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On the Lam From the Library Cops

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"SECOND OVERDUE NOTICE" screams the email in my inbox. That seems kind of hostile, from the sweet little public library branch on the corner, but it's a regular occurrence for me these days.

I was so excited when my toddler daughter grew out of gnawing on her books because it meant we could start visiting the library. Borrowing books instead of buying affords us far more variety, and I believe regular visits to the library help foster a love of reading, which is so important. What I didn't realize was just many pitfalls were waiting for me there.

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First of all, I can never locate the library books we've brought home. They fall into the same black hole that has claimed so many tiny Disney princess shoes, various letters from our alphabet puzzle and all of my makeup brushes. If I've borrowed six books, I will invariably find only four. I rack up overdue notices and late fees (stressful!) and occasionally have to pay to replace entire volumes.

The library books I don't lose, we manage to damage enough so that I still wind up owing fines. My daughter is especially attracted to the books that come with follow-along-at-home audio CDs. These sets are packaged inside heavy duty clear plastic hanging bags, increasing the number of losable parts (and, come on, it's hard to find something that's clear). I've tried swapping the lost plastic bags for gallon Ziplocks and fooled no one, getting a bill for $7.50 a pop. Definitely could have just bought them new at the store at that rate.

It's even harder to face the librarians' disapproval now that I am supposedly an adult who knows better.

Worse than the fines is the feeling of shame. The blue-haired librarians with their horn-rimmed glasses on chains and their lips permanently pursed into "shhhhh" position are as stern and forbidding as they were when I was a child. I didn't like being scolded by them then, but it's even harder to face their disapproval now that I am supposedly an adult who knows better.

Still, the library has a few things going for it that make the financial losses and icky feelings worthwhile. It's got big, cushy bean bag chairs shaped like animals, a huge supply of puzzles, and an even huger supply of small children who are louder and less well-behaved than my little hellion. I really love that hard-to-come by feeling of superiority I get when somebody else's kid is standing on a chair screaming while mine is merely making a giant mess.

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So we'll keep visiting the library, despite the fines, the shame and the Sisyphean sense of hopelessness around the whole enterprise. I'm sure nobody will really miss that lost copy of "Green Eggs and Ham."

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