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

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?