Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Library Tale

Library staff can predict some of the situations we'll be sorting out each day - account questions, books gone astray, excitement with the public restroom (someone didn't bring the key back!) - these things happen consistently. But once in awhile something comes along that is unlike anything else.

I had the pleasure of springing an audiobook from jail this week.

The story began five months ago. A patron (I'll call her Martha) notified us that her car had been broken into several weeks previously; among the items stolen was a bag that included a library audiobook, "Light On Snow". The thieves didn't get the whole book - Martha was working her way through the discs and #5 was still in her CD player. She waited until the audiobook was overdue to bring in the disc and tell us what had happened. She didn't want to pay for the audiobook because she wasn't technically responsible for the situation (this conversation happens more often than you might think.) We gave her a receipt to prove the value of the item and encouraged her to include it in her insurance claim.

Weeks passed. I called Martha to see how the claim was going. Alas, she hadn't yet submitted the claim but thank you for the reminder. She would submit it tomorrow.

I called two weeks later, just to follow up. Oh, she said, I'll get that in the mail today! Hm. I told her that she'd been billed for "Light On Snow". She could pay for it and be reimbursed by her insurance company.

Martha came into the branch more than a month after our conversation, disputing the bill. Her car doors were locked. The thieves broke in. It wasn't her fault that the book was stolen. She wanted to check out another audiobook but she couldn't until the bill was paid. The insurance company had denied her claim because she had waited too long to submit it. (Ah, life lessons.)

And this is when it became interesting.

We offer a service, Ask A Librarian, in which people can submit a question about anything, truly, anything at all. The larger branches in our system take turns monitoring the service and responding to the questions. It happened to be our turn. I signed in and the first question I fielded was this one, from a Kirkland Police Department detective:

"We found an audio book titled Light On Snow by Anita Shreve from your library. It was liekly (sic) stolen during a car prowl. Please call me."

I called him immediately. Yes, they had Martha's audiobook! It was among the items recovered during a Car Prowl Ring bust. They were collecting information about car prowls that had happened all around the Puget Sound area over the last six months. Could I put him in touch with the person from whom the audiobook had been stolen? I assured him that I would give his phone number and email address to our patron and strongly encourage her to get in touch with him quickly. Then I called Martha.

Three more weeks went by. Knowing Martha's tendency to put things off, I followed up with her, asking if she'd been able to speak with the detective. Indeed she had. So, I asked, what are their plans concerning the book? Silence on the other end. She finally said that she thought they'd be sending it back to the library.

I called the detective. Yup, they still had the audiobook. They just needed someone from our library to call the Evidence Tech and give the ok to release it from the Evidence Room. He emailed that phone number to me, cc'ing the Evidence Tech, and asked that I let them know how we wanted them to return it. And then came the best part of all. The detective said that he could walk it down to the local library and they could send it back to us - he was already planning to go there after work to pick up his holds.

I made the call, the audiobook was released, and it's on its way home. Someone familiar with the story said it's too bad the talking book couldn't talk about its experiences during the last five months. Someone else suggested that it would be a good subplot for a mystery, the audiobook being the key to solving the murder.

And this week in Ask A Librarian? A query from a library in Hawaii, asking what they should do with a large-print book belonging to us. . .

Overheard in Twitter: A woman asked me if her elderly dad could sit with me while she shopped at @powells. Grandpa-sitting and loving it. https://twitter.com/#!/Carrie_Rachel/status/181157223987286016/photo/1

Twitter wouldn't let me copy the twitter-truncated photo address, so the long version is copy-and-pasted in. I hope it works because it's a lovely photo; you might have to do your own copy-and-paste. The tweeter is Carrie Brownstein, former member of Sleater-Kinney and one of the primary actors in Portlandia.

Until next time.

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