Tuesday I looked online at my public library account. I use the library a lot. It's a good idea to make sure I'm current, don't have any overdue books, CDs or DVDs.
A couple of months ago I neglected to put a booklet back in a DVD case. I figure it was out of the case and I read it, then I piled the daily newspaper on top of it and put it in the recycling bin. That little action cost me $10.00 for a lost booklet. My county library does not mess around. They go for maximum fines to make an impression and they have made that impression on me. I am very careful about returning items in the same condition I got them.
So imagine how I felt when I learned that a book I knew I had returned the week before showed up as still being checked out to me. It was due on Friday, August 21, so I went to the library on Wednesday to tell them I didn't have the book. A kindly middle-aged librarian said to me, "You can renew it and see if you can find it."
"I tried to renew it online and it said the book had been requested, so it wouldn't renew. Also, I know I brought it back." (Excuse #1 for a librarian, and although she didn't roll her eyes I could tell she was mentally doing just that.)
"Once I thought I had returned a book, and I found out it was under the seat in my car. Maybe that's what happened to this book...?"
"I've looked in my car."
"Perhaps it's somewhere in your house you don't expect it to be, another bedroom or family room perhaps?"
"Those are all good suggestions, but really, I'm a very conscientious person..."
"Oh yes, I'm sure you are."
"...and I know I brought it back. It's one of a series, it's a 9 x 12 trade paperback, white covers, I had two from the series and I brought them back together..."
I knew I was whistling into the wind because she'd heard all that stuff a million times, so I said, "Look, I'll go home and look again and in the meantime please conduct a shelf search and see if you can find the book, please. I don't want to owe fines, don't want to buy the book, don't want to lose my library privileges."
So on Saturday morning I again checked online and sure enough the book was still there, still not renewable. It also said OVERDUE next to it. Underneath there was an odd notation I hadn't seen before: (credit -25.00) I didn't pay it much attention, concentrating on what to do next.
I went back to the library and told my tale of woe to yet another librarian, as my original lady wasn't there. She had someone conduct a shelf search while I waited and they found nothing. So I was back to square one. She looked in their database and said, "The book will cost $17.95, and $5.00 for a processing fee." I had my checkbook ready, and had the check filled out except for the amount.
"Oh wait," she said. "Don't write the check. You have a credit of $25.00 which will more than cover the fine."
Instantly I remembered that odd notation (credit -25.00). "Let me see how we do this..." she said, calling over another librarian. I held my breath. I didn't know how the credit got there, or why, but I was sure the other librarian would say, "Wait! This is a BIG MISTAKE. There's something FISHY ABOUT THIS. Are you trying to pull some TRICK?" while giving me the librarian gimlet eyeball.
But she didn't say that. She tapped the keys, then told the lady at the computer what to do and then they both said, "OK, you're good. Slate is clean."
I said, "So you're telling me I don't owe anything, nothing at all?"
"Nope, you're now all paid up."
I walked out with my head spinning. As I reconstructed it during the day I thought one of two things had happened: Divine intervention, God had slipped $25.00 onto my library card, or more likely, the lady I originally talked to had made some sort of mistake and I benefited from her computer error.
I don't want to think too much about this, and I probably shouldn't even write about it. I'm watching out the windows right now to make sure there's no armored car with an armed SWAT team, librarians in body armor with assault rifles, here to pound down my door and demand a check.
All I can say is, despite my puzzlement it happened. I didn't have to pay for a book I wouldn't have bought for myself, wouldn't have wanted except for a one-time reading. That's why I borrowed it from the library, and I didn't want to have to pay for a book I don't have. So I left the library thinking that whatever did happen it was an unexpected stroke of excellent fortune, and I whistled all the way to my car. I would have danced a little jig of joy but didn't want to rub it in or jinx myself. They could have still hollered at me from the door, "WAIT! THERE'S BEEN A MISTAKE..."