Yesterday, a meme on Facebook reminded me of a long lost technology – sign out cards for library books. And it got me thinking about library cards in general. Library cards have always been hugely important.
My first one was orange coloured from the Mountain View Public Library. I was allowed to have my own card as soon as I could sign my name. I was so proud the first time I checked out books. And then later when I was older, I changed my card for a yellow one so that I could take out books in the adult section. I used to spend hours in the library, looking for great books.
And I have a very vivid memory from when I served as a teenaged hospital volunteer in the Emergency department ( a Candy striper). One afternoon in January, a young girl had drunk the better part of a bottle of vodka. She was in the operating theatre and no one knew if she’d survive. I went to see if I could get anything for her parents and her father was sitting looking at her orange library card. Turning it over and over in his hand as he asked why she had done it. I backed out and made myself useful elsewhere because intruding felt wrong.
At school things were a bit different as we had the sign out card system. You signed your name on the book’s card which you then handed to the librarian. One by-product of this system was that you could see who else had taken out the book.
Being a frequent library user, I soon noticed that my choices often had been previously checked by one Lucy Ellis. Lucy Ellis had left the school by the time I started but her name lingered on. As I liked the books and sometimes did not have much time to choose, I started looking for her name. Invariably she had good taste and led to discover authors like Georgette Heyer and Philippa Carr.
I used to try to imagine what Lucy Ellis must be like – answer sauve, sophisticated, with a ready wit.. Many years later, I did get to meet her. She had become some high up executive at a computer company. I can’t remember if I confessed to having searched for her name on the card.
My high school librarian tells me that the system officially changed in 1995 so no one can use that sort of * word of mouth* anymore in theory but in practice the cards do remain and every now and then, she sees my name on one of the cards.
When I was at university in the UK, my library card doubled as my id. I found it the other day and looked so young. It surprised me in a way that when my eldest son and daughter went to that uni, the same system was in place.
One thing they have not done away with at the library I currently use is the date stamp. Because this library is so old (dating back to 1795) it is great to find books that were last date stamped in the 1940s. I mentioned this to a librarian who sighed and said that sometimes it felt like there was a building full of books that no one wanted to read.
But for me, my library card has always a passport to adventure. Does anyone else remember their first library card? Or have library card memories?
My latest SUMMER OF THE VIKING is officially published on 1 June. I am giving a one signed copy. If you wish to enter the draw, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with Totebags Summer Contest as the subject and answer the following question: Where does Summer of the Viking take place?
You can read the first chapter for free here:
The blurb reads:
We have the summer, Alwynn. It will have to be enough.' Washed up alone on the Northumbrian shore, Valdar Nerison is a stranger in a foreign land. He has unfinished business in Raumerike, but first he owes his rescuer, the beautiful Lady Alwynn, a life debt. Alwynn is wary of Valdar's promise to protect her – after all, she has known only betrayal at the hands of men. And as summer's end approaches Valdar must choose whether to return home and fight for his honour or to stay and fight for Alwynn's heart...
I will do the draw on 21 May
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. You can learn more about Michelle's books at her newly revamped website -- www.michellestyles.co.uk