It’s National Libraries Day! To celebrate, I’ve put together a catalogue of my best library memories. Organized using the Dewey Decimal Classification, natch.
781.53 Music in specific settings
You’re a ten-year-old boy. You quite like a bookish girl in your class. Unfortunately, she’s too bookish to seal the deal during kiss chase. What to do? It was 1990, and the Righteous Brothers were back in the Top Ten. So the boy and his sidekick cornered me in our primary school library, and serenaded me with You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Looking back, this was probably the most romantic thing that ever happened to me. At the time, I ran for it.
392.14 Customs relating to attainment of puberty
To secondary school, where at 13 I was still bookish, and still unkissed. Yet I found myself in a rare position of romantic power. I heard that a boy in my year fancied me. I think it went to my head. He helped out in the school library at lunchtimes. I put so much effort into acting disinterested and absorbed in my books, I couldn’t read a word.
One day I returned some books to him in ice-queen mode, and headed for the door. “Um, Isabel,” he said, quietly. I turned towards the desk, wondering how I might go about rejecting his advance. “Is this yours?” he said. I looked down. Oh. I’d returned something else, slipped inside a library book. My just-in-case-puberty-starts Always Ultra. Farewell, upper hand.
152.41 Love and affection
At university I entered library heaven: the magnificent Bodleian Libraries. Here you can read anything ever printed in the UK. So the first thing I looked up was the book self-published by my Grandpa. In that pre-Amazon era, seeing his name in the Bodleian catalogue made him seem famous.
To get a book, you filled in a slip of paper and put it in a wooden box. After four hours the books appeared as if by magic, in the reading room of your choice. And what a choice. The Radcliffe Camera. The New Bodleian. The Radcliffe Science Library. College libraries. Faculty libraries. You couldn’t take the books away, so I spent three years sitting in these beautiful places. Perhaps that’s why they were the scene of so much romantic drama – tearful break-ups, passionate make-ups, bitter arguments. All in a respectful whisper, of course.
392.13 Child-rearing customs
In 2013, you’ll find me in our local library, herding my sons towards the picture books. Sometimes I sneak a visit to non-fiction, and get excited if I spot something written by me. I imagine the day the boys read one of my books, rather than using them as a place to wipe excess food. Perhaps they’ll be proud of me, as I was of Grandpa. And then I picture their teenage friends shouting, “Oi, did your Mum write this book ‘Why do I Burp?’” And the circle of library learning, love, and embarrassment starts all over again.