Monday, September 19, 2016

Happy Library Memories

I read Sybil's affectionate post about the library she had gone to as a child murmuring 'Yes! Yes!' to myself. Libraries played a hugely important part in my young life and have gone on doing so ever since.

My parents were great readers and the house was full of books, so my parents hadn't really bothered to take me to the library. I only discovered it when I was walking home with a friend who was carrying some books and she explained what she was doing.

I was frankly incredulous. 'You mean – you just go and they give you books? You don't have to pay or anything? I went in with her and met dear Mr Doig, the librarian. He explained you had to have a card signed by your mum to get permission but then yes, indeed, you could just take them.

I almost snatched the card from him, ran all the way home, extracted the signature from my amused mother, and ran all the way back. His eyes twinkled when he saw this hot and breathless child and he was a good friend to me afterwards. For instance, you were only allowed to take out three books a day but if it was a Saturday, or the holidays, he let me take out another three if I'd finished the first ones by lunchtime.

Indeed, so much did I appreciate it that I decided I might like to be a librarian. I think I had the idea that this just meant you got to read all the best books first and I hadn't understood the sheer sweat of organising the ticket system in those days before electronic registration. Then there were the wretched readers who would keep putting books back in the wrong place... No, I decided after work experience, being a librarian was not for me.

I did get a liberal education, though. In those days there was censorship and what were termed 'blue' books were not put on the open shelves. (Here I'm not talking about Fifty Shades stuff, you understand; I remember Peyton Place was one of them). They were, however, kept in the office where we had our coffee breaks, and sometimes some of us returned quite late...

Then the day came when someone actually asked to see the 'blue' books. A frisson went around the library desk and the Chief Librarian was summoned - a snippety little lady with steel-rimmed spectacles. She gave the man a look of disgust, said, 'Follow me,' led him to the room, and gestured to the shelf without looking at it. 'There you are.'

There was a puzzled silence before the man said, 'I don't see them. You know, the Blue Books – the government reports.' Somewhat red-faced, she made a quick recovery. 'Oh! I'm so sorry, they must have been moved. We'll look in the reference library.' She was awfully nice to him after that.

So even though the job wasn't for me, I still love libraries and visit a lot of them to give talks. They're absolutely the nicest audiences – not surprising, really, because they are the real book-lovers.


Sybil Johnson said...

What a great post. Loved the story about the "blue books".

Rick Blechta said...

A very charming and entertaining post! Thanks for sharing it.

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks, Sybil and Rick. I was grateful to you, Sybil, for prompting the memory.