The Library Fine Police

Yesterday I paid a visit to Belfast City Library. There were a number of reasons for this lunchtime jaunt. Firstly I had just emerged from the three hour ‘meeting from hell’ so needed to get out of the office to shower my head. I also needed to get a book as part of my research for the novel I am currently writing. Have I mentioned I’m writing a novel? And finally I wanted to pay a visit to the library cafe which features in a scene of said novel.

My head had been spinning from the meeting but went into overdrive when I realised that the cafe no longer existed but had been replaced by a couple of soulless vending machines and a sorry collection of plastic tables and chairs. Where was the little old lady behind the counter and her collection of delicious, homemade sandwiches? Where were all the scholarly types brushing crumbs from their copies of the Irish Times? And most importantly where were all the caramel squares and German biscuits??

I turned on my heels in total (but very silent) outrage and sulked up the stairway to the next floor where the History section was housed. I was amazed to find the research book I required within minutes and even more amazed to discover that there were no outstanding fines on my library card which I hadn’t used in about 479 years. I had built myself up into a complete tizzy that I had a £1 fine from 2012 that had accumulated unbeknownst to me into a six figure payment. Cue visions of alarms screeching, metal shutters clattering down and men in dark suits and sunglasses dragging me off into the bowels of the building. ‘We have the target contained and neutralised. Go Go Go’.

Thankfully this was not to be. The librarian scanned the book, handed it back to me and asked that I return it within three books. Which I will. On pain of death. Must not forget about book….must not forget about book….must not forget about the book. As I gratefully scuttled back down the stairs I was struck by how much the floor had stank of stale cigarette smoke which did nothing to make me want to linger. Yet when I stepped outside onto the street again I saw no smoking area or huddle of patrons sucking on their Marlboro lights and sharing critiques on Hemingway and Steinbeck.

Where were all the smokers? Had I imagined the smell? I sometimes wake up with phantom smells in my nostrils. Cigarettes and alcohol mostly. Even though I have never smoked and gave up drinking almost five years ago. Had my library visit been a journey into a parallel universe? Was there a secret library cafe where smokers rubbed shoulders and consumed ‘Rocky Roads’ and ‘Fifteens’ at an alarming rate? Was this next to the cells where the men in black housed those who had failed to pay their overdue book fines? Dragged off to a dank dungeon never to be seen again.

My library visit had mixed results then. I’m going to have to use my imagination and recollection to write the library cafe scene. And I returned to work mildly nauseated with the odour of stale tobacco. Eurrghhh. I can actually smell it now as I write this. But I did get the book I wanted and avoided the evil clutches of the Library Fine Police. And I did come up with several ideas if I ever feel the literary urge to further explore the dark underbelly and hidden recesses of Belfast City Library further. I might save that for the second novel. That’s if I ever get around to finishing the first one.

When did you last visit your local library?

What’s the largest fine you’ve ever paid?

Do you ever experience phantom smells or tastes?

19 thoughts on “The Library Fine Police

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  1. I am very lucky here, all my fellow visitors to the local libraries are real readers and we even chat about which book is good and the ones not to worry about. I have on more than one occasion gone for a visit to collect a ‘nice’ book in a series and come home with a couple others on the recommendation of other readers. And our libraries smell much loved and treasured paper.

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  2. I prefer to use the school library to study and get my novels home so i can cozy up and teleport to another world …. but on a side note, I’m more curious as to know about the book your working on 🤔🤓

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  3. I’ve often thought the librarians would accost me upon entering about my fines, but they never do. Actually, they encourage me to wait until the end of the year and bring canned food to offset my fine. Each can is worth $1 and it goes to those in need. I help people who don’t have enough AND I wipe out my fine? Win win!

    I’ve also made myself develop the habit of putting the due date in my calendar so that it alerts me the day before and the day of so that I don’t forget to return my books. It helps 🙂

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  4. We visit our local library weekly, even if it’s just to read books we already have. I’ve never had to pay a library fine, but my library accepts canned goods in lieu of monetary fines. Just last night I smelled cigarette smoke when I sat on the couch.

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  5. I am visiting the library today as it happens. I go regularly, in the past few months i have become an avid reader again. Currently enjoying Clive Cussler books. I find that reading helps quieten “the voice” too some degree. I accumulated a huge fine a few months back of £1.20!!!!! I paying it off weekly 😉

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this. I work at a library so anything that has the word ‘library’ in it compels me to read….I am glad I did. Awesome writing – please let me know when your novel is published. I want more!!!!

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  7. Phantom smells! Yes I have them. I thought I was crazy until I googled it. Then I thought I might have a brain tumor. Then I realized that no matter what symptom you google it could end up being a brain tumor. Anyway, the smell is that of smoke, or a dirty ashtray. I quit smoking over 30 years ago and have no desire to smoke, so don’t know where this comes from. I’m just glad I’m not the only one! Thanks for your posts, I enjoy reading them.

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  8. My online library account told me how much I’d paid in fines over the duration of my membership. I was appalled! I’ve wiped the exact amount out of my memory as it’s too traumatic.

    But what about the missing cafe? This is a crisis of monumental proportions!

    Liked by 1 person

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