The road to Hell, they say, is paved with readerly ambitions. Ok, so maybe that’s not what they say, but tell me, all you bookish folks, who has better intentions than an ambitious reader?
I am such a reader, and I used to be such a courteous library patron. I was conscientious about the number of checkouts I allowed myself (three physical books at a time was my unofficial policy). Aware that other readers might be waiting on the books I had checked out, I tried my best to focus specially on my library books so that I could return them without having to renew the loan. Inside the branch itself, I tried not to linger in front of one shelf for too long, worried that I might be blocking someone else from a book they had their eye on.
Ah, how innocent I once was.
Now, I’m a monster. No, I don’t shout at the librarians or intentionally re-shelve books out of order or abuse the books I’ve checked out, but all the courtesies I once observed have melted away and been replaced by a kind of bookish Objectivism that has left me looking back at the poor sap I once was and wondering what made that self-righteous fool so convinced that decency was a virtue. Ha!
Some of you, I can tell, are like I was: dewy-eyed and idealistic. Those days are gone for me. I am now a terrible library patron, the kind that other readers are loath to encounter. How did I get here? It was easy.
Step 1: Set a Goal
I always liked comics, but until this summer, I’d never set about reading them with any real intent. So, spurred on by a bunch of Rioters doing their own deep comics dives, I decided to read as many landmark series as I could get my hands on. There are a lot of comics that fit this category. This is good. The bigger the goal, the more room there is go off the rails. Want to read twenty-five books about American Presidents? Every astronaut biography ever written? The complete Berenstain Bears? Go big or go home! (But don’t go home yet, because then the rest of the steps will be really hard to pull off.)
Step 2: Set Up Shop
Where are the books that will help you meet your goal located in your library? Familiarize yourself with these spots, for they will be the fronts upon which your war against respectable patronage will be fought. Make sure to stand or sit in front of these sections for as long a period as your body will allow while you carefully peruse every spine. Stay hydrated. Ignore the people peering over your shoulders or standing off to the side, not-so-subtly hoping you’ll finally step aside so they can get to that copy of an Ultimate Spider-Man trade they’ve been eyeing for half an hour.
Step 3: Take, Take, Take… and Then Take Some More!
Even though you may be sitting in front of one section for hours, you can’t just sit there. You have to select an inordinate number of books for check out. If your library offers grocery-store style baskets to assist you, bring three, and fill those suckers to the brim. Self-control is for losers. During this step (and to ultimately fulfill your quest towards awful library patronage), the normal criteria you hold for deciding which books to check out must be beaten into submission. Heard of the author? Check it out. Recognize the cover from that one list you saw on NPR? Check it out. Does it look at all interesting? Check it out. Is it touching a book that looks interesting? You know what to do. I currently have 38 items checked out from my library. You can do even better (worse). I just know it.
Step 4: Keep, Keep, Keep
Checking out a ton of books so that nobody else can get to them is only half of this cruel equation. Once you’ve got the books, you have to keep them for as long as possible. Read slowly, renew on the last possible day, and – this is vital – always hold out hope that you’ll get to the books that you know you won’t get to until they’re well overdue. This requires no small amount of doublethink. If you don’t know what doublethink is, go check out 1984, and grab a few dozen other books while you’re at it. If you do everything right (wrong), then soon enough, your fellow patrons will curse your existence while they peruse your library’s catalog online, your name will be spoken only in hushed whispers among the stacks, and some may even talk of banding together to destroy you! (Sorry, I’ve been reading a lot of comics, like I said.)
Step 5: Play by the Rules
This may seem counterintuitive, but being a bad library patron is an art. It’s a sophisticated game. There’s no challenge to checking out a bunch of books, forgetting that you’ve got them, and letting a year pass while you amass a small fortune in fines. We may be a scourge on libraries, but we aren’t uncivilized. No, seek not to flout the rules, only to push them to their limits. None of those 38 checkouts of mine will be overdue, even though I might keep them all for upwards of a month. People who pay no heed to the rules might be easily dismissed as forgetful or disorganized, but a truly terrible library patron makes it clear that they know the rules, and that they are in control of them every step of the way.
Go forth, my pupils! Throw self-restraint and basic human decency to the wind! Draw the ire of every respectable library-goer on the globe! Be terrible!