The Help Desk: Am I stealing from the library?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I recently moved from Seattle to a small town in the Midwest, giving up the Seattle Public Library’s massive collection for something much more modest. Now, our library system here is pretty good! I have no real complaints. But every so often, there’s a book I want to read that they don’t have but, lo and behold, SPL has the ebook version. Since I still have a working library card, I can check out ebooks from the SPL with no problem. I’m not paying Seattle taxes anymore, but I can’t seem to resist, well, taking advantage of Seattle taxpayers. How big of a sin am I committing? Should I just rip up my old library card?

Amanda, Midwest

Dear Amanda,

Congratulations. By relocating from Seattle to a small town in the Midwest, you have become a “woman of the world.” There are many perks accompanying your new status: you are likely better at identifying mountains than your Midwestern peers and can more closely relate to the kidnapped survivors of Boko Haram than your Seattle peers, if not spiritually then at least geographically. Savor this feeling.

As for your sin of committing library fraud, to use the analogy of sports I don’t follow, I consider this sin to be golf-ball sized – it would probably choke a baby but a belligerent adult could swallow it just fine with a chaser of Bud Light Lime.

Here’s the good news: The Seattle Public Library does issue library cards to non-Seattle, Washington state residents for a price ($85).

If your moral compass so guides you – did I mention women of the world are also fitted with strong moral compasses? – start making an $85 annual donation to the Seattle Public Library and continue using your fraudulent library card guilt-free. But if you accidentally left your moral compass in a corn field somewhere in Ohio, it’s not the end of the world. Simply befriend a librarian in your new hometown and confess your sin to her or him over happy hour drinks (that you will pay for). Absolution is a tradition in the Catholic church, which is a sport I follow only slightly more than golf because of the drinking involved.

In the meantime, avoid befriending babies and no one gets hurt.