Monday, December 16, 2013

The Airing of Grievances . . . to the Idaho Falls Public Library

My wife thought she was doing something nice.

Something helpful.
Something honest.
Turns out what she did was a mistake.
Through a combination of negligence, our three children left our puppy alone for a few minutes with a book borrowed from the Idaho Falls Public Library. So my wife took to the Internet and found a copy of the book she figured she could take to the library and offer as a replacement.
She made the kids pay for the book, which totaled $8, including shipping.We returned a pile of books to the library Friday. My wife explained to the librarian what happened to the book, then presented her with the replacement book, identical in every detail except for the protective film and barcode the library puts on its books.
“Oh, you can’t do that,” the librarian said. “We have to charge you for the book.”
And full retail price. $14.99. Plus a $5 administrative fee.
That’s library policy. Inviolate. Because what if someone else brought in a book to replace one that was damaged that wasn’t as good as it should have been? They’d have to argue over every book. It’s just simpler to have this policy.
Simpler, maybe.
But easy to file in the big manila folder of bureaucratic nonsensicalism? Absolutely.
Here’s what galls me: My wife found the book – identical to the one the dog chewed on – for $8, including shipping. But the library had to have $14.99 to buy it from its distributor. At almost twice the price of the book my wife had in hand, ready to give the library. So when the library asks for monetary donations or a tax increase to help bring more books into the community, the tale of refusing a book in the hand while insisting on ordering one at nearly twice the cost of the one being offered will always come to the fore now. Always.
Reality for the library may be that the policy makes for less work for librarians, But what’s more important is the perception of reality: The Idaho Falls Public Library refused a good-faith effort by a patron to replace a book damaged by her own childrens’ negligence.
They did waive the $5 administrative fee. Theoretically. The receipt we got shows a “balance owed” of $5; when we called the library to ask about it, we were told the library administrator would have to approve it. We’re not holding our breath.
We were not defrauding the library. We were not offering an inferior copy of the book. We were trying to correct a mistake.
I was in the library a few weeks earlier (oh, we’re big-time library users, up until now) and heard a librarian make several calls to patrons, requesting information about books that came back damaged. Apparently all the people had done was stuff the books into the return slot and hope the damage wouldn’t be noticed. That seemed to be oafish behavior on the part of the patrons. I’m sure the librarian didn’t enjoy making those kinds of calls. I know I wouldn’t. So you’d think having someone come in, acknowledge the damage, and offer recompense right there that would have the book on the shelf as soon as it could be labeled would be a breath of fresh air.
Oh yeah. This is a bureaucracy. Fresh air is not needed. What’s important is policy. A one-size-fits-all policy that might convenience the library in some ways but in others punishes patrons who thought they were doing right by replacing a damaged book, like for like.
Now I don’t pretend to understand library cataloguing, or appreciate the superior quality of books procured from library-approved distributors. That’s a reality outside my experience. But again, it’s the perception of reality that’s important: Policy was treated as more important than people.
That’s the true crime of bureaucracy.
So we now have two copies of the book. One dog-chewed, the other pristine. The final irony: It’s not a very good book.

1 comment:

Monique said...

When my son peed on his library book (yes peed on it) I ordered an new one and the library here took my replacement graciously and thanked me profusely for being so on the ball about it and taking the initiative to replace it. It's just Idaho my friend. Tell them to get a life.