As part of the research for my book, I have borrowed a huge number of books from my university library. Many of them are decades old, sometimes going back over a century, and some are quite rare. I am sincerely grateful that my library is stocked with them and that the library staff is so helpful and thus make my life easier. So I get infuriated when I find that people have scribbled all over some books, such as underlining sections and inserting comments and exclamations and other editorializing in the margins. Some have done it in pencil that can in principle be erased, though the extent of scribbles can be daunting. Others have done it in ink.
In one book two leaves had actually been cut out. That this was a deliberate act was obvious from the fact that the cut was neatly done. No doubt the culprit wanted to retain the words on the page but was too lazy to copy them out. It is an old book, published in 1931 in which the pages themselves are small in size so that each page contains just about 200 words. It would not have taken much effort to copy out the words by hand. I know, because I copied out large chunks for my own reference. But the pest who did this clearly did not care that the book was ruined for others. This was particularly aggravating to me because I wanted to quote a passage but the last part was continued on a cut page. Fortunately, I managed to find the book on Google Books where they show sample pages of books and they had two of the missing pages but not the other two.
Why would you write things in a library book that you are going to return, since you will lose those notes anyway? I don’t even write in books that I have purchased for my own use. This may be because books were expensive in Sri Lanka and were commonly seen as a precious shared resource. There was a thriving second-hand book trade and the re-sale value of a book depended on its condition. At one time people would come to your house with books and you could exchange books that you had for books that they had plus a small fee. It was a kind of small-scale, private, for-profit, mobile library and very convenient. The stock was almost entirely popular fiction.
The librarian at my school was an old curmudgeon who adopted the practice of examining returned books before re-shelving them to see if the borrower had written on them and punishing them if he found any scribbling by schoolboys. We discovered that he did this because his nickname was ‘Polecat’ and one student had decided as a joke to write in the Index at the back ‘Polecat-Library’ but was immediately found out and roundly reprimanded.
As a result of this experience growing up, I treat books very carefully. I never dog-ear pages to indicate where I’ve stopped, using bookmarks instead. I don’t fold back paperbacks but open them as little as possible to avoid damaging the spine. If I want to mark a passage or note something, I paste those little colored Post-It notes that peel off easily. I do this with library books too when I don’t want to stop reading but want to note a passage to return to it later and make notes. Then I peel off these sticky notes before returning the book.
People who write or otherwise deface library books are like graffiti writers or vandals who randomly destroy things just so that others cannot enjoy them. I am opposed to the death penalty but am willing to consider it in two cases: those who park in handicapped spaces without having the need to and those who write in library books. Both these are undoubtedly jerk moves, acts that even the perpetrators know are wrong but do them anyway because they think it is a trivial offence and they just don’t care that others are inconvenienced.