Bacon Bookmarks and Cheeto Lures: The Funniest and Weirdest Stories Of Damaged Library Books

Confession: I’m a terrible library patron. I don’t know how to return things on time, and no matter how much I say I’ll do better, I just don’t.

Things only became more embarrassing this year when I resolved to not accrue more than $30 in fines all year and, well, within two months not only doubled that, but ended up needing to pay for replacements of two books.

Why did I need to replace those books, you ask? Because when we had those record-breaking cold days in Chicagoland, cases of seltzer exploded in my car, getting the books covered in ice, which then warmed up and melted, thereby destroying the spines and pages of those books. My library, bless them, tried to salvage the books by putting them in the freezer, but alas, I’m now the owner of two library books I simply wanted to borrow. One of the librarians told me after that that wasn’t even the weirdest water-related incident they’d had. A book was returned damaged one time because the patron’s dog had gotten a claw stuck in their waterbed, caused a gush of water to spring forth, and thereby, damaged the book.

The funniest and weirdest stories of damaged library books. libraries | library humor | library stories | librarians

But this isn’t even the weirdest damaged book return story I have. At my first job as a librarian, I had to return and pay for a damaged book that had been eaten by my cat.

The dog might eat your homework, but my cat will eat my library books.

After my most recent return embarrassment—paid for in full immediately—I asked a variety of librarians to share the funniest or weirdest stories of damaged books returned to their library. These were kept anonymous, since privacy is vital in libraries. In answers where a nickname was used, I’ve changed those to “a patron,” to protect the innocent. Also note, some of these stories involve bodily fluids, so read with caution. There is also a nice number of dog-related stories.

I’ll say this much: I feel a bit less red in the face about my own stories. Of course, if you have your own story of a damaged book return, please drop it in the comments and make me, as well as other problem patrons, feel a little less alone.

