I’m not very good at getting library books back on time. In fact, my fines have probably bought various library systems more than 20 new books over the years. However, I was very surprised to get an e-mail from Alexandria (Virginia) Library several weeks ago telling me I had a book overdue. I’d returned that particular book, and I even knew the exact date. I borrowed the book for my French book club, and I returned it the day after the meeting through the book drop because the library had closed by the time I got there.
So I phoned the library and explained. The librarian was very understanding. The book must have been mis-shelved, he said, and he took it off my record.
Last weekend, I finally moved the tottering pile of books on the floor by my bed instead of vacuuming round them, and there among them was—that’s right, the missing book. The book I had returned. The book I clearly remember dropping through the book drop. The book some idiot in the library had mis-shelved, thereby temporarily impugning what’s left of my reputation as a responsible book-borrower.
A better person than I would have gone to the circulation desk, ‘fessed up, and paid the—by now quite large—fine. Instead, I sneaked the book in and mis-shelved it myself. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.
When I noticed, on the way out, the sign saying that security cameras were in operation, I immediately pictured the library police sitting in front of a bank of screens, watching me furtively slipping Les bouts de bois de Dieu in among the Raymond Chandler mysteries. (I can be so stupid—I could at least, for the sake of verisimilitude, have shelved it with the authors beginning with “S.” I almost went back to do that, but then I remembered what usually happens to a criminal who revisits the scene of the crime.)
I braved the library this afternoon, fully expecting to see a blurry video capture of my face on a “Wanted” poster taped to every wall and o be cuffed and frog-marched off to the dungeons when I handed over my books and library card at the check-out desk. “Okay, guv,” I would have said. “I dunnit and it’s a fair cop.”
But nothing like that happened. So far, I am still at large.