.
This is yet another serious problem facing America’s youth today. But I have good news on the public library front. A librarian from Goodyear, Arizona, told me something that blessed my heart. She said, “Our library has done away with late fees altogether.”
A few more librarians spoke up. Many said that their libraries are eliminating late fees for good. This conversation started mushrooming throughout a small group of women in the convention center. Soon, there was a multi-librarian conversation spontaneously erupting around me. There were so many librarians surrounding me that I began to get lightheaded from the cloud of White Linen bath powder filling the air.
I am a big fan of cancelling late fees. Because when I was a boy, I spent more time in the library than I did at home. I loved to read. Plus, I also have a soft spot for older ladies in Keds.
But somewhere along the way I started backsliding into a life of crime. It can happen fast. You forget to return one stack of books and that’s it. It’s a downward spiral after that. Fast forward to today, I’m a grown man who is wanted in three states for late fees.
For years I have avoided my hometown library because of this. The last time I tried to check out a book from the Walton County library system, I had to use a fake ID. The sweet old woman behind the counter scanned my card, then looked at my ID carefully and said, “Wait a minute, is your name really Jaques Strapp?”
Then she glanced at the police sketch hanging beside the computer and shouted, “It’s him! Stop! Thief!”
The old gal barely missed me with the tranquilizer darts.
So you can imagine how nervous I was when I accidentally bumped into the head librarian for Walton County at the convention today. Her name is Caitie. She recognized me immediately.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Don’t I know you?”
“No,” I said.
“Really? You look familiar.”
“No habla Inglés.”
I started heading toward the exit. I saw a few library officials reaching for their taser guns.
But luckily, Caitie is from a younger generation of librarians that are a little more laid back when it comes to fugitives like me, I know this because she did not try to handcuff me. Instead, Caitie simply said, “Why haven’t you been by the library lately?”
So I told her how embarrassed I am about my late fees—which are in the quadruple digits. But she only laughed and said, “You know what? I’ll take care of those fees, consider your debt paid.”
I was stunned.
“Besides,” she went on, “we’re gonna eliminate late fees anyway, that way kids will start coming back to the library again.”
So you heard it here, people. No more late fees. And I, for one, am glad about it. Life is too short to be hiding in dark corners whenever you smell floral bath powder in the vicinity.
Before Caitie left, we embraced. I thanked her for forgiving my debt.
She smiled and said in a sincere voice, “Don’t mention it, but if you don’t return those Louis L’Amour books, I will hunt you down and rip out your toenails with pliers.”
And the scary part is, if you give these librarians enough free alcohol, they will.