Confessions of Library Book Hoarder

My name is Nichole and I am a Library Book Hoarder.

Why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, there are apparently no support groups for this condition. (Actually, seems like there may be a bit of discrimination going on here. I’ve already tipped off the NYT, so I’m pretty sure you’ll be reading more about it any day.) So you’re my therapy. Plus, I think it’s time I just put it all out there. You guys have gotten to know me pretty well over the years so I’m laying it on the line. One more glimpse into the life and mind of me.

Now, I know you’re tempted to think I’m making a big deal about nothing, but when a person hasn’t stepped foot in her local library for over six years because she owes over $55 in fines, you know she has a problem. And when that problem starts to affect her family, her children, then you know for certain.

The last time my 13 year old borrowed a book from the library was when she went with a friend in 3rd grade. Imagine this little peanut of a girl, long dark brown hair, clutching her library books to her chest, looking up at the librarian with wide, brown eyes – which look even wider behind her royal blue, plastic-framed glasses. Poor little girl, she’s nervous already, because she knows – even at this innocent age – she knows what’s coming:

“Oh my! Your mommy owes a lot of money to the library,” says the librarian.

“Uh…ok,” she replies meekly.

“Well, I’ll let you take these books today….but tell your mom, she needs to come in and pay these fines.”

She told me, alright. It’s the first thing she said when she walked through the front door. On and on about how embarrassed she was, how ashamed. And let me tell you, she wasn’t kidding. Now, if I so much as mention the library, she practically starts shaking all over. I think she might be scarred for life.

Great. Now I need to find a support group for my kids: Children of LBHs.

Whenever we need any kind of book or want to borrow a museum pass, I send my husband or oldest daughter with their cards. (I think that sometimes they go together for moral support.) And while they’re checking out, they wait with bated breath – will the computer cross check their last names or address with their fugitive mother/wife? Surely, alarms will start blaring at any moment, rotating beams of bright red lights will flash around the room as bars slide over all the windows and exits and members of the Overdue Library Fees Enforcement Squad, fully armed and dressed in black, emerge from the walls shouting, “Down on your knees. Hands on your head. We have you surrounded.”

By the time they get back to the car, beads of sweat cover their foreheads and I half expect them to say, “Got it…drive!”

And I have no excuse. None, whatsoever. On a snowy day, in heavy traffic, our local library is, at most, 10 minutes from my house. We have two cars (three if my daughter’s home from college). And I probably drive by the building at least once a week. So getting there is not an issue.

And, if I am laying it all on the table, then you should know that my next door neighbor and dear friend, God bless her, is a town librarian; and she has offered to return my books for me whenever she goes to work – which is four days a week. So I literally could walk 40 feet out my front door to return my library books on time. No excuse!

But you see, what happens is, I forget. And then, once the books are late, I’m embarrassed and ashamed, (maybe that’s the issue I need to take to the psych’s couch – seems a bit dramatic now that I’m typing it all out), so embarrassed that I don’t even want to tell my neighbor and the longer I wait the worse it gets. So that months later, I find myself driving to the library under cover of darkness, stuffing the evidence in the night drop, hoping to high heaven there’s no cameras on me. (Yeah, I know they’ll know it’s me when they scan in the bar codes, but there’s just something about being seen…sooo…yeah, I’m basically acting like at toddler.) Anyway, that’s pretty much what happened the last time my books were late. You know, six years ago.

A couple years later – let that sink in – a couple years later, I was cleaning one of the girls’ bedrooms and came across a Spot the Dog board book.

Wow, this looks an awful lot like that book I convinced the librarians I had returned, I thought.

Slowly, with trepidation, I turn to the back cover and there it is, in big letters: “Property of the Simsbury Public Library.” Shame, fear, dread and embarrassment wash over me and I can’t help but think, I am the worst person in the world! I have stolen a library book. What kind of a person steals a library book? Sure, I didn’t mean it. I really, really believed I had returned it. I didn’t mean to lie to the librarian. Is it a lie if you think it’s the truth when you’re telling it?

That’s when I knew that I couldn’t go to the library anymore. I had tried to reform, to change my ways, but I couldn’t break the cycle of failure, guilt and shame. Finding that book was the last straw.

At first, buying books instead of borrowing them wasn’t so bad. I owed $55 after all. But the cost added up quickly. Imagine having to BUY all your youngest child’s summer reading books. I know I don’t have to. She could use her own card. But after her traumatic encounter with the dues enforcing librarian, I couldn’t risk putting her through that again. It’s just too cruel.

Last year, my husband bought me a Kindle Fire. I love my Kindle Fire. But even the cost of these e-books adds up after a while (kind of pricey for books that don’t have to be printed, bound or shipped, but what do I know).

Then, somewhat recently, the libraries in Connecticut significantly expanded their e-book selection. (Sure, I may be 17th on the waiting list for The Great Gatsby, but I can instantly download Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number!) So now I can borrow books for free and the best part is…..they automatically take them back from me after 21 days!!! AU-TO-MATICALLY!  No guilt. No shame. No overdue fees. This is better than a support group. It’s medicine. It’s a solution.

Well, that was enough motivation for me to suck it up, go down to the library and pay my bill. I was half-expecting to find my photo plastered on the wall behind the check-out counter, along with the rest of the Library’s Ten Most Wanted. Good news! That didn’t happen. Nor did the librarian on duty take it upon herself to chastise me. She was rather quiet, actually, which makes sense; she is a librarian, after all. And even better news!!! If you wait long enough and let your library card expire – which mine had – you only have to pay a maximum fine of $40. So I actually saved a little over $15! That was a week ago, and I’ve already read two free, library e-books!

I know, it’s kind of sad that I have to rely on someone else to discipline me because I can’t do it myself, but at some point, a person just has to accept her limits, right?

Now, if I could only find a similar system to take away the Nestlé’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips after I’ve eaten half the bag in one sitting……..