As It Happens

How a Scottish library worker solved the mystery of the underlined page numbers

Library assistant Georgia Grainger was baffled when an elderly patron asked her why every book she plucked from the shelves had the seventh page number underlined.

Georgia Grainger discovered the library's elderly patrons use secret codes to keep track of what they've read

A Wartime Family by Lizzie Lane was one of several books found with the mysterious underline on Page 7 at the library in Dundee, Scotland. (Penguin Random House, Submitted by Georgia Grainger)
Listen6:26

Librarian Georgia Grainger was baffled this week when an elderly patron asked her why every book she plucked from the library's shelves had the seventh page number underlined.

"At first I was pretty confused," Grainger, a library and information assistant at the Charleston Library in Dundee, Scotland, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"I hadn't heard about it before or anything and kind of thought she was making it up, or maybe she'd done it herself."

Grainger checked, and found several books with the underlined Page No. 7. The woman insisted she did not mark them herself. 

"I think our Page 7 vandal is quite well-read," she said. 

'Wee-old-women books' 

The targeted tomes had one just thing in common.

"It was what we fondly call 'Wee-old-women books,' which are a type of book which are very popular with a certain part of our clientele," Grainer said.

"They're kind of typical romances set in World War II Britain, which have, you know, like a nurse falling in love with a soldier, and there's a little bit of drama, but they're usually quite nice and romantic."

Keep Smiling Through by Ellie Dean was also tagged by the Charleston Library's 'Page 7 Vandal.' (Penguin Random House, Submitted by Georgia Grainger)

The librarian posted about this literary mystery on Twitter, and started concocting wild theories in her mind.

"I read quite a lot myself and have a bit of an overactive imagination," she said. 

"I thought maybe it was a serial killer and it was some sort of secret code. Or maybe there were spies in our library and they were using our library as a drop point for secret messages."

'They're in all the books'

Eventually, Grainger decided to kick it up the chain.

"Our head librarian was busy at the time that I was off on this mad fantasy journey. She came back to the desk, so I thought I should tell her before I go calling the police or anything," Grainger said.

"And she just laughed at me. She was like, 'Yeah, I'm surprised you haven't seen them before. They're in all the books.'"

Georgia Grainger is a library assistant who recently learned that elderly library patrons use secret codes to determine which books they've already read. (Submitted by Georgia Grainger)

Apparently, Grainger learned, elderly patrons of the library use their own personal secret codes to mark which books they've already read.

They might mark a symbol on the front or back cover, or underline or circle the page number that corresponds to their street address, she said.

"It's a code to themselves or sometimes to other family members," Grainger said.

"So, for example, if their son or their daughter is nipping into the library to pick up something for them, they know what books their parents have already read."

A global phenomenon?

When Grainger announced the curious case's conclusion on Twitter, several people piped in to say they've witnessed the same phenomenon at their local libraries.

"I've been told that it happens across the world," she said.

"People have been talking about Australia and Canada and America, and even someone said that their Russian grandmother did it. So I think it's pretty universal."

Oddly enough, Grainger said there's really no need for the personal codes. The library's computer system already flags readers' history for them.

"I think they quite like to have their codes," she said.

"Many of them seem to have started it before we had all the computer systems, and they're kind of used to it and doesn't do anyone any harm so we're happy enough with them keeping up their secret messages."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson.


If you've seen anything like this at your local library, let us know at aih@cbc.ca or by calling our Talkback line at 416-205-5687.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.