Yesterday, after B got home from work, and after dinner, we were talking about something involving one of her colleagues at the library; and so I mentioned that I have an overdue book.
"Oh, well," she said, "just go onto the website and renew the book."
"You can do that, even if it's overdue?" I asked.
"Yeah, sure," she said. She was sitting at her computer. "Here, I'll do it for you. Oh, wait . . . do you know your library card number?"
"Not off the top of my head," I replied. "Don't worry. I'll do it. The number comes up automatically on my computer."
So I went over to my computer, logged on to the library website, and called up my account. Sure enough, the overdue book was Inferno. It was due on April 10. I found the renew button, clicked on it, and now the book is due on May 15. I've stopped the fines.
Then I was curious, so I clicked on the tab that said "Fines" -- which had an exclamation point over it. It showed that I owed $1.20 in late fees, for the book that was overdue by 12 days.
And this brought up an issue that B and I have discussed before. She thinks 10 cents a day is a perfectly appropriate fine for an overdue book. And the truth of it is, she sometimes gets an argument -- usually from an older person -- about the amount of a fine.
An elderly woman wants to take out a book at the library. She goes to the circulation desk, and the clerk informs her that she owes, say, $1.50 in fines.
The woman immediately starts to argue, making excuses, pleading ignorance, poverty, disability, travel plans, family matters . . . anything at all to get out of paying that $1.50 fine.
But I think the fine for an overdue book is too low. Really . . . 10 cents? That's ridiculous. It ought to be higher. At least a quarter a day.
After all, the fine for an overdue DVD is $2 a day. (And by the way, people rarely argue over the $2 DVD fine). What does that tell the patrons of the library? It tells them that a DVD is worth 20 times what a book is worth. It says that a book is hardly worth anything. Nobody wants it. It's useless, a throwaway.
Which is exactly what B's son believes. He is wedded to his laptop and his smartphone, and thinks libraries are oudated and antiquated. Why do you need a library when you can get almost all the information in the world downloaded immediately to your electronic device? Why store all those dead-tree books when you can download any book you want onto your iPad -- usually for only a couple of bucks, and often for free?
B's son is a smart kid. He is not a real reader. He occasionally reads a book, but he's got no respect for the printed word. He thinks paper books are an anachronism. They belong at a tag sale where you buy old lamps for $1 and old books for . . . 10 cents.
So anyway, after I closed down my computer I told B I was going up to bed. But then I stopped and turned to her: "Oh, by the way, I owe $1.20 at the library. That's got me quaking in my boots. I'll make sure never to let a book get overdue again."
"Very funny," she remarked.
"You really ought to raise that fine," I pressed, not for the first time. "You know, you don't just automatically get respect. The library needs to stand up and say that these books are worth something. But 10 cents says to people: Ignore me; abuse me; I'm not worth anything. Most kids these days won't even bother to bend over and pick up a dime off the ground. At least a quarter is . . . worth picking up off the ground. You really should raise the fine to at least a quarter a day. Stand up. Be strong. Demand some respect for the books."
She looked at me, rolled her eyes and (knowing I'm a Seinfeld fan) said: "Good night, Mr. Bookman."