  • MY OWN DOG ate a book about French cheeses I had checked out from the library I am a librarian at. She destroyed it, completely and utterly. I think the fact that it was made of paper, and not cheese, is what fueled her rage. I had to pay the full replacement cost for it too! Bad doggie.
  • This one’s a horror story: one patron walked out with a particular book, then walked back in in minutes to open up the book and show us where a previous patron had—and to this day I cannot imagine why—layered three pieces of cooked bacon in the very middle of the fairly large book, now calcified and half-moldy and pressed flat by the weight. Surely the very grossest—I don’t know how it got reshelved and left without notice, I truly don’t.
  • Four-year-old, returning a book after a book care lesson: “I tried really hard to take care of my book, but my sister peed on it.”
  • My favorite story is not so much weird as inevitable. We got back a book that was crayoned all over, had water damage (some mouth-shaped), and torn. The book was What to Expect: The Toddler Years.
  • When we’re asking patrons to check again for a book they think they’ve returned, we often suggest checking under the car seat; however, this patron didn’t drive so he dismissed that idea. A few days later, he rushed in with the book, very excited, because the book had, indeed, been under the car seat—of his pot dealer.
  • Someone brought a copy of The Hallow Boy to the reference desk. They opened it up to reveal a smushed packet of McDonalds BBQ sauce inside. The patron looked me straight in the eye and said “I found it like this.”
  • Once a chewed up book came back with an apology note written from the dog’s POV.
  • We had a case once where a patron put a book in their microwave (they thought they was taking precautions for…I’m not even sure what). Turns out the customer didn’t know the book had a security tag and it blew up their microwave and our book. They brought the damaged book in, happily paid for it while regaling this hilarious and awkward tale. We felt for them!
  • We once had a book that was returned to the branch water damaged. When I called the customer a little boy picked up the phone (it had been a children’s book). When I asked to speak to a parent, the boy admitted that his parents only spoke Chinese (I sadly, am not a Chinese speaker). I explained to him that the book had water damage and that his parent would have to be charged for the item. He felt terrible and said he had accidentally dropped it in the snow. I told him how great it was that he was being honest. He then asked me what the book cost and I said “It is $8.” He yells into the phone “My Daddy has $8!” and he hung up on me. I have never forgotten this kid because he still comes into the branch even now after that incident.
  • We had a patron return five DVDs and a few books to the library covered in sticky goo and absolutely reeking. This is fairly common for us, so staff took them in the back with bleach wipes and and the Stinky Book Box to see if we could salvage them. It wasn’t until the man was leaving that he mentioned that he had just gotten back from a fishing trip. Upon further (very kind and understanding) questioning, we discovered that he put the items in an empty cooler to keep them safe from the elements on his fishing trip, forgot they were in there, loaded his fish into the cooler, forgot the fish were in there, and left the cooler in the car for a week. Our items were covered in rotting fish guts.
  • 10 brand new DVDs came back with the cases & discs destroyed…the patron had just gotten a new puppy and the puppy decided it loved our movies!
  • When my mom got Jean M. Auel’s Valley of the Horses, the sequel to Clan of the Cave Bear, from the library, I couldn’t wait for her to finish to take my turn. But by the time she finished it, she had decided I wasn’t old enough to read it, so she declared it off-limits. My interest totally piqued now, I stole it secretly from her room whenever I was in the bathroom behind the safely locked door. While reading in the bath on evening, I dropped the library book into the water. Frantic, I tried to dry the pages with the blow dryer. I returned the book to her nightstand, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t notice. When the bill for a damaged book came from the library, my mother was first incensed at being wrongly accused of the damage. After thinking further, her brain made up a memory of my brother dropping it in a snowbank when he jumped out of her car to put books in the return slot. I was ashamed, but off the hook. I kept my mouth shut and let her believe her false memory.
  • A man handed me a book and as soon as he placed it into my hands he said, “My son threw up on it. He’s a nervous flyer.” It was still damp and clearly ruined. That was my first day in a public library, five years ago. I have since learned to ask for the full story before touching it.
  • A kid decided his still wet and slimy leftover popsicle stick was the perfect bookmark. His mother laughed when she told us but I didn’t.
  • A mom tried to tell us that the corner of a new book that looked like it had been nibbled on by a puppy wasn’t their puppy who did it. When she turned to ask her son if he had seen the puppy chew on the book, he wholeheartedly confessed. Needless to say his mother was not happy.
  • A raccoon got into a book and had to be lured away with Cheetos.
  • A kid feel asleep reading the book, wet the bed, and thus, peed on the book.
  • A few years ago when I was beginning my career as a branch supervisor in a public library, I had a mother and son come into the library with a book the son had borrowed. The mom had her son show me how he “corrected” the book with permanent marker. The book was a children’s nonfiction about dinosaurs, and he had crossed out entire sections about why the dinosaurs disappeared, and wrote that the flood of Noah was responsible. He also wrote in several places that the earth was 6,000 years old. The boy was not apologetic, and frankly the mother wasn’t too upset either, but at least made her son tell me what he did and paid for the damage. I understand that everyone has their own beliefs, and to each their own, but please don’t “correct” our library books! Afterwards I took pictures of the pages and shared with many of my librarian friends. It’s always a great party story!
  • One woman had to pay to replace a considerable number of books because she ate Cheetos while she read and pages were a mess from those Cheeto stains. She obligingly paid for the books but couldn’t stay away from her Cheetos.
  • So many dog training books get returned with their corners chewed! (Editor’s note: I used to get a lot of car repair manuals back covered in grease and oil!)
  • A woman came into the library with a book in a plastic bag. “I need to pay for a damaged book.” The book in question was a water-damaged kids’ book with red stains. She handed me the book, and as soon as I took it, she casually informed me that her granddaughter had thrown up on it. 😫😫😫.
  • There was a cover with a dog w/ red glowing eyes…the book was destroyed by a dog eating two of the corners off.
  • A man once called our library and explained that his elderly mother had picked up a dvd from the library and walked home in the rain. The dvd case was wet, so when she got home she decided the best way to dry it off would be to pop it into the microwave for a few seconds. The dvd case melted and the microwave broke, and suffice it to say she was too embarrassed to tell us and had her son call. We marked it as damaged and billed her, and she came in to pay for it weeks later. I wish we could have been able to see the dvd though!
  • My baby fell off the bed and kicked a glass of water and the book Raising Sheep with her! I didn’t notice the book was soaked until I had finished comforting her and feeling terrible.
  •  The reader was using a piece of bacon as a bookmark. One of the staff members found it in the book drop, bacon still inside. What a waste of a perfectly good piece of bacon!
  • A woman returned around 10 books rather…wet. Claimed it got rained on, thing was, it hadn’t rained in three weeks…when I took a moment to actually look at the book I found they were all romance novels. Upon further inspection, and curiosity I took a small sniff of the book—it smelt like…lavender? I quickly figured out the woman was reading these books in the bath and either got so riled up reading them that she dropped them—or fell asleep. Not sure which…and I don’t want to know.
  • Book was dropped on a sticky trap for mice. Thankfully, it was covered in plastic, so the cover wasn’t damaged, but we had to cut off the old plastic and put on a new layer of plastic.
  • I work in an elementary school library, and one day the principal came walking in with a book. He handed it to me and said that a student had chewed it up. There was indeed a big bite taken out of the corner. I’ve had a lot of books returned after being damaged by animals, but this was the first and only time a person has eaten part of a book. At least it was a paperback.
  • As a librarian, I often tell this true story to make patrons feel better about their damaged books. When my kids were young, we checked out the hedgehog puppet and then could not find it to return. All 3 swore up and down they had not seen it. Come spring, when I was getting my garden ready, I found it—rolled into a ball and planted in my flower bed.

