I normally return my library books before they’re overdue although I really don’t mind paying the occasional fines. What is a few ringgit in exchange for the joy of browsing through thousands of books and of taking home four volumes on each visit?
Moreover, the fines for late books would be used to buy more books or to improve the library, no?
Anyway, it was the library's amnesty month so there I was at the counter last Wednesday with my four overdue books. A pretty lady I have never seen before was asked to attend to me. She checked the return-by-dates.
“These are overdue by twenty-two days,” she said.
“Is the amnesty month over already?” I asked. (It isn’t. I read the notice stuck on the door before I came in.) Silence. She asked for my library card.
“Your fine is seven ringgit… sudah padam.” (She has deleted it.)
It was just some ordinary humdrum exchange between a perpustakawan and a library user. There were neither cross words nor sour looks… just a hint, an inflection in the voice, which made me feel that by keeping the books too long, I have been somewhat irresponsible—I have deprived other readers from borrowing the books.
Folks, one of the books I borrowed was ‘Genghis Khan’. Someone kept the book for 16 months! I know because after thoroughly enjoying ‘Kublai Khan’ in August 2010, I searched for ‘Genghis Khan’ every time I was at the library. I found the book only this year… with three dates stamped in it.
What is my 22 days overdue compared to 16 months?
I’m speaking on behalf of people who have been made to feel uncomfortable for ‘hogging’ library books. There are thousands of books to choose from. Today I saw three new racks and I asked the friendly gaman who checked out and date-stamped my two books, whether they were new. He said: “Dari KK bah itu kena simpan sini kerana tidak cukup ruang di library KK.” They’re books from the KK library placed here due to shortage of space at the KK branch.
Folks, my point is: if a reader can’t find the book on his wish-list, he has the option of choosing from thousands of other books. No one should get upset if a book is ‘missing’ because it will turn up one day just like ‘Genghis Khan’ did.
If a user turns in overdue books he has to pay a fine to enable him to continue borrowing books. What’s there to justify making the user uncomfortable or guilty when he returns overdue books?
OK, nothing to do with overdue books… I was once accused of not returning a book at the KK library. I denied borrowing the book in question.
“There,” said the librarian as she turned the computer screen to show me the ‘proof’.
“I’ve been here most Sundays for years,” I told her. “Please check and see whether I have ever taken out a Malay book.” (The book must have sauntered into the library by itself one fine day because its title was deleted from my list. No one apologised to me for that wrongful finger-pointing. It happened 20 years ago but I still remember how embarrassed I had felt…and how the incident had upset Sonny and Dottie—they had actually looked forward to our weekly visits to the library.)
You see, sometimes the system fails. Nobody’s fault. The problem is people overreact and make mountains out of a spoonful of sand. However, I suspect it isn’t in the interest of the public libraries to chase away potential readers by building mountains. Our libraries can play an important role in increasing the average number of books read by Malaysians. (It is cheaper to go to the library than buying your own books.)
Unless there has been a big improvement in our reading habits, the average number of books Malaysians read stands at two. We, readers, are doing the community a great turn. By reading, we help to prevent the average from sliding down to the figure recorded several years ago—a figure I’m too malu to even mention here.
Happy Book Day to all!