My shame as library played it by the book

27th May 2011 at 01:00
A run-in with bureaucracy made me see red - but taught me to get life into perspective

I recently re-joined my local library. It wasn't easy! Initially attracted by a large "Book Sale" sign, I entered its once familiar portal in search of cheap supplements to the class library at the back of my room. Sadly the sale was finished but being inside I decided to check if my membership was still valid; somewhere along the line I had been deleted!

The helpful assistant suggested I fill out a fresh application - a proposal that met with my approval. As it happened I had been to the bank that morning on business and had my passport about my person.

At the custodian's demand for proof of identity I flourished it with the air of a man who has things covered, only to be told that a passport was not acceptable evidence. I required, it was slowly explained to me, something with my address on it.

When I pointed out that my address was the same as my partner's (written on the back page of my passport as next of kin) I was told, knowingly, that I had written that. My enquiry as to whether the librarian was seriously suggesting that I had forged the address of my next of kin simply to gain the illegal use of a library card was met by an unnecessarily loud cry for the senior librarian to assist.

Trying to be helpful, I indicated the electoral registers on display. I gave my full baptismal name (Lawrence), my house number and the street designation.

"Ah," came the reply. "There could be two Lawrence Flanagans."

As I started to remonstrate in a too-loud voice, which included asserting my uniqueness and rhyming off the full names and dates of birth of the other members of the Flanagan clan, I was silenced by those immortal words: "The library rules clearly state ."

Marching off in high dudgeon, I aimed a few parting retorts about pointless bureaucracy at the gathered crowd (who would have thought that book borrowing could be a spectator sport!), threatening the staff with that epitome of outrage - a letter to the council.

Anyway, not willing to be bested, I returned a few hours later with a manifesto letter from a parliamentary candidate, determined to point out the irony that he only knew where I lived because of the electoral register.

I am ashamed to admit I was slightly disappointed to find that my previous adversary wasn't behind the desk, the new person who re-enrolled me being embarrassingly helpful and enthusiastic, making me feel ever-so-slightly petty about my sense of outrage.

There are many angry voices in schools these days - and indeed teachers have much to be angry about - but as we plough on, a sense of balance might be helpful.

Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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