Spokane Eliminates School Librarians, Continuing Trend of Disappearing School Libraries

“The district may not value or understand what I do as a school librarian, but the students sure do. More than anything, I’m devastated for them. They deserve so much better,” said YA author and school librarian Stephanie Oakes, who learned that her job was being eliminated.

Where states like Michigan are working toward mandating school librarians, other states are finding themselves removing them all together. This week, Spokane, Washington, officials announced that librarians would be laid off at the end of the school year.

This decision by Spokane Public Schools mirrors decisions made in the last few years in Chicago, as well as those more broadly. Ed Week reports in an article from 2018 that over 9,000 school library jobs have been eliminated in the last ten years. That, of course, doesn’t account for Spokane’s recent eliminations, nor does it account for the considerations happening. Seattle’s public school district, struggling with their own budget, is considering changing all full-time school librarians to part-time in the new school year as well.

Arlington Public Schools, outside Washington, D.C., is proposing the elimination of school library assistants in the coming year, while Antioch Unified School District in the East Bay area of California proposes eliminating school librarians to save district cash. Similar proposals for school librarian positions being eliminated can be seen at the El Paso School DistrictOxnard School District in California, and more.

Eliminating school librarian positions—and school libraries as a whole—is detrimental to students. Numerous studies show a link between student access to staffed media centers and higher student achievement. Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel, in their meta-analysis of studies published in the Phi Delta Kappa, note:

“Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs. Further, when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries’ benefits. In addition, newer studies, conducted over the last several years, show that strong school libraries are also linked to other important indicators of student success, including graduation rates and mastery of academic standards.”

They continue by noting these studies were controlled for important factors including student-teacher ratio, student demographics, school funding levels, and more, noting that “the benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.”

For Spokane Public Schools, the elimination of school librarian positions doesn’t mean school libraries are going away.  Instead, they’re being kept open and teachers will be responsible for utilizing the facilities with students. This, however, puts the burden on teachers, and it fails to account for the knowledge, skills, and insight a trained school librarian brings to the school environment.

“I’m distraught for what this means for our district, for our students who will grow up without everything that a school librarian provides. In the coming weeks, I’m sure the district will attempt to downplay the impact on students; after all, the libraries themselves will remain, and students may continue to check out books. But, the soul of our libraries will be gone,” said Oakes.

She continued: “A school library is so much more than a warehouse for books. A school library is a well-oiled machine, constantly evolving, tailor-made for the population it serves. Much of the work is invisible, and I suppose that makes it easier to dismiss. But everyone in education knows (or should know) the impact that school librarians make. Higher achievement, higher reading scores, better technology skills, greater readiness for college and careers.

“Beyond that, a school librarian changes the culture of a school. We create a safe harbor for students, a place where everyone belongs and has equal ownership, where students’ passions are nurtured, where many have access to information and resources that they never would otherwise (unsurprisingly, the impact school librarians have is statistically greater for students of color, students with disabilities, and students experiencing poverty).”

It’s all too likely that the coming weeks will have more such announcements as schools wrestle with budgets that they can’t balance and funding from states drying up, being delayed, or otherwise failing to meet the educational demands. But these cuts put the burden on students, as well as already over-stretched teachers, to do more with less. Worse, those from poorer districts who already struggle, will fall only further behind.

