Tag Archives: library staff

Comments from Weoley Castle

“This library & staff (Weoley Castle) is absolutely wonderful in the help they give to the customers. It is no trouble to anyone to get reservations. I wish them all a Happy Christmas & New Year & hope they go on helping the community for years to come.”

(M. Scott 9/11/10)

This is just one of the fantastic handwritten comments we received about Weoley Castle Library in Birmingham. We’ve got lots more here. It would be great if people from all around the U.K. could send us comments about their public library. We know there must be so many people out there who really value their library.

Wendy’s story

I am 77 years old and have been a library user from a very young age, in various parts of England.
I have helped with mobile libraries and also with a hospital library on a voluntary basis taking trolley loads of books to patients.
At present I am a member of my local “Friends of the library” and also the reading group held in the library.
I cannot imagine life without libraries, the librarians are real friends and so helpful.
There are also lots of other activities at my local library, reading days for young children and their Mothers, evening events with local authors, help with Computers, to name a few.
My local library is used extensively and our small town could not manage without it.

David’s story

I fully support your campaign. As children both our sons were frequent users of their local library. They went to the local LEA primary and secondary schools. The elder got a double first in PPE at Oxford. His younger brother skipped a school year and later passed the entrance examinations and interviews for Oxford just before his 17th birthday. He then took an active part in college life and left with an upper second in geography. Their careers have since been very successful, no doubt in part due to the assistance given all those years ago, by local Bracknell librarians.

Rosemary’s story

Cannot imagine life without the library. I have been using our local library since it was housed in a van which arrived once a week. Now in a small but well organised building our library is well stocked with books, video books, very well presented. Cheerful and warm, a tiny seating area with coffee, special area for babies/toddlers once a week and so much more…  Run by several hard working staff and helped by older volunteers when possible.
Even a special book trolley for people like me who cannot carry books easily, especially when I was using crutches.

This is a special ‘Thank you’ to them.

Lisa’s story

I was sad to hear that Richmond upon Thames Library Service is considering making cuts. Some years ago I was a library assistant employed in two branches in this borough. So I thought I would write and share my experiences of working there.

Your first thoughts about the residents of this affluent area of south-west London are possibly that they are very privileged and wealthy and that they don’t use public services much – but that ain’t necessarily so. In among the districts where houses changed hands for seven figures, there were plenty of less affluent areas, areas of public housing, areas where residents relied heavily on public services like libraries.

This meant that the library service was used by a huge variety of people from all walks of life. Children at the local state primaries and secondaries came in to borrow books and use reference materials for homework. Often they were studying alongside pupils from nearby public schools that enjoyed national acclaim and whose parents were paying thousands of pounds a year for their education – but who were still relying on the local free-to-use public library to get the homework support they needed.

Our branch provided resources for parents home-schooling their children and for tutors working individually with children identified by the education authority as needing additional support. This is an excellent example of how a public library service has roots in a community and in that community’s wellbeing that are much, much deeper than many might initially suppose. How do we put a financial value on these roots? What happens if we pull them up?

Parents seeking opportunities for themselves and for their pre-school children to meet and socialise numbered high among the users, as did older people who might not have seen a friendly face all day had they not been able to pop in. We also ran reading events, holiday activities and a service for elderly and disabled people who were unable to come into the branch, choosing books for them each fortnight with great care and attention.

Every time a new best-selling book was released we had huge waiting lists of people wanting to read them. Our community noticeboards were covered with cards, posters and flyers for local events. There was a strong demand for local history and archive services and we were constantly making referrals to the specialists working in those areas.

Job-hunters came in to look at the papers, consult directories, use computers or the photocopier, borrow books and to get a little bit of moral support at a lonely and difficult time. And I met countless people pursuing an interest, embarking on further education, getting the information they needed to make some major life change involving moving, or study, or a change of direction. Suggesting that all this can now simply be done online from home presupposes an awful lot – that people have the access, the confidence, the motivation and the information-processing skills to find trusted sources. And, if they
don’t, who’s going to offer to help them, sitting alone at their computer?

Who on earth gets to decide that the needs and wishes and experiences of all these people, and all the others like them around Britain, count for nothing?

