The beauty of borrowing

This past Tuesday was National Library Workers’ Day, which I completely missed because I didn’t even know it was happening. It’s the first time I’ve actually been something when there was a holiday to celebrate it. Now I know.

Melk Abbey Library, By Emgonzalez (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is not where I work. But holy crap, that’s really beautiful.
I love my job. I love helping people get access to the information they need. I’m ill-equipped; I’m a part-time student worker, so I don’t have a degree in library science, and my research methods are choose-your-own-adventure more than anything else. “I don’t know; let’s find out,” is something I say an awful lot.

Here’s the only thing about my job which bothers me. It’s very simple. I never hear the words “borrow” and “lend” enough.

I work in the Media Services department of my university library. Our area involves mostly DVDs, some videotapes and CDs, a few cameras, iPads and Kindles. They are things which have a  wider reputation of being available to rent, through stores, than to borrow, through libraries. So, the most frequent question I hear is,

“Hey, is this where I go to rent a DVD?”

This question is followed closely by, “Can I rent a camera/iPad/Kindle?”

I used to just say, “sure,” but the inner semantic police officer living in the spot between my neck and spine would shriek, “NOOO! You can BORROW it! We don’t RENT!”

I made it through four months at this job, hearing those questions several times a day, and stifling the urge to correct it. The odd thing was at the end of a lot of transactions, the borrower would say, “This is free?” And I would say, “Yes,” strangling an urge to go off on a rant about tuition dollars, state funding for education, and how there is no such thing as “free.” But these are kids born after 1993, after the Borders/Barnes & Noble/Blockbuster/Best Buy boom, when the thing to do on the weekends was to go to your local big-box store and buy things. They probably think libraries are for nerds, old ladies, and nobody else.

Finally, in the depths of Winter Break, I thought, I know what’s wrong. This isn’t a question of grammar being prescriptive or descriptive. This is a question of meaning, and a question of intention.

“Rent” has implications of money exchanged for a product. It’s like buying, but temporarily. When you rent something, you pay a certain amount of money to use something for a given period of time. If you need it for more time, you pay more money. If you never return it, or if you lose or ruin it, you pay for it. Essentially, the idea is that you pay to have the right to own something temporarily, and if something goes wrong, you just pay it off, or lose a deposit.

“Borrow” implies trust. The lender receives nothing in exchange for letting the borrower use the item. It comes down to a sense of one’s personal honor and pride. If I lend you my book, that means that I feel that you have earned the right to be trusted with that book, you will take good care of it while you have it, and you will return it at an agreed time in the same condition which I gave it to you. Or, you will show me that the object is okay, and we’ll agree on another time for you to return it.

I think “borrowing” in many ways makes people uncomfortable. While we have the object, we know that we have responsibility along with it. We have to make sure we know where the book is, we have to make sure it doesn’t get bent up or ripped, we can’t dog-ear the pages or write notes in the margins. In the case of a DVD, one probably has to be even more careful; you have to make sure it doesn’t get scratched or broken, you have to make sure the case is shut and locked before you throw it in your backpack, you have to put it someplace where it won’t get used as a drink coaster or get stepped on.

Much easier, then to rent something: if I behave irresponsibly, I’ll just buy my way out of trouble. People are used to having to pay library fines, so they probably link this in their mind with rental fees, in some way. But they aren’t the same thing.  Use the product, enjoy it, and return it on time, and none of your hard-earned dollars need leave your hands. It’s a beautiful thing. Then someone else gets to use it for its intended purpose, instead of it cluttering up your home.

Some people feel that it’s a good idea for kids, when they’re young, to establish good credit by getting a credit card, using it for a very few purchases, paying the balance in full every month, and building good credit habits (as well as a solid credit rating). Libraries are much the same thing, except without those interest rates and profit schemes.  With a library, you prove that you are who you say you are, and we will give you a card. That card allows you to borrow information, use it, and give it back. We’re trusting you to take care of it. You can get in the habit of doing things like making sure that DVD case really is locked before you toss it in your backpack,  that you put your library materials somewhere that you can find them when you’re finished with them, and that your daily route involves stopping by to drop it off.

And then you’re part of a circle of knowledge and shared responsibility.

So, now when people come up to the desk and ask if they can rent a movie, “I say, “No, but you can borrow a movie.” This little flash of joy pops into their eyes, as they realize they’re being trusted to be a responsible person, and not a schmuck.

At least that’s what I tell myself. It’s so lonely in the basement of the library sometimes.

Media Services Bear is here for all of us.
Media Services Bear is here for all of us.

 

A tale of two Georges

GeorgeHarrison-LivingInTheMaterialWorld-poster  Last night we watched Living In The Material World, the George Harrison documentary that Martin Scorsese made a few years ago. It’s very good.  It’s about half George’s solo career and life after 1970, and the other half is his childhood and the Beatles years, without going into too much detail. Overall, the film makes the point that George Harrison was very good at balancing his spiritual and earthly selves: he could perform, have relationships, produce movies, play jokes, and make money, but he also was the guy who could just float away on a cloud of spiritual sound.

The documentary has no narration, so the individual clips and interviews speak for themselves. Which is nice. You don’t feel like you’re being spoon-fed or distanced. So, for example, it opens with film of the World War II bombings in England, coupled with the song “All Things Must Pass.” The documentary also includes letters George wrote to his family, while the Beatles were in their first years of touring, read by Dhani Harrison, which is heartwarming and also kind of eerie.

