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.
Connie Havard Ryland - February 29, 2020 7:30 am
If I could have been anything I wanted to be, I would have been a librarian. I love books. I love to read, and probably own a thousand books. My kids threaten me with the nursing home if I don’t stop buying more. Lol.
oldlibrariansshelf - February 29, 2020 8:09 am
Reading books is something a librarian does in her free time. Sharing her love of books and making books accessible is what she does at her workplace. This former school librarian lives so close to the Alabama state line that she doesn’t get much news from her home state of Tennessee. It is good to learn that Nashville is hosting librarians this week-end. It is even better to know that you are among them, Sean. Stay warm and enjoy!
Naomi - February 29, 2020 10:44 am
Sean, I feel your pain. I worked in my high school library for 4 years when I was in high school. None of the kids liked our HS librarian and she didn’t like the kids. When I got engaged to be married, I invited her to my engagement party. My younger brother, who was still in HS, had a fit. He couldn’t believe that I had invited her. She was an old maid and she tried to talk me out of getting married at my engagement party. The HS that my stepsons and my daughter went to had a librarian who all of the students hated. She didn’t like any of the kids and was really mean to them. During senior day, one of my stepsons and a few of his friends bought a box full of crickets and let the loose in the library. They had to take all of the books off of the shelves to get rid of the crickets. No one found out who did it. My stepson never told anyone that he was one of the kids who did this. This same young man will be retiring in April and will be applying for Social Security. The librarian who he had trouble with died many years ago. She was a lonely old woman and had alienated so many people that she ended up alone when she got sick. My husband and I felt sorry for her so when she got sick, he and I went over to her house and mowed her lawn and raked her leaves. Her property bordered my husband’s aunt’s property and his aunt also tried to take care of her.
William Larry Hataway - February 29, 2020 11:23 am
I am on the most wanted at Mobile Public Library. Yes I did return a paperback book I needed for my Terry Johnson collection.I tried to give them 5 of my paperbacks in exchange after all paperbacks are a donation anyway BUT NOOoo they cut my card up in front of me and said my kind was welcome there. It’s been over 35 years now. Maybe they have forgotten
Ann - February 29, 2020 11:38 am
How do you do it ?!….thank you🥰😂
Wings - February 29, 2020 12:20 pm
Posting on my Facebook page. Great message and a wonderful Saturday morning laugh.
Now, where are those Louis L’Amour novels???
Cathi Russell - February 29, 2020 12:38 pm
I love, love, love to read so I’ve spent a lot of time in liberries 😉 over the years. I had a so-called aunt who was the definition of the crotchety old librarian which always gave me pause…I did not like her so why do I love where she works??? Enjoy your Leap Day with the librarians!
Shelton A. - February 29, 2020 1:16 pm
Bad, bad Sean…ahhh, but your debt is forgiven. Lovely woman, that Caitie, who forgives your debts. But she has a complete set of Craftsman tools. So I’d get those books back if I were you.
Becky - February 29, 2020 1:37 pm
Sean, this was so funny and just the way I love to start my day.
Rhonda - February 29, 2020 1:44 pm
What a wonderful thing to read this morning! I have been so depressed about the plight of books. Storage lockers full of boxes of books sold for nothing because they are considered nothing. Old folks passing away and their treasured books are tossed in the garbage without a thought. My hand me down books were such a blessing. There were hand written notes tucked inside that told me what that day held long ago. My so old I can’t find another one like it copy of the House of Seven Gables has railroad stamps on the front cover and Miss Alma kept records of credit purchases from neighbors who purchased eggs, milk and butter in the margins of the thick yellow pages. $3.50 paid on weekly took 2 months to pay off. If I had just picked it up and thrown it out I would have missed a message from the past. Books will out last us all and tell more tales than what is written on the pages. And I have a shameful thing to admit! I love to plant my nose deep in the crack of pages and smell deep. Did you know memories leave a scent?!
Jeri Blom - February 29, 2020 2:42 pm
Hahaha! Great column! My favorite librarian lives in Brewton and Lottie! I’m in Minnesota. Love you Sean!
Chasity Davis Ritter - February 29, 2020 3:20 pm
My wonderful aunt Donna has been the children’s librarian here in my town for many years. She always tries to come up with engaging ideas for parties and events to get the kids to come in and enjoy the library. She hosts an awesome Halloween party every year that is tradition to go to. I’m a big kid at almost 49 and still go to them. I’ve helped out over the years and so does my mom. Libraries are still the most awesome place in the world I truly hope people never forget that.
Donald Watts - February 29, 2020 3:42 pm
Still laughing out loud at today’s column. I’ve known a few librarians in my day that could scare the bejesus out of you over late fees. Luckily I got over my fear and later even married a librarian. But I still get that feeling ever now in then, especially when she feels we need a serious talk, and she always begins it by calling me by my last name; “Mr. Watts!…a moment of your time please.”
Jackie - February 29, 2020 4:09 pm
I liked my librarian in HS. He was our class sponsor and taught me how to square dance before I got to HS. He was the caller for community dances. I think he also liked kids that weren’t too loud in the library.
Pam Furnary - February 29, 2020 4:26 pm
I am a school librarian. I used to bike to my neighborhood library as a child. There a very nice librarian would let me check out “adult” books. Those were the days when a child’s library card was a different color from an adults. Which limited you to the kids section. That librarian was my hero. I don’t remember her name but I thank her none the less. Thank you for this article.
Linda Moon - February 29, 2020 5:26 pm
My local library has waived late fees during February, so I’ve got to throw on those Keds and run over there soon. Thanks for reminding this former librarian about toenail clippers and late fees so that I won’t have to hide behind a vulgar pseudonym today! When I get back home, I just might relax with some whiskey sour!
Charlu Kent - February 29, 2020 8:13 pm
My Mom was a Librarian. At one time she rode horseback in n out of a small canyon off of the Grand Canyon, to an elementary school library. I taught her to ride. She was my hero n she gave me the gift of reading.💙🐭❤️📚❤️
catladymac - February 29, 2020 8:19 pm
Free alcohol not withstanding, my experience with librarians is that they were there for the FREE BOOKS !
I began to avoid libraries because of not being able to finish all the books (such as “Lee’s Lieutenants”) in two weeks. unfortunately this has led me to owning 12000 books, which I now have to divulge myself of.**Sigh**
Steve Winfield - March 1, 2020 6:25 am
I just knew the last line of this story was going to include “Jaques”.
Patricia Carney - April 5, 2020 1:20 am
I loved the library. I remember getting up enough nerve to go into the adult section and no one sending me out. The librarian just smiled when I checked to see if she was looking, then she went right back to whatever she was doing!! I was surprised that it was allowed. I still love books.
angelia Herrin - April 5, 2020 1:14 pm
When I was held up at gunpoint years ago outside by car, the first thought I had was “Damn, I got those overdue library books still sitting in the backseat.” Painful, but true. Maybe those of us who just love books, and weren’t able to own them when they were younger, tend to hold on to them a little longer than we should. Or yeah, maybe we are fools who need a gun pointed at them to remind them to get them back to the library
Mary Hicks - April 8, 2020 7:00 pm
I am one who has always loved libraries! I always wanted to work in the one in high school, but never got to. But this brought a smile to my face. Thanks again, Sean. God bless you and Jamie. I think my husband has every Louis L’Amour book ever written!
Angela Kae - July 31, 2021 9:08 pm
Our county libraries did away w/fees several years ago, great program!