To me the most important function of Richmond’s libraries was their role in providing public space – a role that is almost more important in the small branches than in the bigger ones. And this is the reason why the borough should think extremely hard before closing them.

Libraries are places where people of all ages, outlooks, backgrounds, incomes, circumstances and opinions meet and mix. By doing this they get to know each other, dispel the demons of difference and realise that, actually, the things we have in common are much stronger than the things that separate us. These are the places where society is built. And they are not replaced by upscale book shops, town-centre coffee shops, health clubs with expensive subscription fees or anywhere where you need to spend money in order to belong.

We live in an time where public services are portrayed as services of last resort. This is a crying shame – and it is one reason why, rather than becoming less necessary, our libraries are more valuable than ever. They are places where we meet people who are different to ourselves and benefit from so doing. The damage we will do by cutting them is immense and lasting and goes far beyond the perhaps deliberately short-sighted debate over whether the Internet has replaced print and whether books are dead.

Libraries are about reading, and about so much more. And we can’t afford to lose them in order to have that brought home to us.

Ian’s story – Public Libraries for Children

I am the only full-time librarian in a small not-very-prosperous  town
of around thirty thousand people in the Northwest.  The major focus of
the outreach work at the library is to the local junior schools,
nurseries and high schools due to the high number of potential users
that can be reached with one visit.  One can talk to a full school
assembly, with the school sending home a leaflet promoting the library
that will also be seen by at least one parent, thus meaning that an
hour’s work (including travel time) can reach six hundred people.

We try to visit each school at least twice every year, making the
school assemblies as fun as possible.  When the library is preparing
for the summer reading promotion or for a child-friendly event such as
exotic animal handling, I get them all to say “ooh” and “aah”. Over
time, this has become a catchphrase and I often see children coming
into the library, or who pass me in the town centre, repeating these
words back to me.  During the last summer reading challenge, the
catchphrase was simply the name of this years challenge said in a very
low voice.  We had hundreds of children coming into the library in
August saying “please can I join [pause then sudden deep voice] SPACE
HOP”.  It was great. Three hundred and fifty children joined up this
year, a truly great result for us.

When I hear someone in the media saying that libraries are dying or
that somehow children should not use libraries, I sometimes laugh and
sometimes feel very angry.  Have any of these people been into a
library recently?  We have regular storytimes, rhymetimes and
dancetimes – done with no extra resources and often with partner
agencies – which brings in loads of children, filling up the
children’s library or dance floor. Yes, the library has a dance floor.
We feel really happy when passing the children’s library on a
“normal” morning and seeing three or four children in there, each with
an attendant parent or grandparent, enjoying looking for a book
together or reading a story on a comfortable chair.  This is really
habit-forming for both the child and the parent with untold positive
effects for the future.

Anne’s story – a life in libraries

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.

Jon’s story

In January 2010 Herefordshire Library Service opened a new library for 10 hours per week in the bellringing chamber at the Anglican church in the Golden Valley community of Peterchurch. The development was part of a wider refurbishment and development of the church both as a place of worship and focus for the community as it now encompasses a Surestart Children’s centre for 21 hours a week and a community café on a Wednesday.

A further innovation came through the fact that the Library service in Peterchurch is delivered at the front line by volunteers, albeit with considerable library service support. Earlier this year the library service carried out a review of the project to see what it could learn about how the development had gone and how it would inform future policy. One of the main outcomes of the review was to recommend the setting up of a staff group to develop a volunteer offer for the library service to make clear where and in what roles the service feels that volunteers can give added value.

It has become clear to the service that while volunteers do have an important role to play in public services, the idea that services can simply be handed over to them to run is simplistic and, particularly where libraries are concerned, there is a large amount of practical support that would need to be provided by professional staff to facilitate any volunteer run service.

Guest post: The Travelling Suitcase Library: why I will always support public libraries.

