The Three Kinds of Library Patrons


The Perfect Patron. You make lists of books you want to read. You reserve them online. You patiently wait your turn for the new bestsellers and head promptly to the library when your time has come. You check out with a clean conscience using your own card, upon which no fines or warnings have been placed. You read said books within the allotted three-week period and return them before or by the due date. All the librarians like you. I myself don’t like you, but hey, that’s no reflection on you.

The Slightly Imperfect Patron. You occasionally go to the library and check out the books you wish to read. You also occasionally go to the library on behalf of your children in order to check out the books that said children need for the endless, mind-numbing five-paragraph essays that their schools require of them. This (the checking-out-for-your-children) along with the occasional overdue book is what makes you a slightly imperfect patron, because you should always return your books on time and you should also always teach your children that checking out the books for their five-paragraph essays is their responsibility. Librarians still like you, however, and so do I.

The Bad Patron. Even though there are many books that you wish to check out from the library and read, you avoid the library assiduously. And why is that? Because you cannot seem to return any book in a timely manner, meaning within a year or two after the date on which it is due.

This is a lifelong perversion, and despite the guilt and self-recrimination it has caused you lo these many years, you still can’t get it right. When you have to go to the library because no Half-Price Books in the entire metropolitan area has in stock the book you need – or, more accurately, the book your child needs for one of his or her endless, mind-numbing five-paragraph essays – you skulk to one of the many neighborhood libraries that dot your fair city.

With book in hand and eyes cast to the floor, you skulk to the check-out counter and hand over the book. You then try to determine which of the four library cards you carry within your wallet – one for you, one for each child – might be “clean,” as in, has the lowest overdue fine attached to it, and, trying for nonchalance, hand it over.

You are low! You are disgusting! You are the kind of patron who has carried a copy of Cherry Ames: Student Nurse with you for the past thirty years, fully intending to return it to the hometown library of your youth, aren’t you? Vile. Go home right now and hold your hand in a large bowl of ice cubes.


  1. Joe Sherry · January 27, 2009

    I think I’m mostly #1, though I check out so many books at a time that I frequently have to renew them (also online). Because I’m obsessive like that.


  2. alison · January 27, 2009

    I admire you, Joe. (And I leave it to you to guess which sort of patron I am.)


  3. Michelle L · January 30, 2009

    Oh no! I am #3! Except the book missing from my childhood library is A Little Princess. Is it okay if the ice is in a Moscow Mule and I drink it first?


  4. alison · January 30, 2009

    You may put the ice in a Moscow Mule and drink it first ONLY if you also make me a Moscow Mule at the same time, as I have never had a Moscow Mule and wish to try one, as it sounds, if not tasty, at least intriguing.


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