Librarians Hate Me

Librarians have always hated me.

I don’t know what it is. But I’ve always butted heads with librarians. For someone who loves books as much as I do, this is problematic.

The first run-in I remember occurred when I was a young child. My mother cultivated my love for reading and would often take me to the county library. We’d stroll through the aisles together and she’d help me pick books to check out. I’m sure she tried to get me to read more intellectual fare, but I always gravitated toward the collections of Peanuts comic strips. It was no Harry Potter, mind you, but still.

I distinctly remember holding my mother’s hand as we approached the check out counter, which was operated by a scowling, surly, gray-haired troll of a woman. I put the books on the counter and handed over my library card (which I proudly displayed in my blue tri-fold, velcro-strap wallet). That’s when the Book Nazi told my mother that my library privileges were being revoked. When my mother asked why, the Book Nazi told her that she’d seen me running up and down the aisles rearranging all the children’s books. “No he didn’t,” my mother said. “I’ve been with him the whole time.” When my mother suggested that perhaps it was within the realm of possibility that our sweet octogenarian librarian was maybe confusing me with another child, the Book Nazi handed me back my library card and curtly replied, “I know what I saw.” My Mom’s face turned about three shades of red. She paused for a moment and then reached into her purse. “Then I’d like to check these books out on my library card, please,” she said. That was the day that Myrna Bybee became the oldest Wilson Countian to ever check out a copy of “Peanuts Comics: Volume IV”, much to the Book Nazi’s chagrin.

My relationship with my high school librarian, Mrs. Upchurch, was even worse. In her defense, I did give the poor woman a lot of grief. I was pretty mischievous at times and I gave Mrs. Upchurch plenty of cause for suspicion. But she once accused me of running a scam with a buddy of mine to smuggle books out of the library. “Why would I want to do that?” I asked her. “I can check them out for free.” When she went off on a rant about what a smart-alecky little jerk I was, I started singing, in perfect pitch:

Angry words / oh let them never / from the tongue / unbridled slip.


But all of that was years ago. I thought my librarian run-ins were behind me.

Until today.

Today I happened to spend some time in the library of the seminary that I’m attending. At said seminary, our assignments often require us to do copious amounts of research in the library. I figure over the past several years that I’ve been in grad school, I’ve checked out somewhere in the vicinity of 100 books for various papers, projects, whatever. When I’ve checked out these previous 100 books, I’ve always been asked for my student ID card. Of course, I don’t have a student ID card. In fact, I don’t know any graduate student who does. The ID cards are for the undergraduate students who attend the same school. I usually tell the girl behind the counter that I’m a Grad Bible student, that I don’t have an ID card and then I fill out a paper slip that says something like “In the event that you lose our library books, you hereby bequeath to us all of your worldly possessions including your children and your 401K” and I usually sign it and then I’m out the door.

Until today.

Today I followed the same procedure as always. I try to check out, girl asks for my card, I say I don’t have a card, she looks for the paper slips. Only this time she can’t find the paper slips. So she has to go ask the librarian where they are. “Why do you need them? Is the system down?” Girl explains that the system isn’t down, that I don’t have my card with me.

“Actually,” I interject, “it’s not that I don’t have my card with me. I don’t have a card at all.”

The librarian whips her head around at mach speed. “You don’t have a student ID card?”

“No, ma’am.”

“And why don’t you have a student ID card?” Her voice rises an octave or two when she says why.

“Because nobody ever told me I needed one.”

“Well, I’m telling you that YOU NEED ONE!” Her voice rises again. I’m wondering how high she’s going to go before the conversation is over. She’s also talking pretty loudly now, loud enough that people are turning their heads to see what’s going on.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “You see, I’m a student in the graduate Bible department and I was just…”

“Well, apparently they never tell you Bible students anything at all. You’re always over here trying to do this. Trying to check out without an ID card. And I’m telling you, YOU HAVE TO HAVE AN ID CARD!” Off in the distance, glass breaks.

I’ve noticed something about myself. When I get angry, I can hear it. My head starts to swim and I start to feel this knocking sound in my ears. My heart starts racing and I usually clench my jaw. It’s like something visceral is just ready to be unleashed in me, ready to explode. And I can hear it in my ears. That’s the feeling I got at this exact moment. I was hearing angry.

The moment just sort of hung there, with the librarian looking at me all exasperated and I knew I had a decision to make. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to retaliate. To say something smart. To meet her ugliness with an equal or greater level of ugliness. To release the anger I was feeling in my ears. I think I’m wired for that kind of response. It comes all too naturally.

But, as you know, I’ve got this New Year’s Resolution. And in that split second when the decision had to be made, love won out. I know it won’t always end this way, because too often I fail to choose the loving way. But, at least for tonight anyway, love claimed a little victory in my heart. And I’m praying that I’ll get to the point where love, not anger, becomes my natural response.

