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Be Kind

My library book was due.  I know the rules: you check out a book from the library, and you return said library book on time.

There are different types of checkout situations at the library; some books can be renewed three times, some books need to be returned after three weeks.  Various items carry with them various overdue fines.  The menu is simple to navigate: X book + Y time – Overdue Rates = free book to read.

I was a little under 100 pages to the end, and paused at a turning point in the book.


It has been a shit few months, and sometimes it feels as if we’re on a messed up board of Snakes and Ladders, where someone has removed all the ladders and left only the snakes.

This past week has felt particularly snakey, with people not following through on things.  You’re always told that you’re not supposed to take other people’s flakiness personally.  But I do.  Maybe just to be contrary.  Maybe just because I don’t believe that it isn’t personal.  I think we put out an effort when we care about the other person; even if that relationship is transient and the care is minimal.  A waitress can care about her customers.  A reader can care about a blog writer.

What I’m getting at is that I wanted a librarian to care about me.

As I slipped down another snake, I wanted a librarian to put her hand out and slow my fall, saying kindly, “Let me do something nice for you.”

That isn’t what happened.


I drove to the library and walked up to the desk, handing in two of the three books in my hand.

“I have a huge favour to ask,” I told her, holding the third book closer to me.  “I’m about 100 pages from the end of this book, and I could finish it by Friday.  Is there any chance you could extend my checkout time by a few days?”

“No, I can’t,” she answered.

Well, yes, she could.  I’ve seen her do it.  I’ve seen this very same librarian give extra days to other people.  I’ve been in line behind people who have asked and been granted the same favour.  She could do it.  It’s a matter of hitting over-ride on the software.  I know.  I used to check in library books.

“Please.  It would mean a lot to me.  I’m at this turning point in the book.”

She finally met my eye and said, “Sorry, I can’t do anything about it.  Why don’t you come back tomorrow and check it out again?  It just has to be in the system for 24 hours before you can take it out.”

By tomorrow, the book would be on a truck, traveling back to a different library branch.

“Okay,” I said, and handed her the book.

Suddenly it didn’t really matter how the story ended.  I mean, what was the point?  The librarian didn’t care if I finished the book — and frankly, she didn’t have to.  That’s not her job.  There are rules in place, and it is her right to stick to the rules.  The author might care if I finished her book, but she had no clue that I started it so she certainly won’t know that I didn’t finish it.  And maybe I didn’t even care anymore if I finished the book.  If no one else cares, it’s hard to muster up the care, you know?

Part of me wanted to walk back into the library and tell her, “I know you owe me nothing.  I am not entitled to four extra days with a book.  But I brought it back and asked rather than being rude and making it overdue.  I support my local library both with my attention and money.  So I repeat, you owe me nothing, and it was entirely your right not to grant me the extra time.  But I just needed someone to be kind to me today.  Why couldn’t you simply be kind for the sake of being kind?  You would have made an enormous difference in my life by granting me that extra time, and just imagine the trickle effect that could have taken place where the care I received goes into spreading care to others.”

But I didn’t do that.  I just got into the car and drove away.  Because that’s what a lack of kindness does.  It makes all the effort of speaking your heart shrivel up in your throat like shed snake skin.


I wasn’t okay when I started writing this post.

I’m okay now.

Thank you for reading this.


1 a.m.s. { 08.07.14 at 8:01 am }


2 Serenity { 08.07.14 at 8:04 am }

It’s so easy to underestimate how one small kind act can send ripples into the universe.

The next time Lucky asks me why I’m letting someone turn in front of me, or allowing someone to go first in the grocery line, or whenever I’m kind to someone I don’t know (because always, he asks why? why? why?), I’m going to tell him this story, and how a small kindness like allowing someone to finish 100 pages of a book could make that person’s day much better.


3 SuzannaCatherine { 08.07.14 at 8:16 am }

This librarian must have gone to the same “customer service” training class as nine out of ten insurance company telephone representatives. So sorry you experienced the librarian’s uncaring attitude. I understand the feeling of futility you expressed and how it can color your entire day. Thank you for sharing.

4 Jodi { 08.07.14 at 8:33 am }

Oh Mel, I’m sorry.

5 m. { 08.07.14 at 9:16 am }

What a.m.s. said.

I’m so sorry you’re having a snaky sort of week. And I’m sorry your need for kindness wasn’t recognized.

I was at a meeting yesterday morning and the speaker just happened to be a reiki master. She was talking about how to stay positive in a not so positive world and one of the things she tried to remind us what that, “It’s not about you; it’s about where that person is right now.” But darn, It IS so hard not to take things personally. I wrote it down on a sticky note and stuck it on my computer.

Hugs to you, Mel.

