Friday, 15 March 2013

My First Library Book

Last  weekend being Mother's Day, pause for reflection.

I thought of my own mother, who sadly died 25 years ago.

I promised to write of my first library book.  Naturally, it was my mother who took me to the library, filled in the forms, and generally guided the experience.

How different libraries were in 1958, (I was five years old). It astonishes me that, more than 50 years later, the practice of date-stamping the required return date has ONLY JUST faded out.  Now you have to put the books in a thing like an X-Ray scanner, and print out a slip of paper telling you the return date.

In those days, you were issued literally with a card, a small piece of cardboard. Now it is a plastic credit-card shape with a bar-code.

There was no cornucopia of colourful picture books then.  Probably post-war paper shortages were still in force.  I do remember that paper was expensive, and coloured printing even more so - magazines were in black and white, and advertising catelogues of glossy things were rare.

There were no squashy sofas and child-high book troughs to delve into.  There seemed to be no children's section as such.  Children's books probably WERE stacked in one section, but they looked just the same as all the other books, because they were all bound in ghastly faux leather house binding in dreary dark green or maroon.

As I could not reach these high shelves, nor tell one dark and uniformly bound book from another, my mother made the choice of my first library book.  And it was just the one book.  In those days you were limited to three, now you can take home twelve at a time.

My mother homed in straight away on a book she must have alreaady decided on, and took it down.  Without consulting me, she marched me to the desk and we took the book home.

It was by Mrs Molesworth, and was called "The Cuckoo Clock".   I am certain that I could not have read it myself, she must have read it to me.  It is quite a substantial, dense tome, about the length for example, of "The Secret Garden".  I don't remember a thing about it except the title and the author, and the external binding, stencilled with the title in gold lettering.

I now own a second-hand copy of this book, and still haven't re-read it.  It just doesn't grip me.  However, what does interest me is that it was first published in 1877! 

This must have been a book my mother had read in her childhood.  She was born in 1924, so most likely a grandparent or person of that generation had introduced it to her. Her adoptive father was born in about 1870 (according to family research my brother brought here at Christmas for me to look at) so it may even have been he who sat her down and possibly read it aloud. Someone certainly gave her a love of reading and a passion for the use of the library.

I still love libraries, although they are such different places now.  And children's books are so colourful and varied, and often so very funny. Troops of school children are brought by their teachers to experience the library, and a Mothers and Toddlers singing group takes place regularly. (In my childhood, you were scowled at if you so much as whispered a conversation in the hallowed place!)

All these are certainly changes for the better. Long live the library!


  1. I just had a look at it on Amazon where you can still buy it! The reviews on there are mostly pretty positive, calling it 'magical' and 'imaginative'.

    The first time I came across activity other than reading in a hushed silence in a library was in Dallas, TX when I took my 2-yr old son to a toddlers' group there. A lady was reading from a book to a group of kiddies. I used the library a lot then, it was a fantastic resource.

    1. It still is! How interesting that you can still buy "The Cuckoo Clock" on Amazon. Must read the reviews. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Oh, I LOVED "The Cuckoo Clock" when I was a little girl. I'd be interested to reread it and see if it still grips me - I think it would. My copy (I was born in 1950) was a paperback, which was much read and eventually fell to bits. It must have been reprinted in the 50s, I think.

    Our library still date-stamps books but otherwise it's a completely different place, I agree.

    1. How interesting, Isabelle, that you loved it so much it fell to bits! I will definitely revisit on the strength of that recommendation! Wonder if you will be reading it to new grand-daughter in a few years' time! There is much to say on the subject of whether books will continue for this new generation, or whether it will be all computerised.