Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas

Title: Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library
Author: Don Borchert

Borchert writes about life working in a public library, regaling the reader with tales of horrifying items found in the book drops, evil children, druggies, gangs, patrons who will go to unbelievable lengths to get out of paying fines, and more.

Along the way he explains some of the inner workings of the library - library fines, weeding, mending, Friends of the Library, book sale donations, and the Reference Desk. For me, this got a slight bit tedious (although his take on it was quite humorous at times) but that's probably because I've been working in libraries for 11 years. About 9 of of those were spent at a public library, and while we did not have quite the assortment of patrons Borchert has experienced, we did have our share of "oddballs."

Borchert tells the tale of a woman who would get a new library card each time she remarried (4 as of the publication of his book). She would innocently claim she had never had a library card before. With the new last name and address, she was hard to trace. Her previous cards would all have huge fines due to unreturned items.

Huge fines boggle my mind. I manage to accumulate fines ($3 currently at my place of work - whoops), but hundreds of dollars? Really? How do you get so irresponsible? My favorite at the public library where I worked was a family where both parents and each child (4? 5 kids?) had a card. All but one card had $50 - $150 in fines on them. When they stopped in and tried to check out items, they'd hand the circulation worker card after card until they found one either with fines under the limit, or close enough that they could pay it down to check out items. Honestly.

Borchert does also tell some more positive tales, such as the neglected kid who finds friends in the library and a tenacious lady in her late fifties/early sixties who is forever researching various topics. One day, after looking into the cost of paying someone to do some remodeling for her, she decides she's going to do it herself, and wanders into the library to request books on the topic. When Borchert questions the wisdom of this decision - after all, she has no experience - she replies. "I can stick my head underneath the kitchen sink with a flashlight and save a few hundred bucks, or I can sit on the sofa and eat buttered popcorn and watch television. Please. Shoot me now. Have you watched television lately?" The remodeling goes smoothly.

All in all, a rather entertaining nonfiction book.

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posted by Kate at 10:21 PM


Blogger reyn said...


12/06/2007 10:36 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Admit it! You had me in mind when you started chastising patrons for racking up astronimical fines. :) At times, I have definitely fit into some of the ranges you mention.

I might read this book solely for the tenacious old lady who was gung ho to do her own remodeling. Awesome. :)

12/08/2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Reyn - Yes, eleven years. I started at age 15. I am now the ripe old age of, well, you do the math. Some of those 11 were very sporadic substituting, but they still count!

Elizabeth - I did think of you when making the fines comment. However, you don't have children and a husband with cards on which you rack of fines as well. And you don't try to sneakily worm your way out of fines... or do you?

You should read the book, but I would warn you, the tenacious old lady was merely a minor anecdote taking up maybe a page of the book.

12/10/2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Scott Douglas said...

please also check out my memoir on libraries "Quiet, Please," which will be released in April of 2008 from Da Capo Press.

12/10/2007 11:39 PM  

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