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Small Talk: End of year marks beginning of book hunt

Hunting season is open. No guns, please. It is June, and so begins the annual end-of-school-year book hunt.

As librarian, I now break out my most creative ways to remind youngsters to put that four-month-overdue book into their backpack. My favorite trick is to write on their hand in washable marker. I write the word BOOK, making the letter O into eyes, with a goofy mouth underneath. They think it’s funny. I think of it as the Scarlet Letter. And it actually works sometimes.

I also send home gently worded reminders about the cost to replace the book. Books are not cheap and realizing this often prompts the search under the sofa cushions, the back of the fridge, in the doghouse, in the dirty-clothes basket, under the car seats and perhaps in the bottomless, bedroom book box.

I do admit, books can often hide in plain sight, so clever is their slim, flat camouflage. They are often just the right size to slide into that place you can’t imagine they would be. But when all is said and done, they have to be somewhere. Chances are they may well not surface until you’ve paid to replace them.

Meanwhile, we librarians feel like the green-toothed, blue meanie troll under the bridge, having to shut down the library three weeks before school ends. Having to turn away enthusiastic readers is painful, but we must. Just getting the majority of books back takes every minute of two weeks. Amid that collecting and shelving boom, there is hopefully time for some inventory and usually textbooks to deal with.

At the very least, we want to have time to put the books in order. It will help, for maybe a day, with finding books next year. The librarian’s psyche is the true reason for ordering the shelves. One doesn’t become a librarian unless one has OCD leanings. We can let little hands turn things into a bit of a jumble for weeks at a time. But to soothe our orderly little souls, we still need that short, blissful moment when every book is in its proper place. And, of course, it’s nice to know what books the library does still possess.

It’s also the time of year for the most creative excuses. “Well, I had it by my bed but then someone left the window open and it disappeared,” or “I lent it to my sister’s friend’s little brother and he gave it to the dog.” Worst of all are the young ones who give you a vacant stare when asked where their book might be. Book? I had a book? You know that book is gone for good.

So grab your binoculars, get down on all fours and flush out those missing tomes. They can be shy, but all they really want is to come home.


Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and big fan of the Dewey Decimal system. Contact her at [email protected].