The lost history of library books

I’ve recently finished reading a 1970s, much-cited history book that I borrowed from my university library.  It was on the shelf for borrowing, rather than being superannuated off into the CARM centre, a “repository for low-use and last copy research publications and artefacts” that is located somewhere at La Trobe.  I don’t know exactly where on campus it is located: the librarian I asked came over all shy and evasive- it’s all a bit mysterious and reminiscent of the Cemetery of Lost Books in Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s  Shadow of the Wind.

But this particular book was sitting there on the shelf, still optimistically expecting to be borrowed. When I turned to the back of it, I was delighted to see it still had the date stamp pages from its many, many borrowings- in fact, it had eight sheets of them!


The book was first borrowed in September 1976, when it must have been relatively hot-off-the-press, as its publication date in England was 1975.   It was borrowed at least once every year between 1976 and 1996, with particularly heavy borrowing in 1981 and 1982 when it was put onto the reserve desk for three-hour loan.  But alas, the trail grows cold after 2001 when the library decided to no longer date stamp books but to issue a receipt instead.

I’m nosy enough to always scrutinize the receipts I find in the books I’m borrowed, to check out what other books other anonymous patrons have borrowed along with this one.  It’s an ephemeral pleasure though, because the receipt I found in this book, from July 2007 had faded so much that it’s barely legible.

But this book yielded another little treasure- a Call Reserve slip.  I haven’t seen one for years (although this one hasn’t been filled in correctly).


Reserve fines 60 cents per hour eh? They’re now $2.50 for any part of the the first hour, then $1.00 an hour after that.

The $10.00 accrual limit still stands. I have reached it -ahem- once or twice.

I always loved the paraphenalia of the library borrowing process.  My library card was a treasured item- in fact, my local library FORCED me to finally change to one of their swipe cards just recently, but I still kept the original card.  I used to love being on lunchtime library duty in primary school, and being a library monitor who covered the books and got to paint the call number on the spine after the beautifully coloured dustjacket had been taken off  (why, oh why?) and stored in the map drawer.  I didn’t possess all that many books of my own- probably only one shelf- but they were all in alphabetical order by author, adorned with a call number, with a catalogue card in a little tin file.  All my dolls had a library card and were issued with loans, with the due date stamped onto a page glued onto the back just like the book I borrowed this week,  and they were all duly fined when they failed to return them on time (no doubt because they were such party animals).

When it came to choosing a career, there was no question of going to university unless I received a studentship, which suited me fine as I couldn’t decide between teacher/librarian or classroom teacher. But I had to designate one or the other on the application form, and so I did- then changed my mind, took the form back and altered it to the other- changed my mind again- and- again.  Eventually the form was sent off and my fate was sealed- classroom teacher.

I love being able to search catalogues on-line, and databases are things of wonder (and hours of lost time).  It’s great being able to renew your own books over the internet, and to put a hold on books you notice while browsing the catalogue- an activity you’d be unlikely to undertake with the old card catalogues.  But sometimes I miss the knowledge that the book I hold in my hand has been held by nameless others, and that I’m just one in a long line of borrowers.

One response to “The lost history of library books

  1. whisperinggums

    Love it…I think you were even more obsessive than I with your home-made library. I didn’t make my dolls pay fines! And for me it was switching back and forth between librarian (never considered teacher-librarian for some reason) or teacher. Librarian won out in my case. I can see that you are really a librarian-archivist (which is what I call myself) at heart.

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