Some of you may have spotted this recent news story, where a library borrower developed a 'code' for marking which books they had already borrowed, so as not to borrow them again. Completely by accident, as this story emerged, Keeper Lara Haggerty and PhD student Jill Dye discovered something which looked like one of the borrowers from , Scotland's first free public lending library, may have been doing something similar.
The Library of has records of loaning its books to the local public from 1747 to 1968. Despite such firm evidence for their borrowing, the books themselves (almost 90% of which are still present in the library) contain very few markings by any reader, and those marks which are present tend to pre-date the book entering the library's collection. This, alongside the incredible survival rate of borrowed works, would suggest that the books were relatively well cared for by library users, ensuring that they were safely returned undamaged and unmarked.
However, while in pursuit of something entirely different, Jill and Lara spotted a few books which, while not annotated, did have handwritten dates close to their title pages, all around the year 1826. With a little further investigation using the borrowers' register, they managed to work out what tied these titles and dates together: a man called Robert Taylor.
|Title page & frontispiece via JISC's Historical Texts|
Robert Taylor borrows from the Library between June 1825 and September 1826. He never lists his occupation but is recorded as living in the Parish of Blackford. We cannot ascertain his occupation with any degree of certainty since there are multiple individuals of that name in that parish at that time, but we can rule out his being a student or a minister since he does not appear in such registers. The works he chooses to borrow give us no indication either, since he chooses a fair amount of philosophy, but also the works of Shakespeare and the remarkable-sounding 'Coffee-house Jests', which unfortunately is no longer at Innerpeffray [NB if you have a mystery copy which has any evidence of a former bookplate or unfamiliar library markings, we would love to hear from you!]
The pencil annotation recorded in the first volume of Shakespeare's Plays is most fascinating of all, because of the additional information it chooses to record. Taylor writes 'Innerpeffray Library, 25 May 1826 to be returned'. 25 May is not the date on which the book is due to be returned, but the date on which it is borrowed. 'To be returned' therefore, alongside the fact that the library has also been identified, would indicate that Robert Taylor is almost certainly borrowing books from other collections, and this is the means by which he can identify the home location of each item. While it had always been a logical assumption that, particularly by the 19th century, would not be the sole source of books for its users, evidence of library use (borrower records, visitor books) is so rare that it has not thus far been possible to prove. It is fantastic, therefore, to finally be able to confirm this, and by such unusual means!
This episode shows precisely the value of matching Library Records to the exact books which were borrowed. While it is exciting finally to be able to pin down an individual writing in an book, we must add that writing in library books is still not to be encouraged. However, if you simply must, please make sure to follow Robert Taylor's example, and only do so in pencil.
Robert Taylor's Borrowings
8 June 1825 Bolingbroke's Philosophic Works (London, 1754)
15 July 1825 Cudworth's Intellectual System (London, 1743)
13 April 1826 Douglas' Criterion, or, Miracles Examined (London, 1754)
25 May 1826 Shakespeare's Plays (Samuel Johnson ed.) (London, 1765)
29 June 1826 Anderson's Observations (Edinburgh, 1777)
31 August 1826 Hickes' Coffee-house Jests (London, 1686)
23 September 1826 Mackenzie's Moral Gallantry (Edinburgh, 1667)