April 11, 2018

The Case of the Secret Code in the Library Book


Last week, according to a story in the BBC, Georgia Grainger, a librarian at Charleston Community Library in Dundee, Scotland went viral on Twitter after sharing her story about a mystery at the library.

Grainger was alerted by a “wee old woman” that many of the books she was checking out from the library had the page number 7 underlined. Talking to BBC Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams ProgrammeGrainger said that she investigated, noticing that the underlinings all looked similar and concluded they must be coming from the same person. She also noticed the books “were all what we affectionately call, ‘wee auld women books’, romances set in World War Two Britain that are very popular amongst our older patrons.”

Quirky and mysterious!

After speaking to the head librarian about it, Grainger learned that many of the older patrons use these secret codes—technically, a signature marking—in books to remind themselves which they have read. It stems from quite some time ago, before libraries had computer systems to keep track of what patrons checked out. As Grainger tweeted, “Our computers do it automatically but many have been doing it since before that was possible, so Esther might underline page 7, while Anne might draw a little star on the last page, and Fred might put an ‘f’ on the title page. Then when they pick it up, they can check!”

Grainger’s original tweet sharing the story now has over 26,000 likes and 9000 retweets — so if librarians see an uptick in secret signature code, we may know who to blame for spreading the word. But for this delightful cozy mystery within the world of “wee auld women” to brighten up our week, it’s worth it.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.