The New Yorker
January 19, 2011
Last week, the Stony Stratford library, in the district of Milton Keynes, England, experienced a run. As in “a run on the library,” in which more than a thousand Stony Stratford residents made their way to the red-brick building, scoured the shelves for their allotment of fifteen titles, swiped their library cards, and left the building completely bare of books.
The run began as a Facebook event posted by the Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FOSSL), a society created six years ago when the Milton Keynes council first proposed closing the Stony Stratford branch to conserve funds. Within three days, the run had become a featured story in the British press. All sixteen thousand books were checked out, and more than a thousand people had joined the Facebook event, posting comments like, “Our council should be supporting our libraries, not closing them!”
Now, libraries close all over the world every day without much ado. But books—or stories, strictly speaking—are an important piece of Stony Stratford’s history. In the Middle Ages, the town was a stopping place for travellers, thanks to its location on Watling Street, an old Roman travelling road. Inns proliferated in the town, and in the fifteen-hundreds, two became famous for the tall tales that would fly between their common rooms—the Cock and the Bull, which would compete to accommodate the travellers who could spin the most outlandish stories. So was the phrase “a cock ‘n bull story” born, and so did the fine art of bullshitting become an essential part of Stony Stratford lore.
In 2008, a Cock and Bull Society was born in the town, the purpose of which is to “organize events in and around Stony Stratford in celebration of the witty, the absurd, the satirically erudite, and even the plain funny.” I e-mailed Clayton Moore, the Society’s “Grand Panjandrum” and a resident of Stony Stratford, to ask about the run on the library. “This is all to the good,” he wrote. “The library provides a venue for exhibitions and events throughout the year such as StonyWords! and StonyLive! as well as children’s readings.” The Stony Stratford library is also the meeting place for the city council. “Libraries are so important in a community, and ours is lots more than simply dishing books out.”
Despite the fact that Clayton Moore is a pseudonym (taken from the actor who used to play the Lone Ranger), I believe the Grand Panjandrum that the library is important to Stony Stratford. I keep wondering which fifteen books I would have checked out from the Stony branch, perhaps for the last time. With three hundred and seventy-eight books vacating the Stony Stratford library per hour, I would have had to scramble to find a copy of Didion’s “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.” Clayton, it seems, had to take what he could find: “Dealing with Post-Natal Depression might be a toughie for someone of my age.”
Which leads to another question: Will the sixteen thousand books be returned? Let’s be real. As much as I love libraries, I’ve been guilty over the years of holding onto books for weeks, even months at a time. The townspeople of Stony Stratford have one week. Only time will tell if the seamstress living in a single room apartment off the A5 dealing with Post Natal Depression will find assuagement at her local library.
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