PS – can you renew online? We can, as long as someone else hasn’t requested the book. We might overuse this option at our local branch.

6 Jessica { 08.07.14 at 9:16 am }

Sorry your day started off that way. I had to re-frame how I think about library fines. Our library actually relies on the overdue fines for funds, so I stopped feeling guilty if I have an overdue book. I get to finish the book and the library gets 25c/day I’m late turning it in. My cheapness may override that, though if the fines were exorbitant.

7 Cristy { 08.07.14 at 9:30 am }

I’m sorry that you weren’t able to get te extension. But I’m going to play devil’s advocate because I’ve personally suffered from trying to be kind and bending the rules. One case has resulted in a current lawsuit against a contractor who is blaming me for a leaking roof. The other will require the police to evict a dog because the owner insists on not training him and letting him run wild.

I fully support small acts of kindness. But I also know first hand how those same acts can come back and bite you in the ass.

BTW: do you happen to know a good dog owner that would be willing to take in a standard poddle?

8 Ana { 08.07.14 at 9:45 am }

What a great reminder to practice little kindnesses whenever possible, because you might save someone’s day.
I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt—maybe she WAS doing those extensions for a lot of people and got reprimanded for it from a higher up (like I did when I gave kids free sprinkles when I worked at an ice cream store. it made my day to make their day, but the boss didn’t think it was good business practice…)

9 Ana { 08.07.14 at 9:45 am }

And I hope you get a ladder very soon.

10 Hayley { 08.07.14 at 10:13 am }

For what it’s worth, my library system tracks every single override a librarian or circ clerk makes in our Sirsi system and an email goes out to all branch managers and upper management to see who did what every month — hold overrides, fine overrides, everything. So if someone’s been doing a lot of overrides, it absolutely would be known. Of course, I don’t know this particular clerk’s reasoning, but that would be a good one if a branch got dinged for overriding too much. To play devil’s advocate, if she’d already overridden other people that day, she might have simply met a limit, and couldn’t do more without making herself look bad.

It does suck not to be the one getting the kindness override of the day. I’ve had to turn people down before, and it sucks, because I WANT to let everyone have as much time as possible and I want everyone to get the book they want when they want it, but there are policies in place and while I can override some, too many and questions start being asked (and I work in management!)

11 Hayley { 08.07.14 at 10:15 am }

(That said, I try to make it a point with my staff to be mindful of when people come in saying they were in the hospital or had a sick child or something like that, because those take priority for waiving little fines or making extensions, whether they ask or not.)

Anyway, I’m sorry that happened! 🙁

12 Sharon { 08.07.14 at 12:05 pm }

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like when you’re already feeling down, the Universe continues to kick you?

I’m glad that writing this post made you feel a bit better. And I hope things start looking up for you.

13 Mrs T (missohkay) { 08.07.14 at 12:08 pm }

I’m sorry for all the snakes. This post resonated because I really needed to someone to be kind the other day but instead a random stranger yelled at me for cutting him in a line he wasn’t actually standing in (or even near) and told me that I had absolutely no disregard for anyone but myself.

14 a { 08.07.14 at 12:16 pm }

I have a lovely library filled with delightful librarians, but some of them just don’t know that I need/deserve special treatment. That I can take 10 DVDs out instead of the 6 limit, because I always bring them back on time. That I can extend the due dates on the popular books because if I say I’ll finish it by Friday, I’ll bring it back by Friday whether I’m done or not. It sucks when I encounter the librarians who don’t recognize my favored status. 🙁 Actually, it really sucks because my favorite librarian just quit to have a baby and stay home with him/her. Sigh – no more top of the list for new books and movies. No more special selections that I wouldn’t have thought of.

In case you hadn’t realized, I am very emotionally involved with my library. Sorry to hear that yours was not accommodating. Because I am contrary, when I don’t get accommodations, I say ‘fuck it’ and pay the overdue fines. That’s because I think overdue books bother them far more than fines please them. 🙂

15 Tiara { 08.07.14 at 12:55 pm }

I’m sorry you’ve been having a rough time & sorry your couldn’t find the kindness you needed in that librarian. I wish we could go back to people & say exactly what was in your heart. More than that, I wish people like her would really listen. When did kindness stop being the go to way to intereact with people? It makes me sad.

16 KeAnne { 08.07.14 at 1:46 pm }

I’m sorry, Mel. {Hugs}. I hate snakes. I hope this snakey period passes soon. And because I’m a bad person who cheerfully pays her library late fees, I would have kept the book until I finished it. May you always find kindness when you need it.

