Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If George Washington had attended the University of Chile

In which Leigh is suspected of attempting to bribe a librarian

Today was my day off, so I did what any self-declared nerd would do when faced with 24 hours devoid of responsibilities: get up early and bike to the library. I don't know if I've established this already on this blog, but I love the Biblioteca de Santiago. Its resources are by no means limitless, but it has a big, sunny room on the third floor that houses a decent collection of contemporary Chilean literature, which is usually what I'm looking for. Today I picked up two books I've had my eye on for a while: Nona Fernandez's 10 de Julio Huamachuco and Alejandro Zambra's Bonsai (the latter can be read in a day and, in my opinion, does not disappoint).

But I digress. While roaming the aisles of the literature room at the Biblioteca de Santiago, I thought back to a recent article about the $4,577 late fee President George Washington apparently has racked up at the New York City public library by failing to return two books he checked out in 1789. Specifically, they were due back on November 2, 1789, which means they are exactly 220 years and 170 days overdue.

When I first read this article, I was reminded of the punishment the University of Chile library system inflicts on delinquent borrowers. Deeming fines either elitist or ineffective, administrators instead suspend users' library privileges for three days for each day a book is overdue. That means that if you borrow three books and return them all two days late, you can't check anything out for another 3 x 3 x 2 = 18 days.

I was unaware of this policy when I started out as an exchange student at the University of Chile. Therefore, my jaw literally dropped when I returned some materials a few days late and the librarian informed me that, instead of paying the small fine I was expecting, I was to be stripped of my library privileges for the next three weeks.

"B-But isn't there a fine I can pay?" I stammered.

"We don't have fines here."

"It's just that I really need to check out books."

"You'll have to ask a friend to check them out for you."

"Isn't there any way I can get around this?"

I had been referring to a pardon, a notarized declaration of repentance, imprisonment or community service, but certainly not to a bribe. However, judging by the look on her face -- somewhere between amused and offended -- the librarian had assumed I'd been offering the latter.

"No," she said, and I walked out with my face burning.

So now you know, George Washington. The next time you're 220 years and 170 days late in returning two books to the University of Chile, you won't be able to get off by forking over $4,577. You'll have your library privileges suspended for the next 1,322 years and 8 months.

By the way, I would highly recommend that anyone sticking around in Santiago for awhile apply for a library card at either the Biblioteca de Santiago or the Bibliometro (where punishment is meted out as fines and not suspensions, by the way). Once you have membership at one, it's easier to sign up at the other. You usually need to present your carnet (Chilean national ID card; I'm not sure if they accept passports, but it's worth a try) and proof of address, like a utility bill in your name or a certificate from the police. If I remember correctly, the Bibliometro accepted my visa registry certificate (you know, the one they give you at Policia Internacional with your photo and address on it) as proof of address.

However you do it, though, don't let this country's outlandishly high book prices prevent you from enjoying Chilean literature!


Eileen said...

Hey! I love the biblioteca de santiago as well, and the bibliometro I especially love the little trencito over there outside the biblioteca nacional. It's official Lydia, we should meet sometime! but you will have to forgive my ignorance about Chilean literature. Or at least point me in the right direction.

ps, how's the new kitty?

Leo said...

Jajaja.. yo recuerdo de haberme atrasado con unos libros y no haber podido sacar otros de la biblioteca por unos míseros días de atraso. Me pasó muchas veces. Quizás podrían idear un sistema que se castigue más si es un libro de mucha demanda, pero recuerdo haber pedido libros que NADIE pedía y las penas eran iguales. .. los 3 libros, dos días, a "tarifa Washington" hubiesen salido menos de 200 pesos XD

Leigh said...

Eileen - I would love to have a kitty and live in Valpo like Lydia (who's also from Minnesota), but for now, I'm catless in Santiago. I agree we should meet sometime though!

Leo - Jaja, definitivamente no tienen corazon.

Eileen said...

ack! I screwed that up, and now you know the truth. I conflate people sometimes! And I am sheepish, but undeterred. Sorry about that.

yes, coffee. Call me Elizabeth while we're out if it will make you feel better. I deserve it! Actually, I think it would make ME feel better!

Sara said...

I love the part where you actually added up how long GW would be penalized. Perfect. I tend to be annoyingly punctual with turning everything in. Maybe since Chileans aren't they had to create some annoying policy that they couldn't pay their way out of?