On 21st January 2020, the University of Liverpool’s Library (@LivUniLibrary) tweeted an image with the caption: ‘This is not a bookmark.’ This firm declarative was in relation to a photograph of a piece of plastic wrapped sliced cheese which had been left in a library book.
Said cheese was found, according to Associate director Alex Widdeson, “somewhere between American history and geography”. The tweet has amassed over 35,000 retweets, including that of Radio 1’s Greg James, and over 200,000 likes on Twitter, reaching far beyond the account’s 16,000 followers. The response to the tweet consisted overwhelmingly of cheese-related puns and other food items supposedly used as bookmarks, amidst outpours of horror and disapproval. Alongside the cries of murder regarding Alex Chirstofi cutting his books in half for ease of transport only 2 days later, the people of the internet, reaching far beyond the dedicated book reading and reviewing community, seem to have very strong opinions about what is and is not acceptable in regards to book etiquette.
A bookmark, according to most definitions, is an item usually made of leather or card that is specifically made or manufactured to mark one’s place in a book. In that regard, a slice of cheese is nowhere near a bookmark. However, many people don’t use leather or metal bookmarks, as was traditionally used since the beginning of the book itself, but rather paper or card. Indeed, it is certainly not uncommon to see someone using a receipt, a train ticket, a scrap of paper or any ordinarily disposable flat item that is somewhere between a square and a rectangle as a bookmark.
Since it fulfills the function of marking a place as well as any specially made bookmark, it goes unquestioned and unthought of. Though unlikely to spring to mind when in need of a place marker, a slice of cheese logistically fulfills the function of a bookmark and out of all the fromage options available, a plastic-wrapped piece of cheese is probably the most suitable and inoffensive as it is unlikely to go off or cause a stink. Thus, by this standard cheese isn’t too far of a stretch.
Why did the cheese bookmark cause such a reaction, aside from provoking lactose-heavy puns? Perhaps it is because it is a library book and libraries have their own specific unspoken codes of conduct in which food is too much of a problem in relation to sound and smell for a cheese bookmark not to be frowned upon. Perhaps it is because so many people are averse to invading the sanctity of the published book with writing, folds, or cheese stains. Perhaps it is because of its complete unexpectedness that the cheese bookmark – which is ‘not a bookmark’ – has found brief internet fame.
So, for the time being, keep your cheese in your fridge (or your own personal books) and out of the library. At least they didn’t bend the corner of the page.