The Vanishing Stamp

Upon the recommendation of a friend I recently visited my local library to pick up a copy of Margaret Maron’s Shooting at Loons, volume three of the Deborah Knott mystery series. (Which was delightful.) Book in hand, I walked up to the check out desk and gave the librarian my card which she scanned along with the book. Then she handed them back.

“Don’t I get a stamp?”
“Oh, we don’t do that anymore. All books are now due two weeks after check-out. Would you like a receipt or an email reminder?”

Crestfallen I said, “Thank you, but no” and left.

There’s a sense of rightness to the world in a library, a feeling of abundance that comes from being surrounded by rows upon rows of books just itching to be read. You can have one dollar in your bank account and still return from the library with a large stack of books. A library is a place of respect. As a group we keep quiet so as not to disturb one another in our common bond of love for the written word. People generally seem nice in libraries.

So when the librarian told me they no longer date-stamp books, a little piece of my heart broke. It’s just one more sensory imprint being replaced by “the tech*.” I like “the tech” but as crisp and sexy as an iBook is, I prefer the sensuality of words printed on paper and bound between two covers. I cradle a book in my hand and my cells softly rearrange to make room for new worlds, new ideas, and new understanding.

As physical creatures our senses trigger memories, emotions, states of consciousness. The stamp rolling on the ink pad then landing on the labeled book, the crinkle-crackle of smooth plastic protecting the hardcovers, the scattered due dates that offer a brief glimpse into the lives of persons unknown, these things are part of the library. They awaken an ease and simplicity of living just as do the sounds of children playing outside, water running from the kitchen faucet, the feeling of a spring breeze floating through the window. It’s Life loving life in all its playful bounty.

I didn’t have this kind of reaction when card catalogues were replaced by computerized databases. Sure I was a little sad, I have fond memories of leafing through drawers of index cards in varying states of decay to find the call number of a book, but the change made good sense. It certainly made finding information a lot easier.

A week later I returned for the next installment in the series and asked why they stopped date-stamping. “Well, they’re convinced they’re going to save thousands of dollars a year by not buying all those labels. But I know what you mean, the stamps are just part of what a library is.” I suppose saving thousands of dollars a year is a good enough reason if it means they can buy more books, hire more folks, or just keep the lights on. But I will miss the faint smell of ink, the heavy fall of the date stamp on the cover, the thread of connection to those who read the very same book.  And, without a librarian date-stamping, how is Indiana Jones going to find the Holy Grail?

*”The tech” is a term my brother, Adam Thomas, uses in his new book, Digital Disciple:Real Christianity in a Virtual World, to refer to things such as computers, internet, phone, texting, etc. He borrowed it from Joss Whedon’s  show Dollhouse and now uses it for his own purposes. You can buy a copy of his book at

7 Comments on “The Vanishing Stamp

  1. “I cradle a book in my hand and my cells softly rearrange to make room for new worlds, new ideas, and new understanding.”

    This is a great sentence! And you’re right, Indiana Jones would never have gotten away with busting the marble floor of a library without the book stamp.

    And thanks for the shout out.

  2. I too loved that sentence: “I cradle a book in my hand and my cells softly rearrange to make room for new worlds, new ideas, and new understanding.” Your genes are showing! This is a fun post and has given me a new mystery series to look into.

  3. As a lover of books, Melinda, I loved this post. What drew me to it was the title: I just had to know what it was about; but what kept me reading was the quality of the writing. I too remember index cards

  4. What drew me in was the title – the business venture I am working on is an electronic stamp, of sorts. What kept me reading was your writing – a pleasure to read, as always. I too have fond memories of libraries and value their impact on my early development. However, I had lost touch with the library experience in the past couple of decades… until “the tech” brought me back! Yes, although I do still sometimes physically go in, now I enjoy many works from my library through ebook and audio book downloads. I am so thrilled that the Public Library (and it emphatically deserves capitalization) is still vibrant and meaningful not only in spite of, but even more so through use of, “the tech”. 🙂

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