The summer before I started high school, we moved from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, to Waterloo, Ontario where my father started his own business. Moving was not new for me (this was my fifth change of address and my sixth school), and neither was the anxiety that gripped my insides like a snake coiled around my gut. It was so hard for me to make friends in the first place, only to say goodbye within two years, that I’d spent many lunch periods in my previous schools hiding in the library.
I didn’t really mind being alone, surrounded by books. For me, a budding bookworm, it was a chance to read in peace, away from my annoying younger brother and sister, away from the constant stress of being the new kid. It was also an opportunity to expand my fiction background from Nancy Drew and Little House on the Prairie, to classics by Charles Dickens, Madeleine L’Engle, and Harper Lee. There weren’t a lot of books in my house, as neither of my parents were readers, so I had read and re-read my small collection over and over. The school library gave me new books to read, for free, and I loved the atmosphere— the smell of the books, and the promise of new stories, places, and people within their pages.
But library lunches were not meant to be in high school. For some strange reason, I was immediately taken in by the ‘cool’ group, which led me willingly down a not-so-stable path that included alcohol and smoking. I barely read at all for a year and a half, shunning books for parties. By the middle of the tenth grade, I was exhausted and looking for a way out. I changed high schools for a fresh start, and began eating my lunch in the library again. The continuous silence calmed me, and took away the familiar strain of being the new student. I re-read books that had warmed my heart, and read others, like Catcher in the Rye, that made me see how I’d been trying to be someone I wasn’t for the past year. The library became my sanctuary, the one place I could be myself.
At university, my love of libraries was still going strong, only I spent more time studying and writing papers than I did reading fiction there. And I started having problems getting books back on time, especially those I required for essays; often, I needed the book for more than the two-week loan period, but wouldn’t be able to renew it as another student had put a hold on the same book. Not wanting to lose the book when I was in the middle of an essay, I kept it out and paid the fine. At first, the amount was small, ten or twelve dollars, but by my fourth year, I racked up a couple hundred dollars in overdue fines. As I paid my last fine before graduating, I promised myself that never again would I have overdue books.
A few years and a couple of kids later, I was using the library again for movies, music, and books. My girls loved taking books and movies out of the library and before long, my limit of three items each was gone. I walked out with bags of books, thrilled that my kids were going to be avid readers. But I could never locate all the books in the house when they were due, and with a hectic schedule along with sleep deprivation, I sometimes forgot about the books until they were a week overdue. My fines escalated to gargantuan levels, with a dollar a day in charges for movies, and there were a few books that had mysteriously vanished in our house.
One day, when I stood at the checkout counter with my kids and discovered I didn’t have enough money to cover my fines, I used my oldest daughter’s library card so that we could check out books. For a few weeks I diligently got everything back in time, but old habits die hard. Again, I found myself standing at the checkout counter without enough money for overdue fines. This time I used my younger daughter’s card and vowed to be more responsible. And again I failed, misplacing a video somewhere. I ended up with three library cards and an embarrassingly high fine.
Now, when I think about all the fines I paid because of my own disorganization, I figure it was money well-spent. All three of my kids love books; my two oldest have volunteered at the library during the summer; the money I paid went toward a worthy cause; and my kids are obsessive about getting their library books back on time. As for me, I’ve realized that I simply can’t trust myself to adhere to the very reasonable library deadlines. I still use the library, to read and to write, but I buy my books. It’s cheaper for me.
Shelly Sanders is an avid reader and will have her first book—Rachel’s Secret—published by Second Story Press in the spring.