Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Joys of Living in a Small Place

The other day I went to our little village library to sheepishly return several books that were--cough, cough--two months overdue. In New York, when I once returned a book that had been lost under a child's bed, I was told by a stony-faced librarian that I owed over forty dollars in fines. And even if I bought the book, I *still* had to pay the fines. That, I tell you, was a racket. (Confession time: I returned the book, said I would pay the fines on my next visit, and never went back. At that point I knew I was moving to England.)

Another time, in Connecticut, I saw a sign that said, for one day only, if you donated canned goods for the food bank your library fines would be wiped clean. I approached the desk with some trepidation--the librarians in Connecticut were a fearsome bunch--and presented my box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as well as some tinned tomatoes. The librarian looked up my account on her computer and with her eyes narrowing and her mouth going tight, she informed me that I owed over fifty dollars in fines. "But the food drive..." I began in hesitant hope, and she had no choice but to wipe the fines clean. She clearly was not happy about it.

In my little village here, my experience was a bit different. I approached the desk with my three overdue books, resigned to paying the 20p a day fine times three, times sixty days... a fairly significant amount of money, but I recognised it was my fault and I was ready to pay. The librarian looked up my account, frowning. "Did you know your books were overdue?" she asked and I hung my head. "Yes, I did," I said. Her frown deepened and then she said, "Oh, but there have been building works going on all summer, haven't there? And you with your little baby... you must have had trouble getting around to the library." I admitted, hesitantly, uncertainly, that I had. She smiled and said, "Well, I'll take those fines off your account then. You've nothing to worry about, Mrs. Swartz." And then she started chatting to my five-year-old daughter about her books.

I walked out of the library thinking how much I loved living somewhere where, to evoke the television show Cheers, everyone knows your name--and your situation.


  1. It's good to hear there are some compassionate people about.

  2. Definitely, Margaret! Although after writing this post I went to the library to return books that were overdue by 1 week and had to pay £1.20 in fines... which I paid, gladly :)