Sending out our best book agents

Jean Gillette is out enjoying a holiday weekend. This is from her archives.Ah, springtime. The warmth of the sun, the blooming flowers, the smell of the final overdue slip.

This is the time of year when school librarians gird their loins, shore up their defenses, screw their courage to the sticking point and put on their mean-lady hats. This is the time when, with a giant burst of unsubstantiated optimism, we actually try to get all the books back from our young clients.

To those mad, heroic parents who manage to keep track of their children’s library books, we shout hallelujah. But in my children’s early school years, I had books go missing under the covers, in the dirty clothes basket, behind the stuffed animals and into the far corners of the car. We suspect books may have a life of their own, rising up and migrating once the lights are out at night. Unlike hangars, books do not multiply. They take on a camouflage coloring and hibernate.

And so our quest begins in late April with a marked increase in the frequency of overdue notices sent home via the student. We know that many of those notices only serve as padding on the bottom of the backpack and may never see daylight. Only the most determined and courageous mother will intentionally stick her hand into the bottom of her child’s backpack. Fingers have been lost that way.

This leads to the next level of attack. It is heralded with the appearance of peel-and-stick address labels and a box of envelopes on our desks. It is time for the firmly worded note home – in the mail.

“Dear Parents of John Smith,

Your child has a book or books that are now a month or more overdue. Yes, a month. That’s right. Four weeks. Maybe more. Please help Johnny find the book and return it or send the indicated amount to purchase a replacement.”

Some parents grab their child by the scruff of the neck and scour the house and classroom until the offending book is located. They know and we know that after a month, many a child has forgotten he ever had that book. If a parent is certain that the listed book has never darkened their door, we humbly accept that my computer somehow goofed (not us, of course). But there are always one or two parents who remain convinced that their first-grader has total recall and a photographic memory.

“Bobby says he never had that book you say he checked out last December.” OK, then. If he says so, never you mind about looking around his room under that heaping pile of toys. And occasionally you get overly diligent parents who want to pay you for the book if it’s a week overdue. They clearly have no idea how much paperwork that entails and how much we hate paperwork. We usually send them on their way, with instructions to look around and wait two weeks, but we practically have to pop some of them with a tranquilizer dart.

The words that school librarians most dread in the world, however, are “They’re probably at his father’s house.” To the many tragedies surrounding divorce, add the fate of all the books left at the other parent’s house, never to be seen again. Never mind who gets the vacation house or the season tickets. We want them to decide who is in charge of the library books.

This is your final warning. Next week we pick up the telephone. And remember, we know where you live.



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