A Catalogue of Library Misadventures

Posted on Feb 9, 2013 in Writing

February is #lovelibraries month! To celebrate, I’ve put together a catalogue of my best library memories. Organized using the Dewey Decimal Classification, of course.

781.53 Music in specific settings
You’re a ten-year-old boy. You quite like a bookish girl in your class. Unfortunately, she’s too bookish to seal the deal during kiss chase. What to do? It was 1990, and the Righteous Brothers were back in the Top Ten. So the boy and his sidekick cornered me in our primary school library, and serenaded me with You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Looking back, this was probably the most romantic thing that ever happened to me. At the time, I ran for it.

Pile of books392.14 Customs relating to attainment of puberty
To secondary school, where at 13 I was still bookish, and still unkissed. Yet I found myself in a rare position of romantic power. I heard that a boy in my year fancied me. I think it went to my head. He helped out in the school library at lunchtimes. I put so much effort into acting disinterested and absorbed in my books, I couldn’t read a word.

One day I returned some books to him in ice-queen mode, and headed for the door. “Um, Isabel,” he said, quietly. I turned towards the desk, wondering how I might go about rejecting his advance. “Is this yours?” he said. I looked down. Oh. I’d returned something else, slipped inside a library book. My just-in-case-puberty-starts Always Ultra. Farewell, upper hand.

152.41 Love and affection
At university I entered library heaven: the magnificent Bodleian Libraries. Here you can read anything ever printed in the UK. So the first thing I looked up was the book self-published by my Grandpa. In that pre-Amazon era, seeing his name in the Bodleian catalogue made him seem famous.

To get a book, you filled in a slip of paper and put it in a wooden box. After four hours the books appeared as if by magic, in the reading room of your choice. And what a choice. The Radcliffe Camera. The New Bodleian. The Radcliffe Science Library. College libraries. Faculty libraries. You couldn’t take the books away, so I spent three years sitting in these beautiful places. Perhaps that’s why they were the scene of so much romantic drama – tearful break-ups, passionate make-ups, bitter arguments. All in a respectful whisper, of course.

Why Do I Burp?392.13 Child-rearing customs
In 2013, you’ll find me in our local library, herding my sons towards the picture books. Sometimes I sneak a visit to non-fiction, and get excited if I spot something written by me. I imagine the day the boys read one of my books, rather than using them as a place to wipe excess food. Perhaps they’ll be proud of me, as I was of Grandpa. And then I picture their teenage friends shouting, “Oi, did your Mum write this book ‘Why do I Burp?’” And the circle of library learning, love, and embarrassment starts all over again.


  1. Leoarna
    February 9, 2013

    Isabel; as always erudite, insightful, right-on-topic and LAUGH-OUT-LOUD funny. I LOVE your writing. Brought cheer to my dull morning, where you find me NOT in a library but stuck writing reports at my desk. Thank You!

  2. Crumbs & Pegs
    February 10, 2013

    Pant liners as bookmarks. Excellent idea. Will get the 4yo decorating them for gifts. 🙂

  3. Hattie
    February 13, 2013

    I was once locked in the ‘divinity’ library at university (where they kept all the godly books). I was so engrossed in the work of some medieval female mystic I didn’t notice that everyone else had left, and so quiet that the librarian locked up and left without realising anyone was left inside. They’d only recently built it and had it specially designed so that there was no mobile phone reception inside to distract undergrads. It was six hours (and 2am) before I managed to build a tower from tables and chairs, hang out of a window, drench my upper body in melting hail stones and wave my phone frantically around to get enough reception to call for help. By the time security released me, a little crowd of drunken students had amassed to witness the sodden, dishevelled library geek do her walk of shame. xx

    • Isabel Thomas
      February 19, 2013

      Brilliant – I love that you spent the time building a tower rather than seizing the chance to work through the godly books and work out the meaning of life!

      • Hattie
        February 21, 2013

        God played a mean joke on me. I was totally NOT going to read his damned books after that…

  4. Leoarna
    February 15, 2013

    Just to say hun I have nominated you for Leibster award – pop over to my blog to find out more…

  5. mobruleblog
    February 18, 2013

    Thanks for writing this, making me laugh (and cringe for you and your Always Ultra in equal measure!), and prompting me to reflect on a few of the libraries I have known and loved. And your comment about ‘Oi did your mum write this?’ rings very true right now for me and MY boys!!

    • Isabel Thomas
      February 19, 2013

      I can imagine your book is required reading for all their friends! Can they comfort themselves with the fact that they will not be short of anecdotes when they come to write their wedding speeches…?!