I’ve done this

I (Winter Wallaby) have returned books shortly after checking them out (pre-pandemic, when I could read in the library, and either finish a short book, or read enough to realize that I didn’t like it, or that it was too difficult for me). It was not, as far as I know, a funny situation. And I didn’t have bubbles floating around my head.

Submitted by Arthur.


  1. If you read the book IN the library, it wouldn’t be going into the returns, just on the shelving cart. [Speaking as a retired Librarian Assistant.]

    And frankly, we don’t care how soon you return your items; once an item is checked out, it counts on our circulation records, which are VERY important.

  2. My main impression is how rude and unprofessional the staff member at the Circulation desk is to complain about what the patron is doing. As Andrea said, at worst he’s boosting circ numbers for those books (and for the library usage figures as a whole), and in any case it’s none of her business. If I were the patron here I’d seriously consider complaining to the staff member’s supervisor (I’m saying “staff member” rather than “librarian” because I sincerely hope she’s not a professional, with the M.S.L.S. and all.) Maybe she’s retiring tomorrow and justno longer gives a hoot?

    Sorry if I’m coming off as over-sensitive, but I spent circa forty years as a librarian (academic rather than public, but still), and can’t recall ever seeing a staff member try to shame a user in public like this, certainly not for something this trivial. (Not that we might not possibly grump about such things among ourselves, but only out of general earshot.)

  3. I just did this last week. A book I ordered a month ago finally came in, but by that time I was about to go on a trip for two weeks and didn’t want to risk losing a library book. With all the virus protections put in place at the librafy, it was just easier to check the book out and then return it at the drive through deposit than try to explain it to the staff!

  4. “My main impression is how rude and unprofessional the staff member at the Circulation desk is to complain about what the patron is doing.”

    Absolutely. Hubby picks up 10-15 books [for each of us] every week; not once has any staff member asked Hubby if we really read all those books [I think we both read 80-85% of those we check out.] Sometimes, a staff member will ask what we thought of a particular book or author; anything more intrusive than that, we could consider cause for complaint.

  5. We had music and talking in our [high school] library for 30+ years. I figured there was no way I could be quiet all day long, so why try to make others do so? We had more important things to do than shush kids. We had a no-fine policy, too, the only library in the district to have both music and no fines. As we were an alternative school, we were pretty much left alone. [We were also the only library to carry Rolling Stone and MAD magazines. Again, being an alternative school had its advantages.]

    My boss and Hubby were the only two MALE librarians in the district, which left many students nonplussed, at least at first.

  6. @ Andréa – Well, what other theory would a kid like Wallace come up with, to explain why a librarian refuses to give him information about a vacuum-cleaner-selling fish-man? It certainly would not be that such a creature simply does not exist, that would be (from his viewpoint) a tacit impossibility.

  7. I’ve done this when I requested a book in two formats (e-book and dead tree version), got the e-book first, read it, and forgot to cancel the other request.

  8. Andréa: “If you read the book IN the library, it wouldn’t be going into the returns, just on the shelving cart. [Speaking as a retired Librarian Assistant.]”

    i was referring to reading books in the library shortly after checking them out.

    There’s no question that the librarian in this panel is being rude and unprofessional. But that still leaves the question of what the joke is.

  9. So….. all I got is that the patron is frustrated and embarrassed (marked face and bubbles) that he is returning them because he is discovering he’s too stupid to understand them.

    And…. I guess that’s funny because it is mean?????

    I … gotta know…. what is the joke supposed to be. So…. this is “Cornered”. Cornered takes a common phrase and takes it literally. So … things return. “Return of the Native” “No deposit, no return”. “Return you empties” and… I’m not getting anything.

  10. @ WW – I don’t think there’s anything more in this comic than the “Schadenfreude” presentation of the customer’s embarrassment and flop-sweat reaction. Perhaps he checked out a couple of literary tomes in order to appear “quite the intellectual” to the librarian, but she’s seen through the subterfuge, and makes sure that everyone else does, too. Of course, if he really was trying to impress that librarian, it would have helped to have drawn her as an attractive, younger woman. Unfortunately, all of the characters in “Cornered” always look like ageing retirees, even when they are supposed to be children.

  11. Actually, thinking about it a little more, pre-pandemic I often returned books just seconds later. At my library, when you got books on reserve or with interlibrary loan, they would put them on a shelf with your name on it. If you just took them and dumped them in the returns, the system would still show that you were waiting for the book, and it would just reappear on the holds shelf for you again in a few days. So if you decided you didn’t want the book, you would need to manually take it off your holds list – it was easier to check it out and return it a few seconds later.

    Now, post-pandemic, the only way to get books is to put them on reserve. When you get to the library, the library staff check them out for you before bringing them out to you. So now there’s really no way for me to determine that the book is too difficult or uninteresting before checking it out.

  12. Kilby: Yeah, but I don’t even see what would be embarrassing about this.

    If you postulate that he’s checked out difficult books to appear intellectual to the librarian, I guess you can get a little bit (very little) of ha-ha-Schadenfreude, but there’s nothing in the comic to support that postulate.

  13. P.S. I’m reasonably sure that those bubbles are supposed to be “sweat”, although they sure do look like “intoxication”. For those who might be unfamiliar with the differentiation, here is a handy guide:

  14. So the consensus is: It’s (supposed to be) funny because it is mean?



    Does it count as schadenfreude when the reason is just sadism? Usually another persons misfortune pleases us because we hate the person and we believe it’s just that misfortune occur. or because it benefits us. Or simple resentment, if things go badly for us we don’t want them to go well for anyone. But to like it because it’s funny is just… cruel.

  15. Not liking the company of strangers for longer than necessary, I’d never thought of someone reading IN the library after checking out a book. In fact, I don’t think in many libraries, once you’ve checked out materials, you can return to the reading area[s]. But every library is different.

