The lengths people will go to…

On a normal work day for me, the title of my post would likely refer to the many stories I hear each day from library patrons (well-meaning and otherwise) who have problems with their accounts: the reason they couldn’t return a book on time, or why they couldn’t pay a fine, or how the dog chewed a book, but it wasn’t their fault. Yes, the lengths to which people will go to avoid…well, you know…amaze me.

But not today.

No, today is a celebration of our patrons who go the extra mile on behalf of the library, the people who cherish the library and its collection, and the lengths to which they will go.

What prompted this change of view? It began with a wonderful little package waiting in my mailbox two weeks ago. It was wrapped in simple brown paper, hand-addressed in pen, and stamped with a modest airmail stamp…and a postmark from Korea.

Yes, Korea. One of our patrons had taken the time to mail back a Prokofiev symphony score. From Korea. A week early.

It's true!

It's true!


Can you believe it?

This reminded me of the books I’d received the week before that, from Hawaii, with a note from a student’s mom: “Sorry that my daughter accidentally brought these books home with her.” So far in the past month we’ve received items back from Michigan, Maine, State College, Erie, New Orleans, and–drum roll please–this week’s winner, China: another mom with books that her son, who was visiting China, mailed home. Yes, the books were late–but she did bring us the postmarked box as proof!

We also received a book mailed to us by an airline this week. Over the years we’ve had our share of packages from airlines as well as from rental car agencies and the United States Postal Service. Every time one of these parcels shows up at our door, my faith is restored. Someone cares. Someone understands that the library works only when we all work together, that what you borrow and return has an impact on what another person is able to borrow and return. It’s part of the great social contract.

So here are some thank-yous to people who have saved the library for me.

  • To the father who handed over his charge card to pay off several hundred dollars on his high school daughter’s card, even though the lost books were due to her allowing a friend to use the card.
  • To the person who found a young boy’s wallet with his library card and turned it in at Phipps Conservatory, as well as to the Phipps staff who e-mailed us so we could contact the cardholder.
  • To the stranger who came to the desk to make restitution for books he had stolen long ago–he handed over a $200 donation and left without revealing his name.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not about the individual book, CD, or DVD. Things will be lost, damaged, and spilled on. Things will be late. That’s okay. But each time you pay for that item, or accept responsibility for a fine, or return something long overdue, what you’re doing is more than just a simple physical or financial exchange.

What you’re saying is that YOU are a part of the library…that we are all in this together…that you share in both the joy and the responsibility of this great democratic institution that gives equal opportunities for learning, entertainment and wonder to us all…and that you do it willingly. And each time one of you does it with grace, or kindness, or enthusiasm (well, okay, nobody pays fines enthusiastically), you are affirming your connection to the library and all of its members.

So, thanks to all who “get it”! You often save the day!



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6 responses to “The lengths people will go to…

  1. RK

    Awsome job Beth. Katie just showed me the package from New Zealand.

  2. Beth

    Hey all–here’s a PS. Today we got another package with quite the twist–it came from British Columbia. With a return address from New Zealand. With a note that this person had found the book in a hotel in Yucatan, Mexico and thought he should return it. So evidently this kind “kiwi” carried it from Mexico to Canada and mailed it to Pittsburgh on behalf of a stranger. How great is that?

  3. libraryresearch

    Beautifully stated.

  4. Ahhhh … Don’t we love when things work the way they should? Now, if I could get my kids to …

  5. Charla

    Excellent post Beth!

  6. we get returns by mail in film and audio, too!

    we used to get a box of books on tape from texas every spring – they were from a college student who borrowed them for her long drive home at the end of every school year.

    – amy

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