The Great Library Heist of 2021

13 Dec The Great Library Heist of 2021

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 13.12.21


Last week, I stole a book from our local library. Inadvertently, and I’ve fixed it now, but still.

This heinous crime occurred on the very first day Auckland libraries reopened after being locked down in August, so it seems a poor way for me to say welcome back, I missed you. Though of course it was the sudden novelty of the whole pick-up, check-out process wot done me in, m’Lord.

In a fit of optimism weeks ago, I’d ordered a book from our neighbourhood libary. Impressively, in that tiny window between being allowed back in their building and then reopening to the public, our librarians had done a sterling job of racing round the aisles and placing requested books on supersized collection shelves.

So there I am, my first trip out in 91 days to somewhere that’s not a supermarket, mask on, scanned in, up to my elbows in hand sanitiser and dusting off my library card. I wanted to interact with other humans, and also didn’t want to interact with other humans; to settle in for the day, but also get in and get out with the least amount of friction.

I zapped the barcode on my card, zapped my book and waited for the slip to print that would tell me when I needed to get it back. When nothing was forthcoming, I assumed we didn’t do that anymore? An environmentally friendly saving of paper and ink? I’d check online later.

It is possible there was a faint “beep” as my book and I passed through security but, when I looked behind me, there was no one in pursuit.

I read my lovely book for a week before thinking to check the website. It said I had one day left to pick it up or lose my place in the queue of people who wanted it. They had no idea I already had it. Technically, I’d nicked it. I was a Library Thief.

Given the reverence in our family for books and public libraries, this was like stealing from the church collection plate. I was both hot and bothered. But I hadn’t been caught yet. So it was back to the scene of the crime the next day with the book secreted about my person. Pretty sure I heard a faint beep as I passed through security but that may have been nerves.

Once safely at the self-service checkout, I hummed with faux cheer, tucking the “due back by” slip (they’re still a thing) inside the cover, and ostentatiously waved the book about as I left, privately noting a definite lack of security beep.

Many of us, I think, have been hot and bothered at a library – usually over unpaid fines and lost books. It can be hard to keep track of what your kid has checked out and where they’ve put them (let’s blame the kids for minute) and a whacking great fine can put you off visiting for weeks.

Which is why I am delighted to hear many libraries around the country are doing away with late fees entirely. They mean little to those who can afford them, but they’re enough to put off the most disadvantaged. Many libraries are finding that, with fines forgiven and abandoned, people who had stopped borrowing are coming back, and books they never expected to see again are turning up.

They still want you to actually check them out, though. So I’m relieved I got away with my book heist – or “fixed it”, depending on the generosity of your view.