Before I started first grade, I fell in love with the library. Back then, it was the Grenada County Library. Later the name was changed to honor an amazing woman who was a librarian there for years.
Elizabeth Jones Library was long one of my favorite places to visit.
In elementary school and beyond, I’d ride my bicycle to the old stone building to take part in the summer reading programs, but also just to check out and return books.
All those years ago, as I recall, four was the limit when it came to taking home books. I remember loving to check out biographies of famous folk.
I’d get home, hunker down on the sofa and flip to the back of the book first. Apparently, I felt more comfortable reading the biography after finding out how the subjects’ lives ended.
I’m not sure if I was a slow reader back then, or if I just loved reading so much, I’d read each book multiple times.
Either way, there were times – only a few – when I’d open the books to the card in either the front or back of each and notice I’d missed the hand-stamped due date for returning the books.
Back in the day, a fine for an overdue book was two cents a day per book. So, if I’d checked out four books and was three days late getting them back to the library, I’d have to pay Miss Jones or one of the other librarians 24 cents.
Might I say I was always mortified to owe library fines? Miss Elizabeth Jones went to my church, which made it worse, having to place my book fines into her hand. The few times I had late fines to pay, I’d pray on my way to the library she’d be away from the desk and busy with some other library business so she’d not know I was bringing books back belatedly.
My fines seldom amounted to more than half a dollar. Still and yet, I hated being late.
Imagine my horror to read recently about a man in Oregan who returned a book to his high school library that he’d checked out in 1956.
If you can’t do the math quickly, that’s 63 years ago.
The man’s excuse for the tardiness of returning the library book? He said he reads ever so slowly.
When the librarian tallied his late fees, his book fine came to $1,500. But she took pity on him and did not make him pay.
At the L.A. Public Library, where late fees are larger than those in Oregon’s school libraries, Rice’s fine would have been $8,000.
And in my hometown of Grenada, my fine for the book, calculated at the same rate from my childhood, would have been $4,599.
Rather than place that large amount of cash in the hand of a revered librarian, I’d have put a check and the book in the front door’s book drop.
And I’d have been on the lam out of pure embarrassment for the next 63 years.