“I’m really sorry, ma’am,” I said. “Look, if it’s going to be a big problem, I can come back later. I know you’re just trying to do things the right way. I’m really not trying to be a lot of trouble here.” She said that wasn’t necessary, that she’d be glad to check the books out for me. After a moment, her voice returned to normal pitch and she said, “I know you think I’m being silly, but you really do need an ID card. It can come in handy.” I looked at her and I saw a woman to whom the rules mattered greatly. In a library, nothing is done haphazardly. Everything has its proper place, alphabetized and shelved and Dewey-decimaled and card-cataloged. It stands to reason that the keepers of libraries function in the same way. I looked at this dear sweet lady and I saw someone who’d spent years dealing with forgotten ID cards and lost books and noisy co-eds, all of which probably goes against the grain for her. I saw a woman who was fighting her natural response, same as me. And I loved her for it.

She continued to preach the merits of the ID card, telling me that it could double as a debit card that could be used around campus. “You never know,” she said. “You might need it if you’re ever stopped by campus security.” Stopped by campus security? Why would I be stopped by campus security? Wait a minute, have you been talking to Mrs. Upchurch?

Like I said, librarians hate me.

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12 Responses to Librarians Hate Me

  1. Allen says:

    I remember Mrs. Upchurch…this was in my B.C. days, but she wasn’t terribly fond of me, either. I think that what did it was the time that I asked her if the library had a copy of “The Catcher In The Rye”. She looked at me like I was wearing a red jumpsuit and carrying a pitchfork.

  2. Allen says:

    “When my mother suggested that perhaps it was within the realm of possibility that our sweet octogenarian librarian was maybe confusing me with another child, the Book Nazi handed me back my library card and curtly replied, ‘I know what I saw.'”That’s almost as good as the time when I was in seventh grade, and at a parent/teacher conference one of teachers said that the school was giving up on me. Moms tend not to like that sort of thing.

  3. -Lane says:

    Ah, her famous quote to us “I used to be a man”, since her name before she got married was Miss Mann.I must say, this whole resolution of yours is really working. Maybe you should write some ways you are achieving it.

  4. Adam says:

    Great story. Thanks for that. Have you read Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be?” Cemented the “Love Wins” approach for me (although I’d already heard Rob Bell talking about it for some time).Oh, and… Seriously, you’ll thank me.AE

  5. Jason says:

    Allen,Oddly enough, my wife was one of Mrs. Upchurch / Mann’s favorite students. Sunny was her library aide for a couple of years, if I remember correctly. Man, I owe that woman an apology.Lane,I would. But love doesn’t boast. I guess that calls into question whether I should’ve blogged about this in the first place. Adam,I’ve not read the Wink book you mentioned. I could add it to my list of post-graduate readings (which is already quite lengthy). Come May, I’ll really be able to throw myself into stuff like that. And thanks for the heads up about the site. I’ll check it out.

  6. TARA says:

    They hate me too. I loathe the Lebanon library – I think the same Book Nazi is still working there. They keep the restrooms locked, yes locked! If your kid is about to wet his/her pants, then you must retrieve a key from the master key holder, agree to the TERMS OF THE TOILET, and return the key when finished. I tried many months to check out LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, but the one copy they had was always taken. And my worst experience was the time they made me pay a late fee on a video THAT WE DONATED TO THE LIBRARY INT THE FIRST PLACE!! No grace for the generous at that place.Then I started going to the MT Juliet Library. The angelic librarian overheard my conversation with the kids…”We can’t check out a DVD today…Why not mommy?…. Because we are going on vacation and we won’t be back before the movies are due” The librarian then offered to put my name on a list, and she would recheck them in and out for me while we were to be on vacation. Then she proceeded to tell Hope about AMERICAN GIRL DOLL DAY and made sure Hope got a ticket to the much coveted, but limited seating event. I thought I’d died and been rasied to life in Library Heaven! With a grateful but shocked look on my face, I thanked the librarian and told her that we were from Lebanon, and weren’t used to such service. She said, “We hear that a lot.”

  7. laura says:

    Jason, that is so funny. They used to have one at Grissom too. Just ask Nick and Jamie. They have plenty of stories. Thanks for taking her coat to her. I appreciate it. Have a good rest of the week.

  8. Ashley & Joel says:

    I am pretty sure that is the exact same librarian that kicked me out of the same university’s library for having a red bull and skittles in a study room and for “sharing information” at the computers while working on a group project. I was not even allowed in the library for half of my junior and my both of my senior years!

  9. Jason says:

    Tara,If the Book Nazi is still haunting the Lebanon library, then she’s got to be pushing triple digits. She looked 70 when I was a kid! “No books for you!”Ashley,I’m sure you’re right. If you want me to “smuggle” any books out for you, let me know!

  10. Kenny Simpson says:

    Good for you, although the angry words was great.

  11. Jason says:

    Kenny, it was one of my few moments of inspiration.

  12. Fran says:

    Jason,I am one librarian that does love you! thank you for sticking with your resolution. I know librarians can seem like real sticklers, but if you knew some of the doozies that we put up with, you would understand. Working at a place where, as one woman asked me, “you mean you give us books for free?!” it is amazing how many people will try to take advantage of our services. Love ya, for real

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