Much a-due about nothing

regreturn.jpgThe first week of a quarter doesn’t bring much in terms of deadlines. But one due date—a very important one—hovers over winter’s first classes. All autumn quarter, patrons borrowed books from the University of Chicago Libraries. As the students at the circulation desk scanned the books, they issued a warning, usually chipper: “All of these books are due by January 9.” The due date, which is always the first Friday after classes start, creeps up faster than you’d think, and the start of a quarter finds bibliophiles lugging many, many books to campus in order to get them all in before the library starts sending menacing daily notices. While anyone with a UCID is able to renew books online for up to a full academic year, at some point the jig is up—the books are due, and fines (which could impede graduation) loom.

So this morning I lugged an unusually heavy bag to campus, slipping and sliding on the fresh snow past the construction area for the Mansueto Library. I waddled into the Regenstein Library with my sack of books and waited patiently for a student with a hunter-green backpack full of volumes to finish using the return chute. The trick to returning books to the Reg on the day that all books are due is coming in the morning—by the time afternoon arrives, the book chute is so full that it cannot be opened. Grocery bags full of returned books often dot the foyer.

regwalk.jpgOf course, sometimes we make mistakes. Once, in the rush of returning books to the Reg, I accidentally deposited Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, which I actually owned, into the chute. I had to wait patiently as the circulation-desk attendant retrieved it for me. It was the first Friday of the quarter—due date—so finding my book in the pile of newly returned volumes was no small feat. Now, even when it feels like my bag is bursting at the seams, I check the spine of every book carefully before sending it away. Once a book disappears into the library, who knows when you’ll be able to get it back?

Rose Schapiro, ’09

A Regenstein Library book-return chute early Friday morning, before the return rush; a view from the webcam mounted on Regenstein Library's east side.

January 9, 2009