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Small Talk: A little library psychology

I have a theory. Were I more ambitious, I might even do a master’s thesis on it.

In my school library, I let the kids stamp the due date on their book checkouts. I know the iconic picture is of the stern librarian soundly stamping the due date before reluctantly handing the book over to young, possibly sticky hands. Few libraries today bother with date-due stamping, but 20-plus years ago, I decided to hang on to this shred of library history. It became a simple way to let the students be involved in the process.

I find the way each child deals with stamping the book to be very revealing. Many will stamp smack in the middle of the slip, despite lines and row indicators. Some look for an empty spot, and others just stamp it down anywhere, in absolute random fashion. Some can’t resist stamping at least two or three times, and some wind up like a baseball pitcher, so that the stamp crashes into the book as hard as they can make it.

I have decided that these stamping styles would make the perfect test for a suitable roommate or even, perhaps, a spouse. I wince every time a child just stamps it down in any old spot, completely oblivious to the repeating, horizontal rows that precede it. I delight when a child clearly sees that there is a pattern to it all and stamps in or near the proper spot. But I freely admit all have their upside.

When a kid tries to put the stamp right through the book, I want to give them a hug and hide my breakables. There are those who take too much time to very carefully place, and slowly, precisely stamp so that the image is exactly on the line and never smudged. Those kids may be screaming perfectionists, but they will embrace precision and become our pilots, accountants and pharmacists. I bet they’d keep a lovely, tidy apartment, too.

I think the ones who automatically aim for dead center are probably budding artists, seeking a balanced composition. The ones who just plant it any old place are both my delight and horror. These are the rule-breakers, the adventurous, the creative, the messy. These are probably tomorrow’s great thinkers and leaders, but I’m not going to be the one who signs a lease with them.

And just to add to the ongoing behavior study, I began gluing fun, silly creatures to the top of the date-due stamp. The kids all loved the rubber chicken that squawked when they squeezed it (until it broke). Some now prefer the light-up Minion that I dress in holiday costumes. Others prefer the small, smiling monsters that speak gibberish when you stroke their hair. There you are — another master’s thesis topic. You are welcome to steal it.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who will tell your fortune if you stamp her book. Contact her at