thieves among honour
i had a very unpleasant, yet very formal, encounter with
a 'gentleman' patron at the library today. disregarding the enormous
white sign above the front desk directly across from the front door
that says in big black bold letters: 'Returns' he comes to me clear
at the other end of the desk to return his audio book on tape. 'this
is late,' he says, 'i believe i have a fine to pay.' so i ask him
for his library card, and i pull up his record. he has nine dollars
in fines on several overdue books. 'i'm certain that i renewed them
over the phone,' he says, as everyone says. i tell him that yes.. he
did renew them over the phone. he renewed them late over the phone.
so they were already over a month overdue.
he very calmly says nothing for a moment, and after pushing his
glasses up further onto his nose places his hands on the desk. 'i
don't suppose there is any way i can be forgiven for these fines, and
just have them erased. can you just waive them this time around?' i
look at him questioningly, wondering if maybe he is joking. no. he
was completely serious. i tell him that no, these books are very
simply overdue, and that the only way they'll come off of his record
is if he pays his fines.
this is where most people blow their fuse and begin to scream at me.
not him. he looked at the computer screen, very carefully avoiding
my eyes, and said, 'so what you're telling me is that the only way o
clear my record, is if i pay the fines. you can't just let me off
this one time?' i tell him no. again - very calmly he says - 'is
there anyone higher than you that i could maybe talk to?'
so i say 'sure' and call over bonnie to assist. she comes to my
station, and i let her in on what's going on. i say, very
clearly, 'this gentleman has nine dollars in overdue fines on his
record, but he simply doesn't want to pay them. he wants to talk to
a supervisor.' bonnie stands there for a moment, just ever so
slightly stunned. 'you just don't want to pay them?' he replies
that no, he doesn't want to pay the fines. bonnie says, 'well you
know, i don't know what to tell you. these are fines on your record,
we don't just make them up.' the gentleman begins to tell bonnie
that this is the first set of books that he's checked out from this
library, that he shouldn't have to pay any fines. bonnie asks if
maybe they could compromise (which was my first disillusionment with
the entire situation) that maybe he could pay a certain amount, and
she would waive the rest of it. the gentleman insists that this
isn't enough, that he shouldn't have to pay any fines. when that
isn't holding any water with bonnie, he tries another
approach. 'aren't i supposed to be notified when i have overdue
fines?' i tell him that yes, after a certain number of weeks a
notice is sent out in the mail informing the patron of their fines.
he brushes that aside, and tells us that he submitted an email
address, that he should have been informed immediately of any overdue
bonnie - unsure of the policy of when emails are actually sent,
promises to waive the fines - and then goes over to the information
desk to look it up. leaving me with the 'gentleman.' i stand there
ca usually leaning onto the side of the desk, looking the guy
straight into the eye, and he looks at me. 'i take it you disagree
with her decision.' figuring i can be every bit as calm as he can, i
say, 'yes. i disagree with her decision. she's the supervisor, and
i will respect her decision. but these are fines that you have
accrued on your card. when you received your card you were made
aware of our policies, including overdue fines. you should be
responsible for your card, and the materials we loan you.'
he tells me that he can understand my position, that he sees where
i'm coming from. but that the library is a public service, and
should make allowances for the people who pay for it's operation, eg.
the taxpayers. i very calmly informed him that tax money wasn't
enough. that he was coming into the library to use the resources
that we have available for his and other patron's use, at barely
enough money to keep the facility running. the fines are something
that he agreed to upon signing for a library card, and are another
means of providing him the very service that he was trying to usurp.
i told him, 'what it basically comes down to is - you came in and
told me you had fines on your record. you admitted to the fines.
you also told me you were aware of the policies of the library, and
the responsibility you have with the materials you borrow. you're
just not mature enough to deal with it.'
just as i finished my sentence bonnie returns. she removes the
fines, and gives the 'gentleman' some papers dealing with the sending
out of emails and mails concerning overdue fines, and the like. he
thanks bonnie, and then turns to me and says, 'thank you for the
conversation.' and leaves.
i was extremely angry. bonnie simply let the guy go scot free.
granted it was her decision, and i will respect that. but i do
disagree with it, as i told her. she said that it was good that i
disagreed, but that the entire thing wasn't worth the hassle. i
argued that it was the principle of the thing. that now he knows
that all he has to do is to go over my head to a supervisor, and his
fines will be erased. he knows that he will never have to pay a
fine, because all he has to do is to whine about it enough, albeit
very calmly. which i think was the real point in his favor. most
people scream and fuss - and it's easy to say no to them. he was
nothing but polite and perfectly at ease. while talking to bonnie,
he revealed that he was a psychologist. he was merely playing
games. he came in to win a battle - and bonnie gave it to him.
bonnie told me, 'think about it this way - if his life is so bleak
that in his spare time he has to come to the library to play mind
games over a nine dollar fine - then let him win his battles. he's
not worth our effort or frustration.' which i agree with to a
point. but maybe i'm just too 'by the book' to be satisfied by
that. he neglected his responsibility. i told him that he could
have easily gone online to check the status of his card. he could
easily have renewed his books on time over the phone, or returned
them to the library by the appointed date. what makes him so high
and mighty that he can't take responsibility for his own negligence?
what gets me the most about the entire thing - is that the very next
patron i had after the 'gentleman' was an eight year old boy. he
brought up some books to check out, and handed me his library card.
he said, 'i accidentally kept some books longer than i was supposed
to. but i've been saving up to pay for it.' he had ten dollars in
fines on his card, and he handed me several dollar bills, and a
handful of change to pay for his fines.
a child. i wish the 'gentleman' had been there to see himself shown
up by a child. did he realize what an ass he made of himself in the
end? yes he got away with not paying his fines. such a victory. he
had this facade of an honorable well to do man. such a charade.