Could you ever write something in a library book?

Rows of books in Stockholm Public Library

Stockholm Public Library: Picture: Marcus Hansson, Göteborg, Sweden

When I was in Grade 2, I had a teacher called Miss Reynolds. She was outwardly terrifying and children in Grade 1 spent a lot of time hoping they would not be placed in her class.
But there I was, stuck with Miss Reynolds for a whole year. And it turned out she was lovely – my first life lesson in the uselessness of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
My memories are hazy, but in a clear indication of how good it was, I do remember clearly that we had a big tin of dog biscuits kept ready for the daily visit of a big golden neighbourhood dog called Shannon and we all took turns to give him a biscuit.
But one day, in a fit of six-year-oldness, I took a book and hit my desk mate on the head with it. I don’t remember why, and I don’t think I hit the child all that hard. But Miss Reynolds was mightily displeased. I can’t remember the punishment (being made to sit in a corner, probably) but I remember very clearly what she said: you don’t do that to a book. (In retrospect, it’s a little odd that she cared more about the book than the other kid.)


But in that time of no Internet and no television, books were Very Important. There was a list of things you didn’t do to books, according to both Miss Reynolds and other grown-ups in my life. You didn’t:

  • Fold back corners of pages to mark your place
  • Bend the book back and break its spine
  • Spill anything on the pages
  • Write in a book
  • Return them late to the library
  • Hit other children with them.

Memories of Miss Reynolds surfaced recently when I read an article on Freethoughtblogs about people who write in library books. Writer Mano Singham grew up in Sri Lanka and says books were expensive and “commonly seen as a precious shared resource”.
Miss Reynolds would probably have liked him, but I don’t know what she would have made of this statement:

“People who write or otherwise deface library books are like graffiti writers or vandals who randomly destroy things just so that others cannot enjoy them. I am opposed to the death penalty but am willing to consider it in two cases: those who park in handicapped spaces without having the need to and those who write in library books.”

In our family we never park in handicapped bays – my husband’s mother spent many years in a wheelchair and that leaves its mark.
I confess that I do write in books that I own – recipe books, or books that I am using to study. And after many years of struggle I am able to take books back to the library after the due date- even though my grandmother turns in her grave every time I do it (this is one of many ways to fail at being middle class).
But the books that I return to the library have never been written in. Not ever.
And I have never, ever hit anyone with a book, or thrown one across a room. Or turned down the corner to mark a page. I’m with Miss Reynolds: there are some things that are just a bridge too far.

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