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Going to the Library With ADHD: Lesson Not Learned

This was one of those weeks of reckoning at the library.

As in, one of those weeks where I have to settle three digits’ worth of fines. And I say “week of reckoning,” not “day or reckoning” because I had so many overdue books that it took multiple trips for me to get them all turned in.

Going to the library with ADHD
Stacks: the organizational method ADHDers just can’t get enough of

The guy working the desk when I went to pay my fine after my final trip was caught off guard by the magnitude of my transgression, and I’ve never seen a librarian’s eyes get quite that big. When he’d recovered his professional demeanor, he informed me: “if you turn your books in next time, you won’t have a fine.”

I have always had a somewhat unhealthy relationship with libraries. The cycle goes something like this:

I enjoy reading and learning about new things, and when I step foot into a library I get swept up in the possibilities. I usually end up checking out more books than anyone could reasonably expect to get through before the due date – but hey, better to have a book and not read it than not read it because you don’t have it, right?

Then before you know it, the due date is bearing down, and if I’m lucky I’ve read part of some of the books I checked out. But, OK, I’ll keep them just a day past the deadline, that’s just a few cents.

And then another day because, well, I’ve got a lot to do and a trip to the library isn’t on the cards today. And another, because it’s just a few more cents. Another day because I’ve already run up a fine, so what difference does a slightly larger fine make. And so on until I’ve hit the max fine for each book.

At least the money is going to a good cause. I’m a big supporter of libraries, both in the sense that I agree with the principle behind libraries and that I contribute financially to them!

I also worked in a library in college. Once or twice my supervisor saved me from having to pay obscene fines at the library where I worked. And then once or twice she didn’t.

When I worked in a library, I felt like I was in a sort of zoo of neurotypicals because working the desk I would look out and observe rows of people who would sit for hours doing that thing that seemed strange, elusive and almost alien to me: sitting perfectly still and concentrating.

Generally I wouldn’t join these ranks of focused students, but on nights when I had a lengthy paper due the next morning that finally couldn’t be put off any longer, I would sometimes go down to the small, windowless room in the basement of the library containing just a computer and a desk to shut myself in a totally distraction-free environment.

These days, though, I don’t spend much time in libraries. I just grab the books and run. And then wait to return them until my account has been frozen.

So as much as I’d like to write something on “5 Tips for Not Running Up Massive Library Fines When You Have ADHD,” this is mostly just a confessional post.

That said, things are looking up. My music teaching job is going to be taking me across the street from the library on a regular basis, so the only real hurdle between me and not having a library record that makes my friendly local librarian lose a little bit of his faith in humanity is putting the darn books in my bag so I have them to turn in when I’m down there. I wouldn’t say I’ve learned my lesson, but for at least the near future maybe I won’t have to.

Photo: P. Abrahamsen

Going to the Library With ADHD: Lesson Not Learned

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Going to the Library With ADHD: Lesson Not Learned. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Mar 2016
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