The Library Gets Me Every Time

by Andrea Laurion

I have a problem with the library. It has too many good books.

Do you know the struggle of being a reader with an excellent library system? It’s so hard. So hard. I try to break myself of this book-borrowing habit and I only keep getting pulled in deeper.

I tend to write at libraries pretty frequently. Finding my perfect working environment has been hard. I’m an extrovert and I work best with lots of energy around me. On the other hand, too much noise and confusion can be overwhelming. The library has a subdued social environment with free wifi. Perfect. Well, almost.

When I get stuck on a piece or need a break, I walk around. First, see what new books came out this week. Eye up the graphic novels. Wander over to the fiction stacks. Release any stress and anxiety by breathing in that wonderful old book smell. Check up on my favorites and see if any of them have been checked out. Look up adorable old jacket photos of my heros. Pull any book off the shelf that catches my eye and read the description. After one lap around the fiction section, it’s around this time my ego requires that I make a stop in the L section and see where my novel would live if I ever wrote one, of course.

I do the same in the memoir section. Just to see. Not that I haven’t started and quit half a dozen books over the years.

By this point, I usually have three books in my hands. Surrounded by so much great reading potential, so much inspiration to keep putting one word in front of the other, I feel invincible. Of course I’m going to read all of these by the time they’re due! That’s three weeks away, practically a month.

There’s an optimistic feeling about a pile of library books that’s very similar to new school supplies. Even when I consider that maybe I’m checking out too many books, I remind myself that they’re free, so why not? Free books! Nevermind that I have a bookcase at home of half full of unread books. These ones will be different.

This would be a very happy arrangement if it weren’t for two things. One: I’m not as fast a reader as I wish I was, or at least feel I should be. I don’t know what measure myself against other than my own expectations, but to be completely honest, I rarely finish all the books I check out.

Two: I’m not very good at remembering when my books are due. This is all on me. The library tries to help out on this one, printing a slip with the due date and even emailing me a reminder a few days before. I end up forgetting anyways.

What starts as a free pile of books ends up being a $15.50 pile of books and counting. If I checked out one book, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but multiple books at 30 cents a day really add up. Overdue fees must be $10 or less in order to check out more items, so when I get above that, I usually pay it off in $5 increments, just enough to get me below that line.

“Do you want to pay the rest of your balance?” the librarians will ask me.

“Nah, not today,” I say. “I’ll let it go. I like to live on the edge.”

Unlike other fines and fees, I don’t mind paying these. I don’t love it, but it doesn’t get under my skin like parking tickets. I’m okay with this for all the library has given me over the years. Libraries have been a source of comfort for me since childhood. I was so proud of my first library card at my hometown library and it was the first place I was allowed to walk to on my own.

The great Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, the main branch in a 19-branch system, is massive compared to the one I went to growing up, yet old books smell the same everywhere. My favorite spot in the whole library is the interior windows on the second floor that look into the Natural History Museum next door, right over the dinosaur exhibit. Sometimes little kids will wave up at anyone in the windows. It’s good for the soul to observe happy people.

Right now, I have out three books: one finished, one half done, and other I haven’t even started. Maybe some habits aren’t meant to be broken.

Andrea Laurion currently has $6.70 in overdue library fees.

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