I’ve been thinking a lot about library etiquette recently. This is because people in my local library seem to think talking is completely acceptable, and view my loud ‘shushing’ with alarm and disdain. ‘This is a library,’ I hissed at two schoolgirls yesterday. ‘And?’ they replied staunchly. ‘Just, you know, checking we all knew where we were,’ I said bravely, beating a hasty retreat. (They were by the reference books, I had come from fiction. There was no way my paperback Martin Amis was going to stand up to the full force of The Encyclopedia Britannica).
I wandered over to the information desk. ‘How do you choose which books to place in prominent positions?’ I whispered. ‘What?’ the librarian asked crossly. I gave up. I flashed my dinosaur library card (yes, you can choose from a variety of images. But only if you look at the first two they offer you and say knowingly, ‘I’m sure you can do better than that. Where are the good ones?’) and borrowed my book.
‘You have borrowed one book. Are you finished?’ the borrowing computer asked me peremptorily. The trouble with technology is that it’s impossible to pinpoint tone. Was the computer disappointed in my paucity of books? Was it exasperated that I had taken so long to locate my dinosaur backed library card? Or was it, as I like to think, commending me on my selflessness in withdrawing books one at a time. (I thought about asking the librarian, but we seemed to have gotten off on the wrong foot. Plus I could see those schoolgirls lurking in the recesses of the library).
I casually scampered out of the library clutching my book. I was excited to read it. I started as soon as I got home. Sadly it was one of those books where everyone accidentally sleeps with everyone else and most people die. I returned to the library. ‘I’d like something a little cheerier,’ I whispered to the librarian. ‘Something you would let a child read.’ ‘The children’s’ library?’ the librarian bellowed. ‘It’s the other entrance. Go out, and it’s on your left.’
I meekly followed her directions. And walked into a book-lined sanctuary. I’ve given up on the adult’s library entirely. I can’t tell you how peaceful and pleasant the children’s library is when all the children are at school. I also picked up some splendid holiday reads, and so far not one person has slept with his best friend’s girl. ‘I’m very impressed with this,’ I whispered to the librarian (It takes about 1 hour to read a children’s book. I’ve spent most of my day popping back and forth, dutifully returning my book and borrowing another). ‘Oh, did they like it?’ the librarian whispered back. ‘Um, yes?’ I whispered back confusedly. It seems people in the children’s library are impeccably polite, and ever so slightly odd. This really couldn’t be a better fit for me.