Last week I took Livia to her crafting class in the library building. While she was at her class, Marshall and I went into the library to return some books. Most of the books went straight into the return box, but I kept one out, because it was damaged. A previous borrower had scribbled all over the last two pages and the very last page had come loose. I handed it to the people at the front desk and pointed out the damage. They thanked me for showing it to them.
Marshall and I then went into the children’s section to find some new books for him to read. A few minutes later, one of the children’s librarians tracked me down to ask me about the damaged book. I’ve pointed out damaged materials before, and no one has ever questioned me. I was surprised, but I happily told her the same thing I’d told the people at the desk.
“Well,” she said. “We look every book over when we get it back, so I don’t understand how this could have happened.” So I repeated that the book had come that way. “Well,” she said. “How could you have not noticed that there was a loose page?” So I explained that I don’t examine the books when I take them off the shelves. Again she said, “Well, . . .”
I’m not sure how many rounds of this we went through. She just kept at me, and I started to get angry. Eventually I asked her if she was accusing us of having damaged the book. She said no, but then she started in with another one of those “Well, I don’t understand how . . . ” I told her that I was starting to regret having pointed out the damage. “Well,” she said. “I’m just trying to get the story.”
At that point I lost my temper. I didn’t say anything really regrettable, but my tone must have told her exactly how I felt. I said, “I told you the story.” She said, “Well, I’m going to have to . . . .” I cut her off before she could finish. I said, “You do what you have to do.” And I walked away.
I was furious and embarrassed. Not only was Marshall there, but there were many other parents and children who must have overheard us. I also didn’t feel like I’d defended us well. As always happens in unexpected confrontations, logic abandoned me. If I’d had my wits about me, I could have pointed out that the book was not new. It had clearly been read many times, and the spine was weak. It wasn’t surprising that the last page had fallen out, because the last page is usually the first to fall out when a spine starts to fail. The last page also tends to go unseen if you thumb through a book from front to back, so the scribbles could have been there for a very long time. I also ought to have pointed out that it was damned arrogant of her to assume that she and her department were so amazingly aware of the condition of every book in their possession that she was justified in accusing us, in public, in such a way. Grrrr. I did think to point out that I had been present when Livia reached the last page of the book (which is how I knew it was damaged, and how I knew she hadn’t done the damage). Unfortunately, it sounded lame when I said it, as if I were trying to cover up for her.
All of this was made even more galling later, because after I picked up Livia from her class, she wanted to go into the children’s section to do some research. And she wanted the librarian’s help. What was I supposed to do? Say no? Of course not. So, as she talked to the librarian, I had to stand there, knowing what the librarian had so obnoxiously implied, not even an hour previously.
Generally speaking, librarians are wonderful people, and in the past, the library has always felt like a safe space. But I have to say, when I took Livia to her class again this week, I almost didn’t want to go into the children’s section. I did go in, because Livia wanted to get more books after class, but I breathed a big sigh of relief when a different librarian was working. That one librarian has tarnished my enjoyment of the library, at least for now.
I guess it just goes to show the power of the librarian. A good one is worth his or her weight in gold. A bad one, we hope, will move on to another profession soon.