Last night I infiltrated the inner sanctum of a library.
I went to a child safety training offered at a local library. Although I live at libraries, this was not my home library, but a different one in the county. I arrived early, and fiddled around on the computer catalog. I have recently discovered author Karen Witemeyer, and devoured everything my home library has. Did this library have her others?
Yes indeedy. Head in the Clouds was the title, which also describes me for the adventure that followed that night.
After the training, I went to the circulation desk. “Can you address a library card rumor for me?”
The guy at the desk widened his eyes. “Uh, a rumor?”
This is the trouble of being a writer. Sometimes I word things a little too creatively. And no doubt that’s the trouble with librarians, who love words as much as I do. They hear words too creatively. There followed a long pause as we each envisioned library card scandal.
People have been using library cards as false IDs!
Library cards are really an alien tracking system so they can run tests on human bibliophiles!
If you swipe your library card under a certain key pass in a certain hotel, it will get you into the headquarters of a government spy ring!
“Uh, let me call in some help for this one,” he said. He whirled around and summoned a librarian with more seniority.
I couldn’t see his face, but I just imagined him mouthing the words, “Code Red! Code Red! She’s onto us!” Any moment I’d be whisked back to a tutoring room (the one by the crime novels) and questioned. (“Exactly which rumors have you heard about the library cards, miss?”) A brain wipe might be necessary.
The new librarian (I’ll call her Agent Alpha) looked deceptively non-government-spy-ring. She had rosy cheeks, curly grey hair, and a smile sweet as gingerbread cookies.
“May I help you?”
Wow. Great cover.
Despite my lingering suspicions that I had stumbled onto a library card conspiracy, I smiled confidently. “Is it true–?” I realized it sounded like an inquisition. I tried again. “People say if you have a library card in the town next over, you can use it here.”
The first librarian I’d encountered (I’ll call him Agent Gamma) shifted his eyes to Agent Alpha. I imagined his thoughts. Which people say this? Do we have a mole? I’ll call out counterintelligence to squelch the word on the street.
Agent Alpha winked. “It’s true,” she whispered.
Agent Gamma and I both raised our eyebrows. “It’s true?”
“It’s our best kept secret, but yes, our patrons can apply for our Reciprocal Benefits Program.”
I bet in the inner ring, they called it RBP. They probably had a whole alphabet-soup-bowl of mysterious acronyms.
Agent Alpha gestured toward a computer in a dark corner. “Just step over here and fill out some forms.”
Now she glanced meaningfully at Agent Gamma. “You come, too. I’ll show you how to register her, in case you ever have to handle one of these cases again.”
That sounded ominous, but she dazzled me with another reassuring smile. I trotted over like a sheep led to slaughter. Amazing what I’ll do for the promise of access to more free books.
I obediently gave her my contact info, driver’s license, favorite color, dog’s maiden name, and library card from the other library. When I handed the last over, she stared at it for a moment. I use that thing so much it looked like the dog had chewed it.
“I’d normally issue a new patron a new card, but that doesn’t apply for Reciprocal Benefits,” said Agent Alpha.
I could not tell whether she feared for the well-being of any books she entrusted to me in the future, or whether she took pride in seeing such a well-worn library card. It takes time to break in a library card to the perfect level of comfort, like a pair of well-worn jeans. And you can buy stone-washed jeans and fake the oldness, but they have yet to invent a way to do that for library cards.
At least in the civilian world. Maybe Agent Alpha knew a way.
Then came the reverse trick-or-treating. I got a free canvas bag emblazoned with the library’s logo, pamphlets, printouts of upcoming events. Then she lulled me with the sweet, practiced recitation of library policies. It was like listening to a favorite bedtime story, only with enough changes to keep the old tale fresh. I kept interjecting eagerly, like a child insisting, “That’s not the way I know the story!”
“My library has a 1 hour forgiveness policy the next morning with late books,” I said.
“Oh, here you get them back by closing time.” She beamed again, but I saw the measuring look in her eyes. Was I going to be a serial overdue offender?
She raised a finger. “I almost forgot. We need to call your home library to make sure you’re in good standing.”
I swallowed. Would they go easier on me if I confessed my crimes upfront?
“I—uh—think I might have one book overdue.”
Her eyes twinkled or flashed. It was hard to tell. “We’ll see in a moment.”
I had not realized how desperately important joining this secret society had become until now, as Agent Alpha pressed the receiver to her ear. Agent Gamma and I could only hear one side of her conversation.
“Oh, I see.” She smiled. “I’ll let her know.” Her face fell. “I’ll let her know,” she said again, with an entirely different inflection. Her eyes fixed on my face.
The jig was up.
She hung up the phone.
“You are overdue.”
Oh, the stigma! I hung my head.
“She tried to renew it for you on the phone, but you’ve reached your limit.”
I felt the promise of shelves and shelves of unaccessed books slipping away from me. Farewell, Karen Witemeyer!
“However, she said you are otherwise in excellent standing.” She donned the full cheeriness of her Ms. Claus persona and handed me the free canvas bag. “You’re all set.
I bounced up and down. “It’s Christmas!”
Agent Alpha laughed. “Go have fun!”
Oh, dangerous words to a bibliophile! I frolicked from the new releases to the biographies to the fiction. Be still, my heart! I had infiltrated another library and now all their resources were mine. MINE! My own. My precious.
I let loose a cackle of delight. Some old guy stared. I scampered safely away to the Vo-Wi shelf in fiction.
And grabbed my book by Karen Witemeyer. Which I’ve already finished reading, btw.