Sunday, April 18, 2010

Just be happy with what they've got

If the Los Angeles Public Library is one of my greatest resources for renting DVDs, then its Venice branch is the mother lode.

It's no exaggeration to say that they have 2,000 DVDs available for borrowing at this branch -- and that may, in fact, be an understatement.

And so the incident I witnessed yesterday was even stranger. I only saw the tail end of it, but I figured out how the rest of it must have gone.

I was checking out my three movies for the weekend (that's the limit) when a little girl walked up next to me holding a DVD whose artwork contained at least one digital chipmunk.

"Did you find it?" the woman checking out my DVDs asked her.

"No, only the first one," said the girl.

"Ask the reference librarian. She may be be to help you."

The girl wandered off in kind of a half daze.

So apparently, this is what had happened: The girl had walked in and asked this woman if they had Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Which, for the record, was just released on DVD March 30th, a little over two weeks ago. The woman at the front desk had either said she thought they did, and the girl should go look, or she didn't know, and the girl should go look. When the girl did go look and found only the original Alvin and the Chipmunks, she thought the logical thing to do was bring back that movie to show this woman that it was the only one she could find.

I'm usually never in favor of a clerk at a store saying "Everything we have is out on the shelves," or something similarly dismissive, because I always think there's the possibility that my size of shoes is hiding out somewhere "in the back." But in this case, I think that kind of statement would be fully warranted. The movies are alphabetized -- if it's not there, it's not there. There's no back room, and if it's not among the last dozen titles that were returned but not yet re-shelved, you have to move on to Plan B.

Okay, I've gotta fess up here: This girl was probably only 10.

But the fact that I found it so peculiar speaks to an essential truth I think about movies at the library: You should just be thankful they even have them in the first place. You should be thankful that the library receives donations of movies, and in some cases even buys them, so you can use it as an alternative to renting from a video store. There's no part of the mission statement of a library that says they need to help children rot their brains with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, yet they do it anyway, just to be nice.

I'm so grateful for this resource that I have never, ever thought I had the right to demand that a particular prominent movie be in stock, as I might if it were a novel of equal prominence I was looking for. Yes, they do have these movies logged in in the catalog -- you can even look online to see if they're available before coming in. But I've always thought it was a crapshoot, and I never go to the library expecting to be able to find something -- or to even have the right to expect to find something. I feel guilty enough as it is that I take out only movies from the library, never books. I'll take what I can get. Sure, there are times when I've hoped to find a particular movie because I've seen it there before, so I know they have it. But I would never try to hold some librarian accountable if I couldn't find it.

I guess that's the primary difference between me and a 10-year-old girl.

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