If you go to any branch of the York County library, you know them.
Leaves have fallen, yet they bring mountains of books and videos back in grocery bags or paper sacks - items borrowed when the temperature broke 100 degrees.
They lip-sync their preposterous fabrications in the parking lot, then rush in when their acting reaches Academy Award proportions.
"I was attacked by wolves," I heard one guy try this week in trying to feign why his books were so late they had collected dust. "The wolves were big readers. Mysteries, especially. Wolves love a thriller."
Because they have no shame when it comes to irresponsibility, those library customers lie. They blame the dog that hid the books under the couch - even if they have no dog.
The wonderful clerks who work the counters from Clover to Fort Mill, York to Rock Hill to Lake Wylie, just smile and nod their heads.
Undaunted, the shameless blame rotten kids who hide books. They blame bad weather, illness, plagues, drought. They blame anyone and anything other than themselves. They blame the mother-in-law - the easiest of villains.
They throw themselves on the mercy of those clerks as the fines rise to the point that the amount owed looks like the national debt of a third-world country.
Some even plead poverty.
Who are these people? They're people just like me.
Yes, I tried the attacked-by-wolves lie. That was me. Nobody bit.
Starting today, those people who are the bane of the library can be pardoned. Paroled. Their community service can be paid off in one fell swoop, without a single dollar changing hands.
The substitute currency – food.
Through Dec. 31, the county’s public libraries have instituted “Food for Fines,” a program that allows tardy book-borrowers to pay off library fines with food for area food banks.
The program started during the holiday season in 2007, even before the economy turned into a nightmare and the food banks were filled every day.
Bo Coleman, who chairs Project Hope in Rock Hill, sent trucks to pick up food from the library last year so often, he sometimes had to make a second run.
Last year alone, the library branches collected more than five tons of food.
“We want overdue items back, sure,” said Debbie Turner, community relations manager for the library system. “But at this time of the year, we can both get the items back that are past due, plus give back to our community at the same time.”
New this year: The main branch of the library in Rock Hill is collecting items for the Rock Hill school district’s “Back the Pack” program, which provides backpacks filled with food to students each weekend during the school year.
Each donated food or personal hygiene item is worth a dollar toward fines for overdue stuff.
However, those who “lost” their favorite Harry Potter book then claimed a witch or warlock stole it, or let the dog eat the latest James Patterson thriller cannot use food to pay for lost or damaged materials.
“Most people bring in far more than they owe, which is really great,” said Donna Andrews, adult services manager for the library.
Library users who aren’t in arrears can also drop off food at any branch – and often do.
“The whole idea is to make donating easier,” Turner said. “And for those who just can’t get their books back on time, this is perfect.”
Perfect for whom?
“You,” said Turner. “You owe.”
WANT TO HELP?
Donated items should be any non-perishable food item, toiletry item or baby item such as formula or disposable diapers.
Rock Hill, 138 E. Black St., 803-981-5858
Fort Mill, 1818 Second Baxter Crossing, 803-547-4114
York, 21 E. Liberty St., 803-684-3751
Clover, 107 Knox St., 803-222-3474
Lake Wylie, 185 Blucher Circle, 803-831-7774
For more information, call your local branch or visit yclibrary.org.