What You Can Do

  • Educate yourself on the powerful role school librarians play in the educational environment. Dig into how school librarians are vital tools for student success and why school librarians are literacy leaders. Although the American Association of School Librarians is a professional organization, they offer up a number of great research papers and insight into the roles of school librarians.
  • Speak up and out on behalf of your local school district’s librarians and library assistants. Speak to the parent teacher association, as well as the school board, in support of these positions and vital roles in a student’s academic development.
  • Write to your representatives at the local, district, and state levels in support of school librarians. Encourage more legislation that ensure the inclusion of positions in each and every school, such as those currently on the table in Michigan.
  • Stay abreast of the world of school libraries and stay active in petitioning, speaking up, and spreading the word with the help of Save School Librarians, an initiative of EveryLibrary.

On Creating Bookshelves For An All-Digital Public Library

So, I work for the first all-digital public library system in the country. Our library branches house no physical books; instead, our resources are housed on multiple platforms/apps like cloudLibrary, Hoopla, RBdigital, Lynda, PressReader, BiblioBoard, and many others. I am the Collections & Acquisitions Librarian for my library and it is hands down the coolest job I have had in my decade in public libraries. The no physical books part of my job does not bother me one bit. It’s quite lovely to not have to handle grimy books that have been through dozens of homes.

hands with laptop typing

I evaluate, purchase and curate our digital content for all ages. But unlike a traditional public library that offers multiple locations to display physical books, our ebooks and audiobooks must be carefully curated on digital bookshelves. Every month our digital bookshelves change so that our patrons get a different look at our collection. Since they are unable to walk through stacks and go from physical bookshelf to bookshelf, this is our best chance to highlight books that are overlooked or are older. We usually have anywhere from 12–15 digital bookshelves in any given month. I usually highlight monthly observations while occasionally throwing in my dad joke shelves. These shelves may include color puns or just something I think our patrons will respond to.

You may not think so, but this is quite a difficult task. I am quite competitive and I want our monthly circulation numbers to grow from month to month. If we circulated 20,000 items in March, for example, then I hope to circulate 20,000+ in April. But the truth is, my digital curations are either hit or miss with our patrons. I have one chance per month with these bookshelves to impress our patrons enough that they will actually look through these shelves. If they are not interested, they will skip over most shelves and go straight to our New Fiction and New Nonfiction shelves. It’s quite an interesting task.

So, this is what some of our current bookshelves look like on cloudLibrary:

#Bookface Shelf

This shelf is filled with ebooks and audiobooks that patrons can check out to post their favorite Instagram photos using the #bookface hashtag. The tricky part? Try doing this with a Kindle Fire, NOOK, iPad, or other ereader device. It is much more difficult than using a physical book.

Dystopian Novels Are So 1984 Shelf

This shelf contains ebooks and audiobooks of fiction dystopian novels. Some books featured on this shelf are The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Blindness by Jose Saramago and American War by Omar El Akkad. Our patrons really love dystopian novels and psychological thrillers.

National Poetry Month Shelf

In honor of National Poetry Month, this shelf highlights works by amazing poets. This shelf is one of those that is either a hit or miss with patrons. Poetry may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but many of our patrons have been checking these out.

Financial Literacy Month Shelf

You may not know this but April is Financial Literacy Month. This shelf features nonfiction ebooks and audiobooks that bring awareness to financial literacy. Many public libraries across the country host amazing financial literacy programs that make a difference in their communities. These programs and books highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

New Fiction and New Nonfiction Shelves

These are what I like to call our “bread and butter” bookshelves. Most patrons naturally flock to these shelves because they feature our latest purchases and new releases from amazing authors. Some books on these shelves include The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, Women’s Work by Megan K. Stack, I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum and Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. These are great shelves.

In the past I have added color pun shelves like Orange You Glad to See Me, These Blue My Mind or Red Any Good Books Lately. Those shelves feature books that are color coded according to the pun. I have created shelves for Pride month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, American Heart Month, Women’s History Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, and other monthly observances. The trick is to keep switching these shelves up so patrons remain interested. One of my secrets is to simply arrange these shelves differently week by week. One week they may be arranged by title and the next week they may be arranged by publication date or by the date they were added to the shelf. This gives the illusion that new books were added to those shelves when in reality their order was just rearranged.

