Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I’m guilty.

I hold onto my library books for too long. I stop in every weekend to return a few and checkout more than a few. Yet for some reason, there are other books that sit at home. They are ones that I thought might be interesting, but I still haven’t opened. I conveniently renew them online. The initial three-week loan extends to six. Often, I take advantage of the second renewal, thus keeping a book for up to nine weeks.

I’m not talking so much about novels. The neglected stack is mostly picture books. I can’t explain my library-condoned book abuse. The best I can do is compare these books to mustard or mayonnaise. I do not know why, but in my family no one ever bothered to flit a knife way down into the bottom of the jar to scrape out the final product that might complement one, two, even three more hotdogs. If the jar sat on the fridge shelf for another week, it might as well sit there for another year. No one would touch it. We might open a new jar or simply go without. Double up on ketchup and relish.

The renewals don’t matter. The books won’t get read. Still, I hold onto them just in case. I am not completely callous. Occasionally, I feel a pang of guilt. If I keep Merry Christmas, Splat for the maximum term, no child will get to enjoy it during the Yuletide season. Abominable!

Just admitting this ghastly habit of mine helps. I have a stack of books due tomorrow. I can again renew them online, but instead I resolve to go sift through them tonight, read the ones that still pique my interest and load the rest in the car. I shall no longer be the library scrooge!

Why must every book have the same renewal period? I am one of the shrinking number of people who still rents DVDs. Some are one-night rentals, others can be had for three days and my tried and true favorites can be kept for a full week. I do follow the rules. If the newest books had shorter terms, I would get to them sooner. The shorter term ups the impression that they are must-reads. Give me no renewal option for the newbies to the collection. This is just the kind of nudge I need.

I have worked with my school librarian to launch a One-Night Reads program, a small-scale change to book checkouts. We selected ten newer, highly appealing picture books for which we wanted to create a greater buzz. This year, we are trying to get the books in fifty homes. Next year, we’ll select new titles and aim for one hundred home visits. Students are keen. They vote for which books they hope to have a chance to take home for a night. Names are announced each morning and as books are picked up or delivered, the student grin broadly as classmates say things like, “You won!” As an increasing number of students read these books, there are more common discussions about these particular stories and characters. These books have status. The love for reading increases.

Quicker returns will not work for all books. As a browser, I may shy away from 1Q84, Wonderstruck and other massive tomes. A librarian, of course, can determine which books require full reading terms even as a recent arrival. More work at a time when deep cuts are being made to library funding? Yes. Still, the result is a positive one. Shorter terms for newer titles will get books read more and bring us back to the library sooner to pick more books. No guarantee that the books will be read, but we do increase the chances. We have to stop treating each book the same.

I cannot be the only one who would welcome a rule change, can I? What do others think?

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