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Tales of a Library Unicorn: In Which the Children Misunderstand Libraries

Aldalyn Eleanor Ross

Staff Writer

Aldalyn grew up with a bunch of weird siblings who expressed themselves by literally joining the circus. Since Aldalyn feared heights and most forms of physical exertion, they became a writer instead. They read, scribble, and enable young word lovers in Newark, NJ, where they are affectionately known as Mx. Aly, Library Unicorn. Find them on social media @mx_alycorn

One of the best parts of being a children’s librarian is explaining how libraries work. Yes, you can get your very own library card! Yes, your library card is free! Yes, in fact, you may check out every Dog Man book we have (although I will weep internally, knowing how disappointed the next kid who asks for Dog Man will be)!

These are new, enthralling discoveries for kids, and getting to be the unicorn who unveils them is a treat. Occasionally, though, the children don’t fully grasp those concepts on first exposure, which can be especially complicating for children who really, really, really want to do the right thing. Such was the case with my buddy Polo, an earnest, eager reader who…well, here’s what happened.

Details have been edited to protect coherency, and names have been changed to protect the absurd.

No, Really, Libraries Are Free

Polo: “Hi, Mx. Aly!”

Me: “Hi, Polo! Can I check in those books for you?”

Polo: “No, I know where they go. I can put them back.”

Me: “I’m sure you do know where they go! But I still need to check them in on the computer.”

Polo, confused and hesitant: “Oh. Okay.”

I checked the books in with a sinking feeling. Sure enough, Polo had only half understood how libraries work, and had not actually checked any of these books out. He saw people taking books from the library home with them, so that’s what he did.

I called Polo back over.

Me: “Polo, thanks for bringing these back! But just so you know, you need to check books out with me or another librarian before you take them home. You need a library card for that. Do you have one?”

Polo: “Oh. No, but I don’t need one. I can just read the books here.”

Me: “But you just took these books home! Don’t you think you might want to check other books out?”

Polo, looking worried: “How much does it cost?”

Me: “It’s free! That’s the whole point of libraries!”

Polo: “But how many books can I check out with it?”

Me: “As many as you can read in two weeks!”

After several more minutes of conversation, Polo remained unconvinced. Finally, I sent him home with a library card registration form, “just in case you change your mind.”

A Week Later

Polo: “Mx. Aly, I filled out the form.”

Me: “Great! Let’s get you a library card!”

Polo: “What happens if I lose it?”

Me: “Then we’ll get you a new one. No biggie.”

Polo: “What happens if I lose the book?”

Me: “Then you might need to pay a fine. But don’t worry, you’re very responsible. I don’t think you’ll lose the book. Or your card.”

Again, Polo persisted in expressing concerns that he might not be up to the responsibility of having a library card. We got through it, though! He went home with his very first library card, his very first properly checked-out book, and cautious confidence in his ability to keep both safe. I was filled with pride and triumph…until…

Two Days Later

Polo, distressed: “My brother thought the book was mine and he wrote something inappropriate in it!”

Me: “It’s okay, Polo. Thank you so much for letting us know, that was really responsible. We’ll just white out what he wrote.”

Polo, not observably comforted: “He wrote something inappropriate! He didn’t know it was from the library!”

Me: “It’s really okay. We’re not upset with you.”

Polo, somewhat hopefully: “Are you upset with my brother?”

Me: “Nope. We’re not upset at all. Why don’t you pick out what you want to read next while we take care of it?”

Polo still looked agitated, but proceeded to his favorite corner of the Children’s Room to pick out a new I Survived book. This gave me the opportunity to look more closely at the coarse, obscene, unspeakably inappropriate message Polo’s brother had written on the back inside cover of the book.

It had been scrawled in pen, though attempts to erase it had clearly been made. It was simple, a single four-letter word.

And that one word was: “UYAY.”


The next time Polo’s brother, Marco, appeared in the library, I confronted him about his mysterious choice in “inappropriate” language.

Me: “Marco, your brother was really upset by what you wrote in his library book last week. Are you two good now?”

Marco: “Oh, yeah. I’m really sorry about that. We’re good now.”

Me, treading a careful line between “This Is A Learning Moment” and “I just really want to know how in Seshat’s name you came up with ‘UYAY’”: “I was surprised by the word you wrote in Polo’s book. What did that word mean to you?”

Marco: “Oh, nothing. I was just kidding around. I won’t do that to a library book again.”

I hit Marco with the librarian eyebrows.

Marco: “I mean, I won’t do it again at all.”

Me: “Good call.”