Dhani Harrison is totes adorbs, by the way.

So, for three hours, I put away my phone, knitted, and watched this documentary about someone who spent their life trying to make the world a better place for everyone he met.  It seems as though he did. George Harrison was no pushover, there is a part that shows him telling a reporter to step off shortly after the announcement of his cancer diagnosis. But in general, people talk about his literal and spiritual generosity, his peacefulness, how he could walk into a room and make everyone there calm and happy.  It’s infectious, and leaves you wanting to sign up for a meditation course.

Trayvon-BTMP-SHEP-COMP  Then I picked up my phone, checked Facebook and Twitter, and found out about the Zimmerman verdict.

When I was young, and learning to drive, my mom and grandmother, on the other hand, gave me the talk about Driving While Female and Dealing With Police.  They said, “if you are driving alone at night, and a cop tries to pull you over, drop your speed, get over towards the side, and drive your car to the nearest well-lit and populated area, where people can clearly see you.”  and then, don’t sass off, make eye contact, make sure they can see your hands.

One night, I was at home on a Saturday night because my boyfriend was working at the local movie theater. This was back in the days when movies were on magnetic tape in small plastic boxes and you had to go to a store and borrow them in exchange for money. I had a hankering to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, so I went down to the local video store, rented the movie, stopped at the convenience store next door, got some tasty snacks, and thought, I bet my boyfriend would like a tasty snack (not a euphemism). so I took the long way home, stopped by the box office, said hi, gave him a snack, got back in the car and headed home. I knew my parents would be pissed at me for being gone for more than the fifteen minutes it really takes to rent a movie, so I was a little anxious.

It was probably about 8:30pm, after dark, and I turned onto a long downhill stretch that’s clearly marked at a speed limit that is less than your car would take if you were coasting. It’s the kind of road that suburban teenagers and idiots love to burn through, so you almost have to fight your car’s weight a bit to stay under the speed limit. I always liked this strip of road, and I always liked the challenge of trying to coast and stay as close to the speed limit as possible. So I coasted the mile or so to the next stop light. Was I speeding? I don’t know. Was I pressing the pedal to the metal? No.

At the next stop light, I noticed that the car behind me had its high-beams on, as if the driver were trying to intimidate me, or see what radio station I had on, who knows. It was bright enough to make me think, Jeez, somebody’s a bit too interested in me.

Having been followed late at night by guys trying to intimidate women before, I thought, that doesn’t look good. Delaware County has a lot of bored people, and a lot of cars. It wasn’t uncommon for bored male drivers to try to intimidate female drivers around there, and I had been followed by unsavory creepy drivers before (once I had to drive back to the movie theater after a late-night shift because a drunk guy followed me, and as he told my friends after they got between his car and mine, “I was just tryin’ to get some pussy”).  I told myself that this was all in my head, and to get home so my mom wouldn’t be mad.

So, I turned onto a winding, forested back road to get home, and the car followed. I thought, okay, please leave me alone, pal. The high-beams filled my rear window, and I got scared. I sped up. Next thing I know, the rearview mirror was full of spinning red and blue lights.

Within sixty seconds, a young State Police officer was shining a flashlight in my face and asking why I was driving so fast on a back road. In a panic, I spit out that I had been followed by Bad People before, that I thought this was happening again, that I was scared and trying to get away from him.

A few seconds of silence passed.

The officer apologized, gave me back my documents, and said I was free to go.

When I got home, I told my mom what had happened. She told me that in my dad’s years in criminal litigation, he’d heard many stories from police officers in suburban areas who used to intimidate young women with threats of speeding tickets and having their license taken away in exchange for blow jobs.

Is this the same as The Talk and Driving While Black? No.
Have I encountered police officers whose ego was bigger than their intelligence? Yep.

Similarly:

-An ex of mine had a story about how, at about age 17, he was walking from a girlfriend’s house to his car, parked several blocks away, after dark, and was picked up by the police because someone had seen trespassers in the area. He was handcuffed to a radiator and hollered at by cops until they got bored and let him go.

-Once upon a time in New Jersey, I carefully made a legal left turn onto a road and was pulled over by a bored State Police cop who didn’t like my rainbow bumper sticker, and offered to take apart my car to search for marijuana. I was dumb enough to say, “Go right ahead, knock yourself out, you won’t find anything.” He decided not to search my car. I guess he didn’t want to do the paperwork. My car was impounded, and when he asked if I understood why he was taking my car and issuing a ticket, I said, “No, I don’t. Why did you pull me over?” he said, “I always pull over cars that have…” then he gestured at the back bumper of my car, waving left-to right, following the pattern of the rainbow sticker, and said, “License plates like that.”

The Zimmerman case isn’t about police intimidation. He wasn’t a police officer. He’s a small man with an ego bigger than his intelligence. It’s “hey you kids get off my lawn” taken to the worst possible conclusion. I’m angry that the prosecution didn’t make a stronger case, and wondering exactly what kind of rocks the jurors live under.

I’m wondering why we’re a nation of intolerance and ignorance. We all have the capacity for compassion and empathy, we all have the opportunity to sit down and quiet our minds or de-escalate a drama.  I don’t understand the attachment to violence George Zimmerman must have to not just leave Trayvon Martin alone.

It’s a dangerous precedent.

On that note, here’s a classic piece of American literature which I think should be recommended reading in all schools.  Be kind today.