GUY RAZ, host:
More than 20,000 librarians from around the country are gathered this weekend here in Washington for the annual American Library Association Conference, and the main focus is funding. As usage increases, library funding is being cut in many cities.
The librarians are meeting just across the street from here at NPR, and that makes our senior producer, Matt Martinez, just a little uncomfortable.
MATT MARTINEZ: On August 23, 2005, I signed up for a library card at the main branch of the D.C. Public Library. I browsed the stacks for an hour or two and decided on a book, "The Stardust Road" by Hoagy Carmichael, his autobiography. I never took it back.
Ms. CAMILLA ALIRE (President, American Library Association): I knew that's where you were going.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTINEZ: That's Camilla Alire, the president of the American Library Association. Since she's just across the street, I figured she might be able to help me out with this. I mean, she's the president of librarians, the pope of librarians. Is there any kind of absolution that librarians...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ALIRE: Well, let me tell you. First of all, what they really want is they want the book back.
MARTINEZ: But that's way easier said than done. The compounded guilt of not returning this book is indescribable. When I pass it on my bookshelf, I cringe with embarrassment, embarrassment for myself.
And of course, there are the library fees. D.C. Public Library Policy states for every day an adult book or CD is late, you will be charged 20 cents. That puts my bill at about $354.
But lucky for me, Camilla Alire, she sees a way out.
Ms. ALIRE: Given your charm and your personality....
MARTINEZ: Oh, thank you.
Ms. ALIRE: And let me give you an inside name, Ginnie Cooper.
Ms. ALIRE: She's the director of the library.
Ms. ALIRE: Tell her that you and I talked.
MARTINEZ: I will.
Ms. ALIRE: And I'm sure that she will be - she can help you with this.
MARTINEZ: Now, the great thing about confessing now is that all of the librarians are in the same place. So tracking down Ginnie Cooper wasn't that hard.
Ms. GINNIE COOPER (Director, D.C. Public Library): What did you do to this book? It's a mess.
MARTINEZ: No, it was like that when I first...
Ms. COOPER: Yeah, that's what they always say. Sure. I'm looking at a book here that is water-damaged and that looks like it ought to be tossed just because it might get mold on all the rest of the books.
MARTINEZ: Personally, I don't think it looked that bad.
Ms. COOPER: In this case, I'm not sure anybody else is ever going to check out this very old, very damaged book. But I'm happy to take it back from you.
MARTINEZ: You can take it from me?
Ms. COOPER: Absolutely. (Unintelligible).
MARTINEZ: I don't have to take it back to the library? Wait, no, I feel a little bit of guilt. I can't just give it...
Ms. COOPER: Feel free to feel guilt and explicate that in any way you want.
MARTINEZ: No library fees or anything?
Ms. COOPER: No library fees or anything, but please don't spread it around. We're just glad to get the book back. Thank you so much.
MARTINEZ: So there it is, "The Stardust Road" by Hoagy Carmichael is back with the library, five years late. Even if they never return it to general circulation, I'm glad it's back nonetheless.
RAZ: That's Matt Martinez, the senior producer of this program. And by the way, in exchange for their clemency, Matt's agreed to volunteer for the District of Columbia Public Library System.
(Soundbite of music)
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