  16. “Does it count as schadenfreude when the reason is just sadism? ”

    I don’t know about English, but for me, in German, it is just sadism — acknowledging that at heart we are all sadistic, and love us a little bit of hurt, so long as it ain’t us hurtin’. In German, the big long compound words are usually as simple as their component parts — there is no mystical extra depth, you just read each component word and put them together: Schadenfreude = damage + joy, ie: joy at damage, ie sadism.

  17. “I wonder where (or rather when) Arthur ran into this comic. “

    It appears that our new editors have access to the backlog. I sent this to Bill in 2017. I never got a response, so it’s possible it just slipped by him.

  18. Arthur: We don’t have access to the backlog. I’m pretty sure you sent it in a few weeks ago, although I’m too lazy to look through my e-mails right now.

  19. Andréa: “In fact, I don’t think in many libraries, once you’ve checked out materials, you can return to the reading area[s]. But every library is different.”

    I’ve never been in a library like this. Every library is different, but I don’t understand how this would work. Every public library I’ve ever been in, anyone is free to come into the reading area. How would checking out books prevent you from returning to the reading area? If you walk outside with your new books, and then walk back into the library does an alarm go off, with a message over the speaker saying “Warning!!! This library patron is attempting to enter the reading area with checked-out materials!!! You must read your books at home!!!”

  20. This seems like it was written by someone who would think the following is funny (OK, I think it’s funny in a meta way, as in, it’s funny that someone would think it’s funny):

    Someone asks a librarian why she’s so happy. She (always a “she”, don’t blame me) replies:
    “All of the books except one are checked in, and it’s due back later today!”

  21. Arthur, thanks for contributing. You looked thru your old submissions and forwarded this one to the new crew on Oct 12, along with a Maximumble. (Which I believe is also on the schedule.)

  22. Okay, that makes more sense. When I found the e-mail from 2017, I stopped looking to see if I had resent it.

  23. At my library, if you don’t want a hold you can freeze the hold (if it’s not on the shelf yet) or cancel the hold online. Or just not pick it up and the hold will expire and they will reclaim it. I’ve had that happen accidentally.

  24. Phil Smith III: I heard that story (as allegedly “true”) forty or so years ago; the library in question was supposedly Harvard and the professor who had one book checked out (which was about to be returned) was supposedly Louis Agassiz. Shamefully I can’t recall who was the anal-retentive Harvard librarian in question. (And no, I don’t believe the anecdote was actually true.)

  25. I know Schadenfreude means joy at anothers misfortune but I always assumed it was because you don’t like the other person. That’s not sadism; that’s just reasonable and justified resentment. It never occurred to me the pain of others in and of itself would be enjoyable.

  26. I see I have always been somewhat off base about the formation of Schadenfreude too. I thought the schaden root or stem meant shame and that the overall meaning was shameful enjoyment — because it is really at some level a שאַנד shand “shame” to be enjoying someone’s troubles rather than feeling sorry towards them. (And that was Yiddish but turns out standard German for a shame is similarly Schande . And not schaden.)

    I do still have the sense that to confess feeling Schadenfreude is indeed a confession, and something to be embarrassed of.

  27. woozy: My understanding of Schadenfreude is that it doesn’t require any particular relationship with the person who’s undergoing misfortune.

  28. Andréa: “Not liking the company of strangers for longer than necessary, I’d never thought of someone reading IN the library after checking out a book. In fact, I don’t think in many libraries, once you’ve checked out materials, you can return to the reading area[s]. But every library is different.”

    As Winter Wallaby pointed out — who’s going to stop you? As for the “why” — my local library has a bunch of really comfy chairs. I have decent chairs at home, sure, but my local library’s chairs are better. ($%%^@#$ COVID keeping me away from the library’s comfy chairs…)

  29. ” . . . my local library has a bunch of really comfy chairs”

    Well, I don’t know about here in FL, but in WI, we had the homeless taking advantage of ‘really comfy chairs’, so . . . no thanks! And then there are the students and/or the kids who’re dropped off by their parents for babysitting purposes.

    At home, I have coffee, dogs, cookies . . . and no one with whom I don’t wish to interact.

  30. Andréa: Sometimes I get tired of being at home. Partially this is because I have two small kids at home, and sometimes I want a break. But also sometimes I just just want to be out (particularly in 2020). I always liked reading in the library, not just for the comfy chairs, but because I could take short breaks from reading by browsing the shelves.

  31. I can fully understand why it’s a pleasure to read in the library, in your case. All I have at home is a [reading] hubby and three dogs. I take my breaks by going for a swim.

    More than likely, you’re an extrovert, whereas I’m an introvert who’s been practicing for this stay-at-home time her entire life [Hubby says].

  32. I must be practicing Xtreme Introversion; I’m fine. I’ve sworn not to go out unnecessarily [other than curbside at vet clinic and groceries, I’ve only been out to send one of my dogs over the Rainbow Bridge] when Florida cases are down in the low double digits. Looks like I’ll be spending the rest o’ my life at home.

    Mind you, if not for email/internet capabilities, I probably wouldn’t be so sanguine about all this.

  33. When I was little I was allowed to played with former years blank tax forms. I used to cut off the top of old NYS Income tax forms (IT-201 for those who know the form) and use them as applications for library cards to my library. I would make grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends fill in the forms and I would give them hand written library cards. Where there was room for the Social Security number I would put their library card number. (Then I would force them to borrow books.)

    When I was in 6th grade I volunteered in the school library. After that all of books had my name and address stamped on the top of the book and on one particular page (don’t remember which) as we did in the school library.

    I greatly regret putting my name and address on the books now as many to most of them have been donated or sold when we cleared out the family home last year when mom moved to assisted living.

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