Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Once upon a time, in the Innerpeffray Library...

At the library, we’re so excited about our collection of borrower ledger books dating back to the 18th century. The three books display every loan made to borrowers from 1747 to 1968. But these books aren’t simply data-filled records. The ledgers provide insight into the lives of borrowers, creating a narrative that we modern onlookers can use to paint a picture of life back in earlier days of Perthshire.

One of the most exciting things about the ledger books is how often they can remind us of our own lives. As I was flipping through the borrowing records for the years 1898 and 1899, I noticed that some of the children had borrowed books that I had read during my own childhood in metro Detroit, Michigan. When I saw that young Lorna Cox, accompanied by her governess, Katherine Dodsworth, had borrowed Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-glass, I remembered the first time I discovered and devoured Alice’s adventures. I read Carroll’s books about Alice so much and so thoroughly that I had to buy multiple copies through the years, after the old ones had fallen apart. I had the same nostalgia when I read that the Haxton sisters, Mary and Sarah, had each borrowed books from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” series. Sarah had borrowed the original Little Women, while Mary preferred the later Little Women Married. Like many young girls, the Haxton sisters chose many books about women, reading Alcott’s novels alongside books like Lives of Eminent Women, a biographical book about historical women such as Joan of Arc. Perhaps the sisters dreamed of emulating the women they read about, just as I remember wanting desperately to be like Jo March, with a pen in her hand and a clever phrase always on her tongue. I noticed other familiar books in the ledger: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, borrowed by Miss Jessie McAinsh, was one of my mother’s favorite books as she grew up in Brooklyn, New York. One of my professors at the University of Michigan still enjoys re-reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, which was another one of Miss McAinsh’s selections. Clearly, these books have spanned countries, and lifetimes.

Part of the draw of the Innerpeffray Library is the connecting force that its books reveal. Two little girls in two different centuries can read the same novel, and can love the story in the same way. Writing can become immortal, and stepping into the Innerpeffray, to read the texts or thumb through the pages of the ledgers, is a perfect way to travel the same journey as readers of the past. 


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