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.
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.
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?”
“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.