Solving Mysteries in the Library

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Originally posted on April 24, 2012 

Article & photo credit: Susan Van Kirk, And Sometimes She Writes

Librarians definitely solve mysteries!

I spent April 21, Sisters in Crime’s "Solving Mysteries Day," working as a volunteer at the Warren County Public Library in Monmouth, Illinois. Monmouth is a town of 10,000 in west central Illinois about 20 miles from the Mississippi River.

Kathy is the saintly woman designated to keep an eye on me. What a patient person! In this photo, we are standing in front of books by authors who are members of Sisters in Crime.

On Saturday, we solved a lot of mysteries, such as figuring out what is in all the nooks and crannies of the huge old building. Some of the doors in the upstairs are heavy metal and slide open and closed as if we were in a meat packing plant. Very, very old.

Here I am checking out a book for a patron. The library is a hub of activity in this little town. Working here would help you see a huge cross section of the town.

A librarian's job is a lot like teaching. First, you rarely sit down or get a chance to go to the bathroom. Second, you are always answering peoples' questions or trying to find things to help them.

I learned how to check books in and out, how to shelve, download digital books, figure out how to check out a book with a hand-written barcode, and how to make the (*&!!#) wand work to check out books.

There are a lot of amazing mysteries at the Warren County Public Library. Kathy told me of an instance in which the library had some books that were overdue and tried to reach the patron by sending a letter. The letter came back from the post office marked "deceased." Instead of just writing it off, the librarians began asking selected patrons if they had seen this person. (Remember, this is a small town!)

One of the question-ees had not seen the individual, but a few weeks later she approached the desk and explained that the person they had been seeking was sitting at a computer a few yards away. The librarian was able to confirm the person's name and give him that bad news that he owed money for books. The good news was that he wasn't dead.

This is one of the "nooks and crannies" where "old technology" goes to die. Remember the old card catalog?

I also learned of a guilt letter. Someone who had stolen books years ago and not returned them had an attack of guilt and wrote the library a letter. He wanted to apologize for taking the books and offered to make restitution after quite a few years had gone by. I wondered about the statute of limitations on stolen books.

All in all, it was a great day and I felt like I had done my share to say "thank you" to our library for all they do in supporting local authors, educating people, and providing amazing services.

Sisters in Crime is an organization that promotes women writing crime fiction and mysteries.

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