Good God, they’re annoying, those little green stickers. They are almost impermeable. What are they stuck down with? Super glue? And then even if you can remove them, they end up leaving a residual stain. In the clear and distinct shape of a shield.
A little green shield sticker on the front board of an old hardcover book. For the most part, it is all that remains of the institution that was the Boots Book-Lovers’ Library.
Founded in 1898, Boots the Chemist provided an essential library service in its pharmacy stores for 68 years, until the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 ensured that local councils had a responsibility to provide free public libraries.
And, not content with defacing each book with a green sticker, they would often root a whacking great hole through the top of the boards of the spine of each book, which they would fill in with a metal eyelet, as though they were dealing with the waistband of a pair of denim jeans.
Membership of the Boots Book-Lovers’ Library was indicated by possession of a faux ivory bookmark, which was attached to a chain that could be threaded through the eyelet in each borrowed book.
And, as well as slapping on a sticker and jabbing in a hole, then they destroyed the dust jacket; chucked it away; binned it, in an act of pure vandalism.
When I used to do processing for library books myself, I always used to think of my own work as the equivalent of non-invasive surgery, rather than rounding on the book as if I was about to perform a double heart bypass; with the Boots Book-Lovers’ Library it was closer to pure butchery.
The Boots Book-Lovers’ Library was an inspirational, benevolent service, which provided the public access to an invaluable, open-browse library when no other equivalent services were available.
The Boots Book-Lovers’ Library was a despoiler of books.
I am torn. It is the enduring battle between the book-reader and the book-collector in me. The book-reader supports the Boots Book-Lovers’ Library’s motives; the book-collector rages at their cavalier disregard for the integrity of the first edition as a beautiful object.
However, even as a book-collector, I recognise that many old books that I have enjoyed collecting and reading never would have survived into this age without the enlightened agency of the Boots Book-Lovers’ Library and, for that, I salute it.
© Fergus Longfellow
Ferus Longfellow gives credit where credit is due.