I stumbled into the public library profession. With hindsight, I suppose the signs were there. Moving around as a child (my Dad was in the RAF), books and libraries were a constant distraction. I can remember being lost in fiction, and the decision to move from children’s fiction to adult, starting at A with Jeffery Archer is still etched on my mind. When we settled down in Shropshire I could walk to Shifnal library myself and loved the regular family visits to the much larger Telford branch. Then exams took over. The serious studying began, and after University, where I studied History and Theology (influenced by Indiana Jones and the Blists Hill Museum) I somehow ended up working in retail.
I am definitely a ‘people person’ and in my efforts to do my best and keep people happy I realised that working in retail may not be best for me. I wanted a job with more soul. Not quite getting soul, I became pregnant -with twins. That was it, for the first seven years of their lives I stayed at home with our daughters (author that kept me sane whilst daughters were in SCBU – Barbara Erskine). Then my husband and I decided that we needed another income. Cue advert in the local paper for a part time assistant job at Rhyl Library. This was seven years ago. I’m now a full time Library Assistant and second to my first job, working in a local newsagents ‘Janet Shaw’s’, this is the best job I've had.
Working in a public library means you need to be prepared for anything. Rhyl Library is one of the bigger branches in Denbighshire and the daily jobs such as; serving customers; unpacking the van and tagging items; ringing/emailing requests; finding shelf checks; shelving and putting stock in order; are divided up hourly between all of us. We all have individual areas of responsibility. I like to keep an eye on our Reserve, which holds non-fiction in a store building out the back of the main library and request books for our reading groups. I also enjoy filling Askews and Holt baskets with glorious stock that I think will issue well, and get stuck in with a local primary school that is fortunate to visit regularly. In my locker you will find various props that I like to use. Mrs Twits crocheted glass eye, Mr Twits messy (crocheted) beard, a water pistol for Red Riding Hood, and a copy of ‘The Cat In The Hat’ by Dr Seuss, are all part of my standby kit. Nothing beats the enthusiastic responses of children, and indeed adults, when you have found them the book or information that they needed.
|Mr Twit costume!|
An integral part of the job is now keeping abreast of the new technology, and helping people gain confidence with it. There are a large proportion of people who need help sending their first email, scanning a document, or printing off their holiday boarding passes. Internet access is free when you are a library member and the computers are used for both social reasons and for seeking employment. With access to wi-fi we also need to be able to help the public log on, using a variety of devices and encourage use of our online services. It is not uncommon to hear a work experience person remark that they didn't realise how much the staff do!
I passionately believe in the ethos that libraries are for everyone, regardless of their personal situation. Where else can you go and just sit? Whatever the weather? Interact as much or as little as you want, without even having to buy a cup of coffee? (Incidentally we do have a cafe and art gallery, and small museum on site should you ever be in the area.) This openness is one of the libraries biggest assets. We have regular visitors who meet up and read papers, who’ll sit by the
windows, never taking a book out or using the internet. Customers of routine only acknowledged by the counter on the front door, where would they go otherwise?
In this climate of uncertainty regarding public libraries I am interested in how our Library Service will be shaped in the future. So this year I have started studying for an MA in Information and Library Studies, distance learning with Aberystwyth University. Pretty daunting for someone whose brain has been taken over by twins and craft (yes I am an obsessive crafter – I made The Twit props) for so long! Whilst my courage/momentum is high I've joined CILIP and put my name down for the New Professionals Day in London this October. Hey I’m even writing this!
My advice to anyone wanting to work in a public library is – have a sense of humour, don’t take all the toilet issues to heart, (I have been trying not to refer to this dark side of the job, but it is there) you must like people. You will deal with, and help all kinds of people, all ages. Listen to people and don’t be scared of trying new things.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for me, but I am sure I have found a job with soul. Even when I’m not in work I want to visit other libraries and meet like-minded people. That must be a good sign, right?