Overdue: a saga of irresponsibility, humiliation and redemption
I don't consider myself a
pack rat, but there are a few things I've kept from my childhood.
One is a children's book titled "Rocks and Minerals."
It was not mine to keep.
It belongs to Lancaster County Library. And while it no longer has the "date due" card in its sleeve, trust me, it's way overdue.
I checked it out of the main branch shortly after my family moved to Lancaster. I guess I was about 8 years old.
I don't know why I never returned it. Did I misplace it? I don't know. I don't recall being late at any of the other libraries I've belonged to over the years.
Somehow, the book ended up with me in Pittsburgh, along with some rocks I had collected as a child, mounted on cardboard.
Maybe I wanted to be a geologist?
The book must have gotten into a box of my childhood things that I cleared out of my parents' house some time ago -- probably when my wife and I bought our first house. When I moved back to Lancaster after years away, it came with me.
My wife and I live close enough to the library that I could probably hit it with a baseball. I walk by the building nearly every day on my way to and from work. We're members. We've taken out and returned books and movies -- on time.
But for some reason, I'd never returned this book with its salmon-colored cover, superimposed with images of cool rocks, adolescent geologists collecting specimens, a prospector and a family marveling at stalactites and stalagmites in a cave.
Maybe part of the reason I never returned it was shame: I had failed to uphold my end of the bargain.
Maybe fear of getting caught? More likely, being a kid and simply forgetting.
I did have the thought that maybe I'd write about making amends in one of my Voices columns.
Then I saw my colleague, Paula Wolf, was writing an update about the library's use of a collection agency to recoup unpaid fees.
Her article prompted me to atone.
But she also wrote that someone paid $1,020.
Yikes! I don't have that scratch.
Certainly, in the intervening 30-plus years, there had to be a grace day or so that I missed. Or maybe a statute of limitation had expired.
Luckily, the maximum fine for a children's book was $5.10, I was told.
That's not much. Maybe the replacement cost?
Online, I've seen images of the book with a cover price of 69 cents and 79 cents. This copy, published in 1974, doesn't have a tag, no doubt because it's a library edition.
Online sites list it for about $6. Seemed a bit light. So does an inflation calculator, which, even when I plug in a cost of $1, translates to less than $5 in today's money.
So I turned to Facebook.
A wing for the library, someone suggested. A friend suggested $42.18. A co-worker suggested I atone by buying him a case of beer.
Wolf, without identifying me, checks with the library to see what penalty one would face.
The library's collection system goes back to 1996, she tells me.
I call Herb Landau, the library's executive director, and ask if I can arrange a surrender on video.
A public service announcement, of sorts, and a public atonement. I also make clear I don't want any break as a reporter. He tells me they could charge replacement cost.
We arrange the return.
I'd never met Landau. He seems like a nice guy when I meet him. I wonder though: Maybe he's gonna drop the hammer on me.
He tells me my situation isn't that unusual. People forget, he said. It's usually innocent, not nefarious.
In the end, I make a freewill donation of $30, which was about all I had on me at the time.
Landau calls it "extremely generous." I feel better.
Libraries are about learning. Is there a lesson, I ask Landau?
"It's never too late to return a book that you might have borrowed from the library that is overdue," he said.
Dan Nephin welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org.