Lynda Hallinan’s Blog: Throwing the (overdue) book at lockdown

As a lifelong bibliophile with bad habits, Lynda Hallinan pays her debts to the local library.

It has been the longest of months, hasn’t it? How can it only be 30 days? Thirty days of lockdown rolled into one amorphous glob, like the tubs of modelling clay my kids squish together into rainbow-coloured blobs.

Thirty days on a hamster wheel of “Mum, what’s for lunch?” and “Mum, what’s for dinner?” and “Hey Siri, what shall I make with mince tonight?”. Thirty days of exponential growth in unwashed laundry and dirty dishes and ill-fated attempts at home schooling.

In 30 days we’ve cremated a cat (Rest in Peace, Chilli), sent a drunk dog to the vet for an emergency detox and had our hearts broken by the sudden death of a darling orphaned duckling. The spa pool blew up, the kids punctured my water tank with a metal pipe and my husband ran out of whiskey on the same day I ran out of wine.

How can it only be 30 days? “Time is bunk,” said Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

On a Monday that could have been a Wednesday, my eldest son Lucas decided to construct a cockroach farm from recycled egg cartons, cat biscuits and soaked paper towels in a plastic box in our lounge. The dog rapidly sniffed out the cat biscuits and chewed the egg cartons; the roaches’ whereabouts are unknown.

On a rainy Tuesday that could have been a Thursday, my youngest son Lachlan racked up a new record of iPad screentime: 11 hours and 53 minutes. I was quietly impressed. I wasn’t even aware he’d been awake that long.

But who says there are no silver linings to lockdown? At 1.47pm on Friday August 27, an email from Auckland Council Libraries arrived in my inbox. The subject line made my heart sing: “We’re saying goodbye to overdue fines,” it read.

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“That’s right,” the email said, in case I’d read it wrong. “We’re wiping overdue fines from your library account – current and historic. In fact, we’ve already forgotten about them! From 1 September, overdue fines will be automatically removed from your account. You will also no longer be fined for returning items after the due date. With no fines to hold you back, join us and get started on a new journey of exploration.”

As a slovenly sinner, this unsolicited offer of salvation wasn’t addressed to me personally, though it might as well have been, for over the course of my adult life I have paid out more in library fines than all of my speeding and parking tickets combined.

I have a habit of forgetting things: the speed limit over the Bombay Hills, how long I’ve parked in the 60 minute zone outside the hairdressers, and when the stack of library books beside my bed was due back.

But when a speeding ticket arrives in the mail, or you find a parking infringement notice tucked under your windscreen wipers, there’s only a bill to pay. There’s no public shaming. There’s no tut-tutting or death stares to endure from bespectacled old biddies as you run the gauntlet from the returns slot to the new releases shelf.

I’m kidding about the old biddies, of course. Like the constabulary, who remain rather less forgiving of fines debtors, I’ve noticed that librarians appear to be getting younger and groovier. When a purple haired Wellington librarian by the name of Kath (@librarykath) recently tweeted a photo of herself in a cute jersey adorned by Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, more than 326,000 people liked it.

And really, what’s not to like about a lovely librarian? I’ve only ever met one librarian I didn’t like, and it’s fair to say she liked me even less. She called me her worst nightmare. (Granted, I was trying to bribe my way out of a big fine by offering to donate books to the same value.)

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If you search the government’s careers guidance website ( for a librarian’s official job description, it’ll reveal that “librarians develop, organise and manage library services such as collections of information, recreational resources and reader information services.”

In te reo, librarians are known as kaitiaki pātaka pukapuka, which roughly translates to “guardian of the pantry of books”. How fitting, for librarians do indeed protect a nourishing larder of knowledge.

I come from a family of library lovers. When my father Jock was a kid, he endured interdenominational Sunday school lessons each weekend in Huntly purely because the Brethren promised Christmas books for all the kids who faithfully learned their scriptures. Dad always asked for Westerns.

Later, when given the choice between cleaning the bogs or checking out books at the agricultural college Flock House, near Bulls, Dad opted for library duty. He was also the unofficial Onewhero librarian for a time, having inherited the job from my grandfather when he took over the family farm. Every Friday night, he’d pop down to the community hall and unlock the cupboards for the local bookworms.

In the seminal 1980s teen flick The Breakfast Club, the cool kids and the outcasts come of age over a weekend detention in their high school library, while at my small rural school, the library was where the geeks and the misfits converged.

It was where, at the age of 15, I befriended the new kid, Kate. We were both taking School Certificate subjects via the Correspondence School (her geography, me Japanese), though neither of us remembers getting much classwork done. She remembers seeking refuge in the library for its central heating, while I sought sanctuary in the stories on the shelves.

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I was on first name terms with our school librarians, Bev (Mrs Kershaw) and Merlene (Mrs Walker). If I was quiet, or persistent, they’d let me peruse the list of upcoming publications and suggest which books the school should buy.

Mrs Kershaw didn’t blink when, as a primary school student, I checked out The Bible and didn’t bring it back until I’d read the whole thing. (Dad grew up to be an atheist and we never went to church, so I figured it was prudent to do my own research, just in case.)

One year, I decided I’d read every author, from A to Z. I think I got as far as Douglas Adams before getting distracted. I checked out Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, all of Beverley Cleary’s Ramona series and all of Adrian Mole’s diaries. I read every word by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume and Margaret Mahy and devoured teenage trash (Sweet Valley High) and age-inappropriate depressive fiction (Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar) in equal measures.

Later, I blushed my way through The Thorn Birds and scared myself to sleep reading post-apocalyptic survivalist novels such as Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah.

I’m not sure I’ll ever have a taste for dystopian fiction again after the Covid pandemic, but I can tell you one thing. When this lockdown ends, I’ll be driving straight to the library, and not just because it’s on my way to the nearest garden centre.


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