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Welsh readers favour safe sex between the covers

IN MANY PLACES they use condoms, but only in Hengoed, Mid-Glamorgan, do they put them in library books afterwards. That is the most striking conclusion of a survey of unusual bookmarks conducted among 3,000 librarians in advance of the Library Resources Exhibition in Birmingham next month.

Other noteworthy bookmarks include an unwrapped kipper, in Norwich; an ageing jam sandwich, in Taunton; and a letter threatening legal action for the return of library books from a thrifty inhabitant of Leeds.

At least those were given back. The librarians were also asked what was the most overdue book to be returned. The Shell Book of Beachcombing came back to Taunton Library 10 years late, and covered in sand. Current Theories in Education was returned 18 years overdue to Bedford College of Further Education. By that time the Government had made the theories current all over again. Twice. And in 1983 the Bridgnorth College of Further Education was delighted to receive HMSO's Decimal Currency in the Changeover, borrowed in 1969.

Other volumes come back on time, but sadly defaced. In Hebden Bridge, another thrifty Yorkshireman returned a book which had spent the weekend in a polythene bag, used as a cat's lavatory. In Warwick someone prudishly returned the cover of The Joy of Sex, but kept the meat of the book.

Still on a medical theme, the most defaced book returned to the BMA library was Mrs Thatcher, Guardian of the Nation's Health. And the worst excuse for late return of a book was simply: 'I am the Chairman of the BMA Council.'

The most unlikely fate of all was suffered by Frogs and Toads, which was returned at Taunton with holes through the middle, eaten by snails.

Some books escape such fates by never being borrowed at all. Top of that list is Gay Bulgaria, which has rotted on the shelves in Lancaster since 1957. In Huddersfield there has been no recorded demand for Guatemalan Tree Frogs and A Guide to Egyptian Street Trees.