The other day I went down to the local library and wandered around looking for a book. I eventually settled on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I’d read it once before, at least six or seven years ago, and I thought I might take another trip through Hugo’s epic tome.
As with all libraries these days, the book has a barcode and is scanned, and a slip printed with the due date. After I took the book home, I noticed that someone had left their slip in the middle of the book. They’d borrowed it two years before, at the same time as an issue of GC magazine. What kind of person was this?
During the 90s libraries changed over from the old system of having a slip of paper to stamp the return date to the barcode system, and I’ve always felt that something was lost in the reading experience. Not a big thing, of course, the book is still the same, and from the library’s point of view it is no doubt better, as they can keep better records on which books are popular, how often they are borrowed, and so on.
The books that are consistently popular were not so interesting, they just had an endless series of date stamps as one person after another borrowed them. But I was always more interested in the books more rarely borrowed.
Who borrowed this book three times in a row ten years ago? Was it the same person? Why had no one else borrowed it? What type of person were they like? Were they like me? Would we have anything in common?
With the switch to digitization, this little part of the library reading experience has gone, and apart from judging by wear and tear on the books, it is hard to tell if a book has been borrowed all the time, or never left the shelf since the library bought it.
But looking at the print-out slip left behind in the middle of Les Mis, I wondered about the person who had left it. Had they been using the slip as a bookmark, and did they give up reading Les Mis half way through? Or did they just absent-mindedly pop it in there after they finished reading? Were they a deep thinker who borrowed GC in a futile attempt to become more fashionable, or a metrosexual who borrowed Les Mis in a futile attempt to become better read? Or were they just like me, someone who picks up different reading material on a whim?
I guess I will never know. But I'm glad that I stumbled on the slip that made me wonder this. It almost tempts me to get out unusual combinations of books together, then leave the slip in one of the book for future borrowers to find.