Do I need a Hazmat suit to read library books? 

Abusing library books

2 minute read
Library books or placemats? The distinction is getting unclear. (photo by Abhi Sharma via Creative Commons/Flickr)
Library books or placemats? The distinction is getting unclear. (photo by Abhi Sharma via Creative Commons/Flickr)

An egg. Some coffee. Toast crumbs. My breakfast, you ask? Nope — things I found in the book I just borrowed from the library. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve borrowed this year that didn’t have water damage, broken spines, bent or ripped paperback covers, or stains I can’t even begin to distinguish or identify.

What are you people doing to my beloved books?

It used to be that the only time I needed rubber gloves was to remove a DVD from its Netflix sleeve. Now I’m scared to open the books I borrow because I never know what’s going to fall out (or what that smear might be).

I sometimes get fun surprises: the sign-out receipt showing what other books a previous patron borrowed at the same time, a photo or a forgotten bookmark. One time I even found part of an airplane ticket. Those surprises are fun, allowing me to imagine a fellow reader.

The stains and food are not so fun. I don’t like imaging places where those books might have been to end up looking the way they do, especially the water damaged ones (please — not the toilet).

Why we can’t have nice things

Do people not know that their tax dollars buy these books? That’s right, you who rest your coffee cup between pages 31 and 32 — these are your books. Is this how you treat things you buy and keep in your own home? You should take care of each one so the next person can get the same enjoyment you did, prior to your meal or spillage.

Accidents happen. I get that. But the percentage of damaged books from the several libraries I frequent is so high — surely everybody can’t be accident prone.

I don’t remember this being a big a problem before. Did courtesy go out of style and no one told me? I don’t expect everyone to treat books as holy, but taking a little care would be nice.

I used to read books in bed, and I still do if it’s a new purchase, but I haven’t cuddled up in my jammies with a library book in years. Maybe I should rethink that policy, though — with the amount of food I find accidentally tucked between pages, I could wake every day to read and have breakfast in bed.

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