So, now you know more or less how the curation of content for the nation’s first all-digital public library works. If you wish to browse our webpage, you can do so here. We are a public library, but we still get looks and questions as if we are some foreign creatures. Many people still want to know what the heck we are and how we function as a library. If you have questions, I would be more than happy to answer them. Happy reading!

The Problem with Professional Development Books in Library Science

I’ve been doing a lot of professional development reading lately. I live in the Washington, D.C. area, so fortunately (or unfortunately, if you’re a librarian looking for work), there are a lot of librarians in the thirty-or-so-mile radius. This means that the public libraries generally have at least a few books on library science and related topics. Some libraries reserve these for staff members, limit checkout periods, or otherwise make them less accessible to the general public or to librarians who are not employed at their library.

In the last couple of years, a library near me has switched from limiting checkout periods and keeping the library-specific professional development books in the reference area to giving them the same checkout length as the rest of the collection and interfiling it with the same. It’s been great to have better access to so many of these books, but often, these texts have further reading sections. I really enjoy my field, so I want to learn as much as I can, but not all of these books are available at my library. And they’re expensive.

I’d like to have my own copies of these books. I end up taking extensive, word-for-word notes of them. My wrist and hand cramp pretty badly and I typically find myself wishing I could highlight in the book, instead. Of course, I can’t — it’s a library book. But I also can’t justify buying these materials for $60+ each.

Professional Development Books

 

So why not ask the library where I work to buy a bunch of professional development books? Like individuals, institutions have limited resources with which to work and should, naturally, focus their budget on the public which they serve. There’s an argument to be made that to best serve the public, staff ought to be able to pursue professional development to the greatest degree possible. We can’t spend every hour doing professional development — that leaves no time for customers. But, even if this was a reasonable response and libraries decided to earmark a significant amount of the budget for professional development books, access is still an issue. Certainly, they won’t purchase enough books for every staff member who wants one to have one.

What’s more concerning to me is how the overpricing of professional development books (and text books) throws up more barriers. We continually ask ourselves, “Why is librarianship so white?” We know systemic racism helps to perpetuate continuing poverty in communities and individuals of color. Certainly the graduate school degree required for most librarian positions is a decent chunk of money. (And that’s not to mention the undergrad degree generally required to get into grad school.) But then there’s also class materials, text books, and eventually professional development books.

There are professional development books for loads of fields. Many of them are also expensive — but many fields also have books with more standard consumer pricing. You can find a wealth of materials on ecology, foreign investment, law, psychology, and more at your average book store. Library science, on the other hand, is harder to find. Most of the books worth reading are published by Libraries Unlimited or the American Library Association. Probably because they’re so highly specialized and specific, the average bookstore just doesn’t carry them. So you’re left with either purchasing them from the publisher — or maybe Amazon — and forking over a hefty stack of dollar bills.

Buying used is an option, I suppose. But used books, especially when purchased online, are a bit of a gamble. If they’re in good condition, there’s still a good chance titles like these are already highlighted. For me, this would be a major distraction. And frankly, if lower-cost options for these kinds of texts are out there, I’d rather leave them alone to be available for students who need them for class and are probably in tighter financial situations than I am. Plus, even with the used discount, the books can still be pretty pricey.

I’m fairly privileged in many respects. I’m white. I’m educated. I’m paid fairly well (though I admit the cost of living for my area is pretty outrageous, so “fairly well” doesn’t always mean a lot around here). I have a disability, but it’s invisible and mostly managed. I’m straight. All of this combines in various ways to give me a bit of a head start. I’m convinced that many of these facts also influence my financial situation which means I could, if I really wanted to, buy at least some of the library science books I want. Then I’m left to ask, what about people who truly can’t? Why are we making professional development materials — and consequently jobs and promotions — so inaccessible?

I don’t mean to devalue the work that goes into the publication of these materials. The time and energy that goes into writing and researching them is valuable. But what good is it all if no one reads them because the cost is so prohibitive?

The high cost of professional development books in library science is not the only barrier to a diverse field, but it doesn’t help. Meanwhile, communities expect their librarians to be professionals and experts. I want to know how can we be when our professional development materials are so expensive and otherwise inaccessible? Lowering the cost of these books won’t solve everything, but it would make the field just a little more attainable for at least part of the population. Publishers should reevaluate the cost they impose on professional development books. They should consider how these contributes to a lack of diversity in the field, particularly in higher-level positions. The question is — do they care enough to find a solution?