Rebecca Armstrong: Take a leaf out of her (borrowed) book

Louise Brown from Stranraer reminds us what libraries are really for

Share
Related Topics

There is a group of people that gathers on a Thursday night in my local library. They sit in silence on the utilitarian chairs, never needing to be shushed by one of the resident librarians. These quiet visitors aren't leafing through the latest Sarah Waters novel, nor are they scanning the pages of a guide to building your own gazebo. They're here for a weekly meditation class.

Now, I am a big fan of meditation but I'm a much bigger fan of reading, and to me the only appropriate meditation that should take place in a library is the quiet contemplation of a well-thumbed paperback. Visiting the library to borrow a book, rather than to search for inner peace, explore the internet or pick up an arthouse DVD, seems to have become rather an old-fashioned idea. As a result, these temples to communal reading are dying out – and madcap schemes to turn them into multimedia hubs with ice blended coffees on tap don't seem to be helping to convince people to drop in for a browse rather than ravaging their bank accounts on Amazon impulse buys.

But this week an unlikely champion has emerged from the reading room. Louise Brown, from Stranraer in Dumfries and Galloway, has been crowned the unofficial queen of libraries thanks to an awe-inspiring appetite for free reading. Mrs Brown's approach is refreshingly non-possessive – not for her the cluttered bookshelves of the Waterstone's three-for-two addict – instead she is approaching her 25,000th borrowed book and hasn't spent a penny on any of them.

True, she is 91 years of age so has had ample time to clock up tens of thousands of volumes but nonetheless Mrs Brown's stats are impressive. In her 53 years of borrowing, she has got through at least six books a week, an average which has recently increased to about 12 volumes every seven days. Does the woman never sleep? While Mrs Brown is a fan of Mills and Boon ("for light reading at night") – titles that tend not to take more than a couple of hours for a dedicated reader to devour – she also enjoys sagas, historical novels and war stories, saying: "I like anything I can get my hands on."

Janice Goldie, the cultural services manager for Dumfries and Galloway, says she and her colleagues have not heard of anyone who has achieved anything like it. "We are fascinated to know if Mrs Brown's record can be beaten," she says. Surely this should be libraries' rallying call – challenge the nation to compete with Mrs Brown and embark on a Britain's got speed-reading talent contest.

Such a competition could remind us all of the quiet charms of borrowing a stack of battered bodice-rippers, murder mysteries and experimental novels from bright young things without having to open our wallets, except to remove our library cards.

The thrill of spotting a new title tucked between dusty old favourites, the satisfaction of curling up with a book that hundreds of other people have already enjoyed (with the dog-eared pages to prove it) and the knowledge that if one of this week's loans doesn't pass muster, you can give up and start something else, guilt-free, are what make libraries great. Louise Brown may be a tough act to follow but lapsed library-goers would probably have more fun trying to top her triumph than they would meditating their way to a higher state of consciousness.

r.armstrong@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high