Friday, July 9, 2010

The Fascinating Life of a Library Book

(illustration by Trina Shart Hyman (c) 1968 from Stuck with Luck)

It's no secret that I suffer from collector compulsion. My home looks like an old curiosity shop stuffed to the brim with toys, books, knickknacks, and what have you. I like to think of it as a museum of imaginative thought, but I'm sure others would call it a junk shed. Their loss.

One of my favorite collecting hobbies is the accumulation of old children's books. Library sales are great for this. Typically the books for sale are cheap and out of print, books that have lost favor or been replaced. There's always great finds here for a Kid Lit nerd.

The other amazing thing is that the books almost always still have their library cards inside the front pocket. I love looking at these and studying them. Below is one from a book I purchased at such a sale:

First of all, just looking at the handwriting and names and wondering about these children who are now well older than I am in some cases, is a fascinating activity in its own right. Which of them really read the book? Who just checked it out because you had to check out a book and then it sat in their school desk until next library day? Which of them was reading it at the table and left the spaghetti sauce stain on page 26?

Random Awards (Just because it's fun)

Best Name:
Beth Grimm

Funniest Signature (tie):
Peter O and Larry R (Larry has an edge though, he checked it out twice)

Odd Case of Deja-Vu:
Julie Houska whose "Julie" looks exactly like the handwriting of a Julie I once knew in elementary school

With this book card, I was struck by how popular it was in the first three years in the library. You wonder if in 1969, one kid in a class loved it and his or her friends wanted it next. Or if the librarian loved it and read it a group? Maybe the library simply didn't have as many books? After those years, its activity slows. Checked out only once in '72 and once again in '73, twice in '74 and not again until '76. It sits lonely on a shelf from '79 to '83. And oh, the long years between '84 and '92 when it wasn't brought home to anywhere. Last checked out in 1999 and the given up in 2009.

I've always been interested in the life of objects and especially books. As an author, the interest has only grown. I know there are many many copies of my books out there and I always hope they have a friend. It saddens me to think of CatKid on a shelf for 10 years without making one child laugh or the Pirate School kids not having an adventure for a decade. At least I can hope in thirty years someone like me picks them up and enjoys them all over again.


  1. We don't have a system like that - makes each loan much more personal. I have a lot of books but also use my local library a lot and they let me have the new children's books as they come in. I often wonder who had books before me and the occasional letter or bookmark you find in old books.

  2. I'm right there with you on the cards! The library where I work has been around a long time, and occasionally I'll find a book with student names from the 1920s. Don't you wonder if there are books somewhere with your name in them?

  3. You know, as I writing this, I didn't even think that nowadays there are no cards and everything is checkout out electronically. (I should have, I worked in a library almost 15 years ago and already it was electronic).

    Finding a letter would be much better than finding food stains, that's for sure. Occasionally, there's the doodle in the side or the place where a younger sibling crayoned, or the underlined passage (which I also love, because I seldom see the intrigue in that passage).

    I'm sure there are books with my name in them, especially since school libraries hold onto books as long as they can.


    It appears that Larry R. checked out the book once again when he was 3 years older. I missed it at first because he learned cursive in the interval. From this I can gather, this book meant a lot to him at some point. I wonder what he though of it rereading it from an older perspective?

  5. WHOA, missed another...4 times. Larry Rubin is the winner.

  6. Oh this post made me smile. I was an Army brat and every time I checked out a Nancy Drew from the base library I wondered about the card of other girls who all loved Nancy, who were probably stationed in some other pocket of the world by now...