Remember back in the day when you checked a book out of the library and they stamped it so you would know when it’s due?
And remember even before that when you checked a book out of the library, you had to sign the card next to the date?
It’s little touches like these that I miss about modern libraries. In modern libraries, the continuity of readership is snipped before its inception by removing any evidence of past readers from the physical book. You can no longer tell how many others enjoyed a book before you or when the last person was who checked it out, let alone that they had a wonderful name like Florian Van Smoot.
Furthermore, you lose the little thrill of saving a book from deaccessioned doom. I remember in the libraries of my youth, if a book wasn’t checked out for long enough, it was tossed. I always felt excitement when a book I wanted hadn’t been checked out in decades; I felt like I had performed a small feat of salvation for a book which would otherwise have shortly been removed from the shelves.
And, on a more practical level, the lack of date stamps means readers are left with a flimsy scrap of print-out with the date of return on it. This little piece of ephemera inevitably disappears and is lost and then, much to my scatterbrained dismay, I find myself with an overdue book whose return date I can’t and didn’t remember. The slip has fled, the bird has flown, and I owe the library $1.25. Gosh, it was easier when the date of return was just in the book!
On the bright side, these practices have not entirely disappeared and seem to still be the purview of many academic libraries. Also, there are some advances in modern libraries I can’t fail to appreciate, namely the rise of the online catalogue and the demise of the card catalogue, a delightfully arcane and charming piece of library “technology” who I appreciate on a more aesthetic level than a practical one.
But I still miss those old check-out cards as both a connection to readers-past and a useful reminder for us so lost in a good book, we can’t remember when to give it back.