Library books

Went to the library the other day with the kids and ended up finding Mark Twain’s Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches and Essays. There’s 2 volumes of it so I just picked up the first one for now. Great stuff!

Speaking of libraries…around 1992 I had checked out a book called Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman. Before I got around to returning it, I looted a 7-Eleven and attempted to flee the state. Somehow this resulted in me never returning the book. When I moved back to the Alton area in 1997, I went to check out a book and they said, “It looks like you never returned Steal This Book” which sounded pretty damn funny. Somehow they let me continue using my library account for the next 8 years without paying for Abbie Hoffman’s book.

Thinking this was a great opportunity for a prank phone call, I called up that library yesterday to check on the status of my account. I was waiting for them to tell me that I’d never returned Steal This Book so I could make a bunch of obvious jokes at them. But nobody I talked to could find any reference to it on my account. I called up several other libraries in the district, since they all had access to my account, but none of them found anything about the stolen book. I guess they just don’t care about a book that I didn’t return 14 years ago.

What was great was that a few years ago I checked that library’s catalog for that book. Right next to the title of Steal This Book it showed the current status of the book. Which was, “Presumed lost/stolen.”

And speaking of library antics! Also back in 1991 or so, Chris Tomkinson and I discovered how incredibly easy it was to get a library card with minimal identification. At the time you didn’t even need picture ID. Just something with your name on it, such as a utility bill. And utility bills were easy to forge. So we starting getting library cards and stealing tons of books. Well, I make the fake utility bills and applied for the accounts. Chris was always too much of a wuss to do any of the dirty work himself. He was just there to reap the benefits.

The maximum you could check out in 1 visit was 8 books. But all the libraries in our district were connected which meant we could check out 8 books from each branch. We had about 7 or 8 branches within driving distance, so that was at least 56 books per fake utility bill we printed up. We spent many evenings driving to every library we could, piling up books in the back of Chris’ car.

The method I used to fake a utility bill was quite primative at the time – I took a real utility bill, applied a light coat of whiteout over the important bits of information, then used my brother’s typewriter to type in new information. Neither of our dot matrix printers would have done that good of a job. The only time this method failed was in the Edwardsville library, when the librarian noticed something odd about the print on the bill. She held it up to the light and could clearly make out the real name and phone number information underneath. I can’t remember how I responded to that, but I know we didn’t get a card that time.

Right around 2001, 10 years later, I decided to return most of my stolen books. Many of them I’d never even bothered to read and they just took up space on my bookshelves which could be going to books that were actually useful to me. So I drove to the East Alton library late one night and dropped a few dozen books into the book deposit. Most of them still had their identifying numbers on them and the stamped card inside, showing the date in 1991 that they were due. I bet the librarians were surprised. If they only knew that many of those books accompanied me as I criss-crossed the country several times in the early to mid 90’s.

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