When I joined the Boston Public Library as an official Massachusetts resident, the first thing I did was investigate their request system. Findings: modern magic. You can ask for any book in their libraries-wide catalog and track your request online—watching your position tick down (sometimes from several hundred), holding your breath when an item is “In Transit,” doing a little happy dance when it reaches its final destination. Once processed, the books lie in wait on the Hold shelves, outfitted with little slips of paper that mark who the next lucky reader is.
I was looking for the last of mine (ROS 5152) after collecting three others. The errant one was Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth, a young adult sequel I had pounced on as soon as it went online. I perused and puzzled and peered. Not on the shelf, not on the overflow carts. I asked at circulation but had no luck when they looked either. It was decidedly missing. I was completely baffled until it hit me: Someone took it. On purpose.
The library was suddenly a lawless place, anarchic, chaotic. In my temple of order, I felt violated. (And I really enjoyed Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief! Insult to injury.) This system, so easy and convenient, so full of potential, was irreparably flawed. A person could just take whatever they wanted from the shelves. Nothing was stopping them.
Wait. I could just take whatever I wanted. It was a free-for-all! I spied Mockingjay, casually resting in front of me. I had 23 more spots to go on the queue, but it was right here. The Maze Runner sat a few rows down. I could snag that too.
Temptation. I wanted to grab them and read them and finish them and not wait. My fingers itched, but I couldn’t make them move. They knew better.
These books were not meant for me. Any experience I’d have with these stolen goods would be tainted. I knew each flimsy slip of paper marked someone waiting for that book, waiting just as I had, in turn, patiently or impatiently watching the numbers count down. I couldn’t perpetuate my disappointment. So I left their books waiting for them and resolved to wait a second queue for mine. I had been tested, but I had triumphed. I felt sort of like a heroine, even if I was a stewing, bookless heroine.
As soon as I got home, I checked my account to make sure my re-request had gone through. Before I could look though, I saw a notification for a hold. A book arrived for me in the span of my half hour commute home. Which? Click. Mockingjay laughed at me from the screen. OH, FOR PANEM’S SAKE!
Thusly punished and rewarded, I let it go. It’s almost better this way. At least now I know. The thief who stole my book will definitely get what’s coming to him. Library karma. It’s a thing.