Benbrook Library / Musings

An Unexpected Reality

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If things were absolutely perfect in library land, we’d purchase one copy of every book, keep those copies on our shelves forever, and lend the same copies to an endless stream of satisfied borrowers in an infinite loop of harmonious lending, borrowing, and returning. Sadly, such perfection eludes us, as books inevitably must be replaced. They wear down. The information they contain becomes outdated. They mysteriously vanish from the shelves. And sometimes, they’re checked out and (dun dun dun!) never returned.

It was for the latter reason that I recently ordered a replacement copy of the latest edition of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the popular tome of advice for mothers-to-be. It arrived in the mail earlier this week, and when I went to update our catalog holdings, I found something unexpected about this book for the expectant. Of the 18 copies available in MetrOPAC libraries (all Fort Worth libraries, plus Benbrook, Burleson, Haltom City, Keller, Richland Hills, and Watagua), seven of the copies have a status of “lost,” meaning they were checked out and never returned, and two copies have been checked out well beyond their due dates and are on their way to reaching “lost” status. That’s a whopping half of the copies in the system that are gone and won’t likely be seen again.

To paraphrase the great Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with that? Have our libraries been struck by a wave of thieving pregnant women with malice in their hearts? I’d say that’s an unfair way to spin it. It’s more likely that those who have borrowed Expecting indefinitely feel they have a strong need for the information the book provides, and that need extends beyond the time limit of a standard library check out period. Or, they’re so busy with the current demands of their lives (after all, the next step after mother-to-be is to be a mother, and I hear that’s pretty time consuming) that returning a library book either slips their minds or isn’t deemed a priority. I don’t want to make excuses for delinquent library patrons, and I certainly don’t condone not returning library books; I just find the frequency with which Expecting is lost fascinating, and I’d like to make sense of it.

This whole experience led me to wonder what other books are most frequently checked out from libraries and not returned. As I always do when I wonder, I took to the Internet, and there I found an interesting old discussion thread on LibraryThing, a site that allows users to organize, share, and discuss books and book-related topics. The thread is titled “Books that just *never* seemed to be returned…,” and while it’s been dormant since 2008, it contains illuminating posts from librarians and library users about which books seem to end up lost again and again. Click here to check out the discussion. Many of the books mentioned, like test prep books, were no surprise to me, but some, like A Child Called It, were unexpected.

While it’s interesting to see which books tend to go on permanent vacation from the library, I’d gladly trade that interestingness for a shift toward the aforementioned perfect library land. Be a pal; return your library books.

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