March 16, 2020

Reminder: don’t put food in your books


Remember that whole “Don’t have a bookmark?” meme that horrified bibliophiles everywhere last fall? The one where everyone from Chex Mix to Vitamin Water to Steak-Umm suggested using their products as a bookmark? Well, turns out that wasn’t such an original idea after all.

Recently, a tweet from the Cambridge University Library Special Collections account has been making the rounds showing a very old cookie in a super old book. Emily Dourish, deputy keeper of rare books and early manuscripts, had the (mis)fortune of finding the cookie told the Scottish Sun, “I was stunned. When I gave it to our conservationist, his jaw dropped.” Dourish believes that a student probably dropped the cookie while looking at the book fifty years ago and forgot about it. The book in question is a five-hundred-year-old manuscript from the complete works of St. Augustine that was donated by a grammar school in 1970 where it has been kept in the rare books archive. No food or drink is allowed in the archive.

That’s a reasonable explanation, but it left me with a few questions. Namely, who forgets that they’re eating a cookie? How did they not notice they dropped it? If they did notice, why not just pick it up? It couldn’t have been so greasy that it immediately damaged the book. Why were they eating in a library while using a manuscript from 1529? We may never know the answer to these questions.

Restorers were able to remove the now extremely crumbly cookie, but there is a rather permanent grease stain on the page. I’d say that the moral of the story is that food makes a horrible bookmark, but the cookie actually held up pretty well. Still though, if you’re at the library and need a bookmark ask a librarian, I’m sure they can hook you up. Just don’t put food in your books.



Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.