Only child in an impoverished home, never enough to eat, no new clothes or holidays. But the library was free! My parents were readers, so was I. By the age of nine, in 1940, I had already decided on my future career: I would be a librarian. At grammar school I began to set my sights on becoming a university librarian, but this was never to be. Family need meant I had to leave school at sixteen. I was heartbroken. So naturally I applied to the local public library and became a junior assistant. Two years at library school would provide me with qualifications, but that too was denied; my local authority would not fund it. Accordingly I set about five years of home study by correspondence, became an Associate of the Library Association but could not be a chartered librarian until I was twenty-three. By this time I had been given responsibilities and had plenty of experience to offer. I took a post in charge of children’s and schools libraries in a Lancashire town. Two years later I married, and again found myself stymied. My authority would not employ married women. (Many today don’t believe me, but that was the case in 1957.) Heartbreak number two.
End of career? Happily, no. In 1971 life began again. A new sixth form centre was being built as the boys and girls grammar schools united. Arriving for my first day’s work, I found an array of empty bookshelves, a large study area covered with tarpaulin sheeting and tea chests full of several thousand books selected for sixth form use by both schools. “Where do I start?” I exclaimed. “Start there,” said a hastily departing secretary. A team of students arrived to help. The books were mostly classified and after sifting by me could be arranged on shelves. Three weeks later we opened for business. Three months later I had the books catalogued (card catalogues in those days, of course).
So began the twenty-one happiest years of my life, creating and exploiting an educational library. It was a liberal education for me too, as I caught daily glimpses into every discipline (well, maybe not maths!) and worked creatively to provide materials to supplement the curriculum on matters such as environmental concern. I took part in the life of the college (as it became), its extra-curricular activities and indeed not a little teaching. By this time I was a writer and editor and was used as unofficial poet-in-residence. Seeing me as not quite a tutor, students brought their writings or their troubles to me. And every year I recruited a new splendid team of student assistants who staffed the issue desk and advised on library policy – for me, a wonderful way of keeping young until I retired. Never a dull moment; every day was different and full of delight.
I was not well paid – how many librarians are even today? But for sheer job satisfaction, no other career can beat it. Now in retirement I enjoy using my local libraries, including reading groups led by librarians who are keen readers themselves. I wish them well with all my heart. Long may they and their service survive and flourish.