When I’d left the library last night, they’d been there. Two enormous orange crates containing bags stuffed with library books; all checked out, labelled and ready to go. Not something you’d easily mislay. Now Mr Vestibule and I are looking at the space where the crates had been, but no matter how hard we look, they ain’t there.
There are many empty orange crates in the library basement; it’s not the crates that are the problem. There are even six which contain bags of library books: two of these are mine, ready for taking out this afternoon. But Mr V’s crates, together with the books he has carefully chosen for his clutch of Housebound Readers, have vanished into the ether.
Separately and together, we check the other four crates containing books but these are all labelled up for other ‘Housebound Library’ rounds, definitely not MrV’s. Separately and together, we go upstairs and search the library proper. Separately and together, we search the library basement; it’s not a big space – you couldn’t easily miss the crates if they were there. Well, actually it is a big space but most of it is taken up by mobile racks of stored books so the actual floor room is limited.
Keep it to yourself but having unbridled access to this Chamber of Secrets is, for me, the real thrill of being a new volunteer for the Housebound Library Service. I’ll be claiming, of course, that the satisfaction is in the taking of literature to the masses. But just walking into the basement … well, you know the scene at the end of Chocolat where the puritanical priest is found on Easter Morning, crouching in the window of the chocolaterie, smeared with the results of his night’s gorging? Just saying, if you miss me, a quick look among the 823.00 shelves should do it.
This meandering is not helping to find the crates, which, it is becoming increasingly evident, are nowhere in the building. I feel that Mr V is being impressively phlegmatic about the whole business. If it were my crates, I would by now be a whimpering wreck, for the choosing of books for others is a darn sight more challenging than it might appear.
It could be argued that I spent a quarter of a century choosing books for others: was Fenella ready for Orange level? Would Mildred be better with something more phonics based? Would Albert find an information book about dinosaurs a sufficient inducement to hunker down away from the Cartoon Network?
Getting this right is pretty crucial for getting a child reading but one does have the advantage of having both child and books readily accessible, if adjustments are needed. I have yet to meet my Housebound Readers. I’ve been given a few notes on their preferences but suppose I get the level wrong and give Mrs Coggins (Large Print, Cosy Crime) a book where she can’t read ten of the words on the first page, a sure sign that the book is pitched at frustration level? Should I take some easier books with me, just in case?
And suppose Mr Pitchfork romps through his book (Ordinary Print, Spies or Gangsters, must be Hard-Covered) without any hesitation? Will I need to take something with more challenge, in case his mother complains that the book is too easy?
The thought of having to redo an entire round’s book selection leads me to double-check that my crates are still firmly in place. Mr V, meanwhile, has more usefully logged into the computer and ascertained that the books he chose are still checked out. So at least he has not fallen victim to the misguided action by bored elves who, short of shoes to mend, took it upon themselves to help out by discharging his books back into the system.
I take myself back upstairs to question the volunteers manning the main library. And, at last – a breakthrough! One volunteer saw a tall man this very morning removing crates from the store and putting them in his car! Mr V is tall but not, as far as I know, prone to amnesiac book thievery. Nevertheless, I haul him up from the basement to take part in a very short line-up. The volunteer confirms that it was indeed a different tall man who took the books. I’m all for getting her to do an artist’s impression but Mr V is keen to call his Housebound Readers to alert them to the possibility that they may not be getting their books this morning.
We meander back to my house and ActorLaddie sorts out coffee while Mr V makes with the landline.
“I’m afraid I may not be able to deliver your books this morning,” he says to Mrs Arkwright.
“But I’ve already got them, dear – someone else brought them to me about half an hour ago.”
“Ah. Right. Good. Sorry to bother you.”
As Mr V puts down the receiver, his mobile rings. Irene, the cove from the Royal Voluntary Service whose lot it is to co-ordinate us volunteers, has solved the mystery. The chap who used to do Mr V’s round before giving it up to go travelling is now back in the country and thought he was supposed to do today’s delivery. So he did. Not so much book-thieving as book-moving.
“Will you be all right with your delivery this afternoon?” asks Mr V. Indeed I will. ActorLaddie is coming along as my bodyguard, in case Miss Hubbard gets over-excited by her Large Print, Paperback, Not-too-heavy Linford Romances.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll just pop back to the library and check my crates are still there. Better safe than sorry.