Today’s guest blog post is from Jess Haigh.  Jess has worked in FE libraries for the past three years. She runs the Travelling Suitcase Library (feel free to link to me blog), which facilitates book swaps around Leeds and at various events. You can contact her through twitter @BookElfLeeds or email her bookelfleeds@gmail.com

I’ve been working in libraries for three years now. Nothing can undermine the importance of libraries to me. I have seen women my age who have never read a book before in their lives become avid readers in a matter on months because of the work librarians do. I have seen young fathers learn how to bond with their children, refugees learn the language that allows them to stay in their country, and teenager’s faces light up when I slip the brand new copy of the latest popular series onto a shelf.

Yes, the libraries I’ve worked in have been in FE, but we work in partnership with the excellent public library service in Leeds, and I personally promote the public library whenever possible (though a part of me wishes they’d desensitise their books more!).

I once had a student who was permanently had her phone strapped to the side of her head, which goes against out House Rules, so you can imagine we got on like a house on fire.  She was bored one day waiting for her friend and her eyes drifted across to the Quick Reads display. She picked up a book and casually flicked through it before appearing to read it.  Just before she left she sidled up to the desk and borrowed the book; nothing was said between us but for the first time in over a year I didn’t feel like the mean bad tempered library assistant. She came in the next day to return it, I asked if she’d enjoyed it and for the next ten minutes gazed in joy as she started praising the book, and explaining how it was the first time in a long time she had turned her phone off; her friends kept interrupting her when she was trying to read!!!

This would never have happened had it not been for libraries. Were it not for libraries, thousands of people would have no access to computers, to books at a suitable level for them, to dedicated book lovers who want to help in whatever way they can on someone’s quest for knowledge.

On a typical day at the issue desk I can be asked literally anything, I dread to think how my partners sitting on the issues desks in public libraries cope! From people looking for ‘books about stuff’ (also known as That Pink Book You Know With The Thing On It), to the mature male student who was looking for both a book about wood and Princess Di’s biography (I think the first book was a cover), we are here to make people’s dreams come true.

Last February I started the Travelling Suitcase Library. This has grown in the last year from me sitting on my own in a pub with a suitcase full of books trying to engage fellow drinkers in a dialogue about their reading to a monthly book swap event that is also touring the country this month. I would never want to usurp public libraries, and if they had the funding then I would not need to do the TSL myself, because they’d be doing it already. Much is said about ‘volunteers’ making society what it is, but if we valued out librarians as much as we value our businesses and bankers, then we wouldn’t need to have people working for free, and everyone would be much happier.

Although I love running the TLS, and have received a very positive response to it, I’d give it up in a second if I thought I was contributing to the demise of the status of the public library. However, whilst the libraries in Leeds are shut on a Sunday evening, I’ll continue to haul my tomes to my local pub once a month, in the hope of spreading the word about how great reading is to more people.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.

Sophie’s story

My love of public libraries!

From a very young age I remember the thrill of being taken into my local library (Coxheath library in Maidstone) and having access to a multitude of books. Not only that but welcoming staff were on hand to advise and help me choose from the wide range of books. As I grew older it was still a thrill to be able to choose whatever book I wanted and being able to access so many different worlds and cultures. I do believe that was my first chance to choose for myself and make my own decisions, but even better I could make those decisions within the safety and comfort of the library.

As a student I discovered the other side of libraries and began using non-fiction for the first time. This was like a whole new discovery and just led me to rely on libraries even more! It was due to my early love of libraries that I eventually ended up working in one. I dallied in both medical and academic libraries before realising that public libraries were of such valuable importance and I wanted to contribute to their vital functions. I have now worked my way up to a Community Librarian post and am grateful that every day I am still learning. The impact that libraries can make on the local community is incredible. This is achieved not only by bringing people into libraries but the invaluable Outreach work that is done by many library staff. From a visit into a Children’s Centre or preschool right up to a visit to a nursing home – every age range is reached and the input from the library is invaluable to them.

For me there is nothing more rewarding than visiting a school and then a few days or weeks later meeting a child that was part of that visit – who after the visit has come into the library. It means that the simple act of storytelling can have made an immense difference to that child. To the point that the child has now gone from the confines of the school and ventured into the library and even better they have bought their parent or carer with them. If I can instill the love of the library that I have into the next generation then I feel as if I am doing my job successfully and reaching out to those who may not know how special public libraries really are.