I didn’t know what to do. All my life I’d been told “library books aren’t your books—treat them like they belong to somebody else.” And here I was with a checked-out library book with uncut pages. This was in Edinburgh, and to make matters more interesting, it was an interlibrary loan book. What was I supposed to do? Finally I found the sharpest butter knife in the drawer and carefully cut the edges. (This was before uneven pages became trendy again.) Then, some time later I was reading another library book and I found writing in it. Writing! Who did this borrower think s/he was, writing in a book that belonged to someone else? And what was more, the writing was done in ink.
Perhaps some readers get so caught up in a book that they forget it’s not theirs. As for me, I’ve never been so bold as to think others would want my thoughts in a library book. That’s what notebooks are for. Of course, since that experience I’ve found many library books with writing in them. These days when I have to buy books for research, not being affiliated any more, I tend to get them used. From libraries often. I look for the designation “very good” in the description since this specifies “clean” interiors, generally since they were library books. I’m guessing that those who classify used books operate under the same delusion that I used to—people don’t write in library books. The most recent three or four ex-library books I’ve ordered (all “very good”) have had ink writing and underlining in them. You can see this at a glance.
The most recent one arrived the other day and on my initial thumb-through I found the now expected ink markings, but also two pages stuck together by a wad of gum. This passes beyond the realm of unthinking behavior to criminal, at least in my mind. Who sticks chewed gum between the pages of a book? A book they don’t even own? I did what anyone would do: I checked the book out on Internet Archive and wrote, in ink, the obliterated words in the margin. I’m the first to admit I’m sensitive about books. When I buy a new one I try to finish it with no sign that it’s even been opened. No creases on the spine, no banged edges. When I fail in this I feel badly, like I’ve hurt a friend. At least I don’t have to worry about cutting the pages. And even if I do, I know that it’s a trendy look these days.