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I haven’t forgotten about my movie project, I promise.  My reviews for MRS. MINIVER and CASABLANCA will be up in the next day or two.

The delay, this time, is in no way my fault.  I watched MRS. MINIVER last week and tried to watch CASABLANCA, but was thwarted by a damaged DVD that refused to play.

The damage done to that DVD disc raises an issue that is the source of great frustration for me: treatment of library materials.  In general – I know I’m generalizing – library patrons treat the materials like junk.  There is no attention given to the concept that others after oneself may use the book/dvd/CD/magazine/map/whathaveyou.  I’ve seen books in which children have scribbled and I have seen books in which it’s clearly the adult doing the scribbling.  Notes written in the margins, even one remarkable instance in which someone drew detailed faces in response to the text.  Not stick figures or cartoons, but actual faces.

CDs and DVDs are left scratched and smudged – I frequently see drink rings on them, as though the discs were used as coasters.  Many refuse to play entirely, while others crackle, pop, stall, and skip as though I’m listening to a vinyl record rather than a digital disc.  In the rare case of a video or audio cassette tape, the magnetic tape is crumpled and frequently large loops come off the spool and have to be carefully wound back on by hand.

Though the worst cases are to be found in public libraries (no great surprise there, unfortunately), academic libraries see their share.  What I’ve encountered at the three universities I have attended tends to be in the textual notation category.  If I’m lucky, the previous user has simply left their Post-It flags stuck to the pages.  Less lucky means light pencil notations or underlining.  The worst cases are the library books that are full of highlighted passages and notes in ink.  It’s a loaned book, people – what’s the point of taking your notes on pages you’ll have to give back in a few weeks?  The markings make it difficult for subsequent users to read the book.  They are distracting and force prior readers’ opinions and interpretations onto the new readers, thereby detracting from the learning or entertainment experience.

Library patrons have the right to treat their own belongings as they choose.  If they want to use their own DVDs as coasters or let the children color in the line drawing illustrations of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, then that is their right.  But library materials are for wider use.  Just as you ought to treat items borrowed from a friend with care, library materials should be used with respect.  Libraries are tragically underfunded.  They cannot afford to continually replace the materials patrons treat like trash.  They cannot afford the staff to routinely check every item to see if it is marked or if it still works as intended.

Treat library materials with respect.  Treat them better than you treat your own belongings, if at all possible.  And if you come across something that is damaged – marked to the point of illegibility or scratched so badly it doesn’t play – take it to the desk and ask the staff to pull it from circulation.  I guarantee they’ll thank you.  It takes a moment, and it’s a mitzvah – a moral deed.