The BookNerd’s Guide to Life: Library Chicken

Are you a library power-user? Did you have to invest in a wheelie suitcase for library day because that bitty little “Friends Of” library tote bag wasn’t going to hack it? Can you find your way to your favorite sections blindfolded? Do you know the weekly work schedules of your favorite librarians by heart? 

Well then, maybe YOU ARE READY to UP YOUR LIBRARY GAME and PLAY LIBRARY CHICKEN! Be the person who takes up an entire shelf in the hold section! Impress friends at parties by reeling off your library card number from memory! WIN VALUABLE PRIZES! (NOTE: No prizes will be awarded.) 

Here are the steps: 

1.    Start with a nice fresh library card. You have no checkouts. You have no holds. You have no fines due. You and your local library coexist in peaceful harmony, content to follow your separate and individual paths. You have no plans to visit the library in the immediate future—instead, today is the day that you will start on the shockingly large number of books purchased but unread that seem to have accumulated on your bookshelves. And you’re definitely going to recharge the Kindle and take a look at those Project Gutenberg downloads, because this time you really are going to make it all the way through the complete works of Anthony Trollope. Everything is possible and all is well.

2.    And then—something happens. Perhaps you broke your favorite coffee mug. Perhaps the cat decided to register a complaint about the new brand of cat food by hacking up a hairball on the quilt Grandma made for you when you went to college. Perhaps you accidentally caught part of a newscast out of the corner of your eye and you are feeling blue about the imminent decline of the American republic. Whatever it is, you need a pick-me-up—and the library is just down the road! Full of lovely FREE books just waiting for YOU! The books on your shelves—you know them, you’ve lived with them for a while now, and frankly, the excitement has gone out of that relationship. But the library has shelves and shelves of books you may have never even seen before! Or maybe there are books you’ve been eyeing, flirting with from a distance, and now you’re ready to commit. Anyway, it’ll do you good to get out of the house. You’ll just pick up a book or two, see if there’s anything good on the new release shelf. No big deal.

3.    You stagger out the library door, trying not to drop your massive stack of books in the parking lot (because of course you left the big bag at home), having maxed out your card. And maybe your husband’s card too, since you happen to have it on you from that one time he wanted you to pick up that one thing. But probably not, because that would be AGAINST THE RULES.

4.    At home, you cheerfully unload your books and arrange the stacks. What order will you read them in? Alternating fiction and non-fiction? Maybe all the books with blue covers first, just for fun? Alphabetical order by author, like that friend of yours from book club who is so much more neurotic than you are (not that we judge)? It doesn’t matter what you choose, because you have all the time in the world—you can renew each book twice, after all. Yes, the plan has changed slightly, but you’ll get back to Trollope soon enough. Everything is possible and all is well.

5.    Except that now the cat seems to be unhappy with the litter box, as well. And did you know that political news is on 24 HOURS A DAY? You’d like to do some research at the library to find out if that little twitch you’ve developed in your left eyelid is serious, but by the time you’ve scoured the house to find your daughter’s library card (which you would never actually use without her, because that would be AGAINST THE RULES), the library has CLOSED. But this is no big deal, because we live in the 21st century! You login to the library’s online system and put The Left Eyelid Solution on hold. And maybe another book or two. Or 14. Look at all those lovely books that the lovely library truck is going to pick up from other branches and bring to your very door (or at least your local branch). There’s so much to look forward to in life. Your eyelid feels better already.

6.    HURRAY! Three of your holds are in! Wow, the library is really on top of things. Of course, you can’t check them out right away, because your card is maxed out, so you’ll need to read three books and return them before you can get your holds. And they’ll only keep the holds for one week at the library before canceling the hold. No big deal— you’ve already read one of your check-outs already!

7.    Wow, four more holds have come in! The library system is so efficient! Okay, no problem, you can go ahead and take back the two you’ve already read, and maybe read that graphic novel next, since you can zip through that in day or two. When you’re getting two of the holds at the library (picking the ones that expire earliest), you notice that five more have come in just today. That’s great.

8.    Okay. Okay. You’ve read five more. (Along with graphic novels, YA novels and memoirs are usually quick reads.) Time to go to the library again. Pick up some more holds—the library is busy, so they haven’t gotten around to checking all your returns back in again, so you’ll have to come back tomorrow. Better not forget or your holds will expire! Plus, the Kate Atkinson that everyone is so excited about is due.

9.    Days have passed, perhaps weeks. Your life has narrowed into a tunnel leading to the library and back home again. You keep your online account open all day long so you can check it obsessively. “Mom, would you like to check my math?” You can’t, because you have math problems of your own. The Sarah Vowell hold only has two days left so you’ve got read something and fast. Do you start on the Hilary Mantel that has already been renewed twice and will be due back in 6 days? But you’re really excited about the latest N.K. Jemisin and sure, you just checked it out, but if it’s popular and other people have holds you won’t be able to renew it. You should probably check on that. And you just couldn’t resist the 2-week-only Margaret Atwood you saw on the new release shelf the other day, could you? Could you? What will you do? Do you allow the Vowell to expire and be released back to its home library, forcing you to put it on hold again sometime? Do you hang on to the Mantel, even if it means racking up those exorbitant $0.10/day fines? Will you gamble with the Jemisin, leaving it on your to-read stack in the assumption that sure, I can just renew it whenever, praying that when you click the button you won’t get the dreaded “RENEWAL DECLINED - ITEM HAS HOLDS” message? Or will you just give up, admit you’re a failure and a disappointment to everyone who knows you, and pile all the library books—partially read or never even opened—in the car, dropping them in the return slot on the side because you’re ashamed to go inside and meet the librarians’ eyes?


10. Congratulations! You are now playing Library Chicken!! You also have no social life and haven’t eaten a meal with your family in weeks, but that’s the price you pay to become a top-level library athlete of this caliber! Come visit me and we can read side-by-side, hollow-eyed, and DO NOT SPEAK TO ME BECAUSE I HAVE TO READ THIS MAGGIE STIEFVATER BY 5 P.M. TODAY. 

Happy reading, everyone! (With great love and appreciation for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, particularly the Roswell and East Roswell branches. I always obey all library rules, I promise.)