The collection of library receipts on my memo board is growing. I don’t need them, the school sends email reminders at the end of the week but each time I go to check out a book, take out my library card and set them down, a part of me wants to press yes. Yes I do want a receipt.
When I was younger and spent every other Saturday browsing the shelves of my local library, I never really thought about the fact that I was in a library. I was aware of the public aspect and that you needed a card to take out a book but the communal nature of it never really lingered. This was the book that I wanted to read and so I would take it out, I would read it and then I would return it, find a new one and continue the cycle. Libraries were for the community but the book was just my own.
The sight of old books strikes me. I know not to romanticise the past but the simplicity of the old books with their plain hardback covers and contrasting gold spines makes my spine tingle. I don’t feel a nostalgia for a ‘simpler’ time nor do I fantasise about days gone where books were the only form of entertainment. It’s the unmistakeable feeling of connection to people I’ve never known.
Library stamps are a strange thing. Most libraries have phased them out in turn for more efficient technology, each transaction amounting to a tiny file rather than a dark ink stamp, but whenever I find a book that still has one, artefacts of a time almost gone, I read over them. Dates and ink colours, each with a story of its own. the oldest I’ve found so far was stamped before my parents were born yet it remains intact. Maybe that first reader was my age when they took it out, doing research for an assignment, reading for fun. Or maybe they’d woken up early to meet a 9am deadline, possibly just a librarian stamping to make sure the ink hadn’t dried out.
And those stories are lost. Each stamp belonging to a person I may ever know. It’s not as simple as searching a database for a name or time, but their stories remain. In stamps and dates. A form of art, a record of stories we’ll never know, pieces left behind from those long departed. Maybe I’ll unpin the receipts and leave those stores behind.