17 Buttermilk { 08.07.14 at 4:17 pm }

I’m glad writing this made you feel better. When I encounter people who are not nice or curt I try to tell myself that they are probably having a bad day/week/year and I try to extend sympathy for them. If they’re really nasty I pity them. 🙂 Their attitude says more about them than it does about you. I put in my time doing customer service and I know it’s not a glamorous life. That being said, sometimes it’s hard to not take things personally when I’ve had a week full of snakes myself.

Hayley could be right, too. I hope she’s kind to you next time.

18 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.07.14 at 8:52 pm }

Dang her.

Someone was recently very kind to me. Made all the difference.

Both your librarian and my person sent ripples out into the world. Let’s hope that the kind ripples of the latter have more influence and reach than the impersonal ripples of former.

I’m quite certain she does.


19 Turia { 08.07.14 at 9:16 pm }

I’m sorry you’ve been having a rough time and the librarian wasn’t able to make it better.

I do occasionally end up with late fines (usually because we’re in a state of chaos and I forgot to renew something online). I like to think paying the occasional fine subsidizes all the wonderful free books I get from them. I probably would have just hung on to the book for the extra couple of days. It was very public-spirited of you to bring it back.

20 Stimey { 08.07.14 at 9:30 pm }

I’m so sorry. I totally get this. Some days just a small act of kindness means so much. I hope some kindness finds you tomorrow.

21 edenland { 08.07.14 at 11:00 pm }

Oh MEL. I’m so sad, because now your experience of reading that book is ruined even if you get it back. I wish I was standing next you you when she said no. I would’ve grabbed the book and said SEE YA and walked on out and if she came running out I’d say whaddya gonna do, arrest me? Life is hard enough without not being able to finish books. And you could totally have blamed me for book-stealing craziness.

Fuck rules.

I like what you said about how you were not ok when you started the post but were ok when you finished it. That’s exactly why I keep blogging.

xxxxx #downwithsnakes

22 Prairie { 08.08.14 at 12:08 am }

If it’s a book worth finishing I will often pay the late fees & finish reading. Cheaper than buying the book.
Sorry you’re having a rough go of things.

23 Pepper { 08.08.14 at 6:48 am }

This makes me sad. I’m glad you are feeling better, but I agree that if we were just a little more kind, we would all be much better. Navigating the world with a toddler and a newborn has reinforced this for me over and over lately. The kind woman already juggling 3 kids herself who pauses to hold the door for my stroller? I. Love. You. I don’t even know if she remembers she is the same woman who told me how beautiful my daughters are at the market last week, but I appreciate her. And I’m disappointed in your librarian.

24 Katherine A { 08.08.14 at 7:22 am }

I’m sorry it’s been a snakey week for you. Those are awful. I wish the librarian had been kinder to you. Thinking of you.

25 Tara { 08.08.14 at 11:36 am }

I just want to say that I really, really relate to this post. Sometimes all you need is someone to just be kind.

Also a good reminder to all of us to make the effort to be kind, as it can make such a difference in someone’s world.

26 Ann Z { 08.08.14 at 11:36 am }

I’m sorry that your library trip wasn’t good and what you needed. But I’m glad you didn’t go back to say anything. Maybe she was having a snakey week, too (maybe she’d gotten yelled at for over-riding too many due dates). In any case, not going back and saying those thing to her was doing her a kindness. Thank you.

And when I was in library school, I wracked up the biggest library over due fees, all for titles like “Library Collections Management.”

27 Shawn Motley (Motleymommy) { 08.08.14 at 11:42 am }

I can relate. Im glad writing this made you feel better, I would have given you the days for all the reasons you wanted to tell her. On a side note, a friend of mine started a cool kids t-shirt business and their first shirt says “Kind is the new cool” . I thought that might make you smile.

Have a good day!

28 It Is What It Is { 08.19.14 at 6:55 pm }

I think that, generally, there is not enough kindness or courtesy going on in the world. This post resonated with me in terms of what I can do, daily, in the sometimes smallest of ways, to be kind and courteous to my fellow human beings. Whether that means letting someone merge or asking if I can get something off a high shelf at the grocery or even picking up the tab of the folks behind me at the drive thru, being kind is so important.

29 magpie { 08.28.14 at 10:36 am }

Here’s a question. I borrowed a library book on my kindle app. The app is on my (old) ipad, which doesn’t have cell service – and I was traveling places that didn’t have wifi. So I kept the ipad on airplane mode – and even though I got an email, on another device, that the library loan was about to expire, it actually didn’t expire – or the book didn’t up and disappear – because my ipad wasn’t talking to the mothership. So, was that wrong of me? Should I have tried to connect to wifi in the middle of nowhere just to return the book (which I hadn’t yet finished)? Did I deprive someone else the ability to check out the book? Is conundrum.

It’s better when people are courteous, and I wish that librarian had been nicer to you.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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