Time for Mrs. Swellesley to pay up at Wellesley Free Library

Just last week I was on the Wellesley Free Library‘s list of Ten Most-Wanted fugitive patrons, and deservedly so. I’d checked out three books and lost them all. (If you must know, they were Bowlaway, by Elizabeth McCracken; On the Same Page, by N.D. Galland; and  Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari.) Not a single one of them made it from my car to the house. Instead, all of them ended up in the used books area at the Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility. A Facebook commenter was incredulous. “I don’t understand – people bring their library books to the dump? Who the heck does that?”

Another commenter came to my rescue with the simple words, “It was a mistake.” Thank you for recognizing that, N.R.

Wellesley Free Library
Wellesley Free Library Director Jamie Jurgensen, right, accepts a check from Mrs. Swellesley for a lost library book.

That mistake brought me to a dark place where I teetered on the edge of rescinded library privileges. But before that scenario could move from nightmare to reality, I appealed to The Swellesley Report readership, and my call was answered. Thanks to our sharp-eyed readers, Bowlaway and On the Same Page were found at the RDF and returned to the library. There was just one more lost book to be found. I prayed for an Amazing Grace ending to the story as I renewed Sapiens. The renewal period ended, and there was still no sign of the non-fiction trade paperback. I tried to get more time, but the online system informed me that someone else was waiting to read about a brief history of humankind. The appeals process exhausted, I admitted defeat and wrote a check for the $23 cost of the book. It was an expensive consequence, but at least I’m back to a clean slate. For now. If you’ve been following this story, you know that I’m what might be called a challenging library patron. That means I lose books at a clip of around one a year. I’m not proud.

We had a good question from a reader who has felt my pain: “When I lose a book, why can’t I order one on Amazon and bring it in as the replacement book? Why do I have to pay full retail price to the WFL to resolve the issue? It’s frustrating when I know that I can get it cheaper but am not allowed to.”

According to Elise MacLennan, the library’s Assistant Director, “The cost of replacing a book can be divided into two categories: time and materials. Librarians and support staff are involved. First question – should we even replace it with the exact same thing? Perhaps there is a new edition or a newer book with better information. Librarians decide. Then every item goes through prep for borrowing, which includes cataloging, labeling, covering, etc. Each type of material has a different process.”

On the lam

During my time as a fugitive, I brazenly visited the library anyway. We felons are like that, always returning to the scene of our crimes. I would go in just to visit the shelves where the lost books used to live. I wanted to see if the librarians left those spaces empty, the way the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum curators leave an empty frame to mark the spot where Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee hung before it was stolen in 1990.

Turns out Wellesley librarians aren’t as dramatic as all that. They simply shelve books as they always do, in straight and even rows, leaving no gaps to mark the tragic disappearance of books.

Now that I’m back in the good graces of the library, I feel so unburdened. All it took was a little checkbook penance to get my record all tidied up. I didn’t have to hire a lawyer. No one measured me for an orange jumpsuit. There will be no time-consuming visits with a parole officer.

Wellesley library card
Mrs. Swellesley’s fancy new library card.

As long as I was at the circulation desk handing over my check to Wellesley Free Library Director Jamie Jurgensen, I decided to complete the fresh start and get a brand-new library card because mine was ratty with curling edges and a nearly worn-out bar code. At least I think that’s why I got a new card. Maybe I couldn’t bear the idea of handing over a check and getting nothing in return. Some time in analysis with a good Freudian therapist could probably untangle this web of emotions, but who has time to lie on a couch and dredge up the unconscious? Seems easier to just leave my “losing” books issues buried and deal with the outcomes when I backslide.

For now, I’ll bask in the glow of my returned respectability, impermanent though both glow and respectability may be.


Chapter 1: Mr. Swellesley leaves library books at Wellesley RDF; Mrs. Swellesley mad as all get-out

Chapter 2: Update: readers rescue almost all Wellesley library books we left at the dump

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