Riot Headline 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards Winners Announced
Our Reading Lives

Please Stop Writing in Library Books

This is a guest post from Kristen Twardowski. Kristen stumbled her way through working with wolves and libraries and has finally found her professional home doing marketing and data analysis in the publishing industry. Though there will always be a place in her heart for numbers and graphs, the rest of her love is given to books.

You can find her at:

I have spent hundreds of hours pressing nubs of erasers into library books. I know by sight which ones will create smudges and which ones will leave seemingly virgin paper behind. At a distance of a dozen yards, I can guess whether or not a patron has written in a book.

All of this isn’t because I find the act of erasing to be particularly soothing. It isn’t because I have a penchant for making notes in the margins of novels and have to hide the evidence of my misdeeds. No, I am a peerless book graffiti eraser because I once worked in a library, and library patrons really enjoy writing in books that they don’t own.

Prior to working in the library, I didn’t think much about writing in books. I like my personal reading material to remain pristine; even a hint of wear and tear breaks my heart. I am convinced that, like people, books can tell when they are handled too carelessly. I feel a strange empathy for tomes with worn edges. It hardly matters whether they gained those signs of use from too much love or too little.

Once at the library, however, I quickly discovered that many patrons didn’t share my sympathy for reading material. Everyone seemed to write in books. In fact, it was so common that the library staff kept a full shelf of books that had some sort of graffiti inside of them. Whenever we had a spare moment, we would pick up these titles and attempt to remove the signs of abuse.

We weren’t always successful.

Some people, the moderately thoughtful ones, used pencils to markup the library books. Other folks tended towards more flamboyant notations. They would draw cartoons at the beginnings of chapters. They would alternate between red and blue pens. They would decide that highlighters were the best tools to use when faced with a library book.

(I always wondered why people would highlight entire pages of text. Surely the point of highlighting was to emphasize only the essential points text. Surely not everything was essential. Surely.)

I quickly became very good at erasing writing.

Despite my hours of cramped fingers, I consider erasing those books to be a gift. It allowed me to discover authors who I never would have otherwise known. One illicit book appender, for example, was a fan of poetry. I spent hours staring at lines written by Pablo Neruda, Else Lasker-Schüler, and half a dozen other poets besides and learned that if you look at something long enough you are doomed to love it. I owe whoever wrote in those books a great deal.

And because they introduced me to miraculous pieces of literature, I can’t hate the people who write in library books. I can be confused by them. Exasperated, certainly. But I can’t hate them. We both found meaning in the same words after all. How could I possibly hate that?

Despite my strange fondness for forbidden note makers, if you are an aspiring graffiti artist, I beg you to retrain yourself. For the sake of your friendly library workers if for no other reason, only write in books that you own. Libraries have small enough budgets as it is without having to account for bulk eraser purchases.