Saturday, 31 January 2015

Due back...

How well I remember the pressures of getting my books back to the library on time. Failure to do so would incur a fine and I dreaded the thought of the humiliation of having to pay that. The fine was only a few pennies, but there was something about returning books late that seemed so very wrong.

So I know how Sir Jay Tidmarsh must have felt when he realised he hadn’t returned a school book 65 years after first borrowing it. He found the long-forgotten copy of Ashenden by W Somerset Maughan as he cleared his shelves. Last week he returned it to Taunton school library along with a £1,500 donation to the school library - what a top toff.

Not so university professor, John “Jack” Foster, from Queen’s University, who was spared a fine of more than £8,500 after discovering he was in possession of a library book that was 47 years overdue.

Sometimes I've wondered whose hands my library book has passed through. Not national treasure and Rolling Stones legend, Keith Richard, who admitted recently that he still owes fines for books he borrowed and failed to return to his local public library in Dartford when he was a teenager. At 15p a day – plus interest and admin fees – he could have been hit with a bill for around £3,000. But of course he wasn’t, most libraries have a maximum fine of a few pounds, mine is ten.

Unfortunately the days of the library seem to be numbered. My local library is closing so that the council can sell off the very valuable land to build some more half million pound apartments. The same council is closing the main library up the road and moving it into a space half the current size which will be manned by volunteers - sad days indeed. But then library usage has dropped fast due to the internet and, at a personal level, whilst I still hold a card I haven’t been to a library for at least two years.

I’m a big fan of electronic readers, but I wonder about our children. There is nothing better than sharing a picture book with a child as you read it a story and for many financially struggling parents the library gave them this opportunity. Once, when I was going through a very bad time personally I spent many evenings in the library reading whatever took my fancy and keeping warm because I didn't want to go home, and I’m sure that there are lots of people that look on the library as a kind of sanctuary, particularly elderly people on their own.

There has to be a way to finance these great public places, even if it is with a small lending fee and higher fines. If we don’t and they go, there won’t be anywhere to take back those books you never returned.


  1. Tim Preston on FB
    I like that. And the picture - that is glorious

    1. Tim Preston
      3rd August1991. What was it like? Was it a dry day with sunlight streaming through the library windows inducing soporific tendencies? Or was it filled with gloriously warm rain and summer thunder?

    2. Andrew Height
      I think I was asleep drunk in the corner of Biographies Tim.

    3. Andrew Height
      Tim, I think that 12th July 1972 was the two weeks when Brian Eno was reading that book.

    4. Andrew Height
      December '71 was the two week period where I realised I didn't fit in at home. Wearing a lightning flash on my face at breakfast did not go down well with the man.

  2. Joely Saffron Sant on FB
    I was born in December 71. I felt like that even then. I've yet to find somewhere I do.

    1. Andrew Height
      Did you have the book out then Joely?

    2. Joely Saffron Sant
      I've always been advanced for my age.