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Pleasantly Quaint

March 4, 2013

Someone was using our library’s phone by the desk. At one point in her conversation, she lowered her voice and said, “I should be quiet. I’m calling from the library.”

Her friend at the other end proceeded to lower her voice, too, until eventually she realized, “Hey, I don’t have to whisper! I’m not in the library!”

Maybe you had to be there. Or maybe you had to have seen the Mercedes Benz ad in which an attractive young blond woman walks up to a library desk and says brightly, “I’d like to order french fries, a burger, and a milkshake.”

The darker, brainier librarian replies with some disgust, “This is a library.”

The beautiful young woman sheepishly looks around. People have paused in their work to look up.

She turns back and this time whispers, “I’d like to order french fries, a burger, and a milkshake.”

It’s funny how for all the ways libraries have changed they’re still the same—in perception as well as reality.

More and more people have expressed surprise that we still put date-due cards in books when they check out. Some have found it pleasantly quaint. You may remember more than a decade ago we tried doing away with the date-due cards, but it was very unpopular.

I admit the cards are handy as both bookmark and due date reminder. But now, between email reminders and online access to one’s library account, the date-due cards are increasingly superfluous. And they take time at check-out, testing patience.

Nowadays, this might be the best reason to use the cards or to stamp each DVD with a due date—to stretch out the occasion and provide pause. But while that might be a healthy practice, we will soon go the other way.

Beware the Ides of March. This is when we will stop putting due dates in or on everything you check out and instead will put them in or on things only if you request it.

We know not everyone will ask for what they want, but please believe us when we say we’re happy to do it. For a while, we may not be able to stop ourselves. If you want date-due cards, we will have them ready.

But the default scenario will be not to use them. Instead, we can print out a “receipt” of what you’ve checked out. Or you can monitor your account easily online. Or if you’ve provided us with an email address, you can rely on the system to send courtesy notices about impending due dates. These are very handy.

The library is easier to use than ever. All our items check out for plenty of time—three weeks—and they’re easily renewable online or by phone. Renewable, that is, if nobody is waiting on a hold list.

It seems that the probability of someone else wanting your book goes up the more you want it. I’m almost done with a new book called “Naked Statistics” by Charles Wheelan but the probability section did not cover this fact.

Something else might be going on. We know the improbable happens all the time. If the chance of getting a certain disease is one in a million, there will still be thousands of people around the world with this rare disease.

Eventually, things happen. In Scrabble last week, I drew four “T”s in one hand, and there are only six in the game. A Scrabble game, like the world, is familiar, but it’s never the same.

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