I read a lot as a child, and people would say “She’s going to be a librarian or a bookseller”, but upon considering a career, I was planning on doing accountancy and working in a bank. But when I found out it would take 6 years of study (!) to become an accountant, I changed my mind. When studying for my A-Levels, I got a Saturday job at my local library in Cwmbran, and also worked as holiday relief. This made my decision for me. I enjoyed my time there and chose to study Librarianship at Aberystwyth University. I was fortunate that the year I went to ‘Aber’ was the first year they were doing a single honours course in Library & Information Studies, so apart from some small ‘filler’ classes, almost all of my lectures focused on librarianship in some form or other.On leaving university, I was unable to find a ‘proper’ job straightaway and took a temporary administrative post in the former Welsh Office. This was dull work (what was the point of filing all those reports that no-one would ever read?) and after 8 months, I was extremely happy to get the job of Branch Librarian in Mountain Ash public library. Mountain Ash is a typical ex-mining town in the Welsh Valleys. I’d never heard of the Cynon Valley until I got this job, but it is a beautiful part of Wales, with steep mountains of green, brown heather and thick forests. I tell you, walking up these steep streets has improved my fitness no end!
I’ve been in this post ever since, getting my Chartership and seeing the council go through various changes, including moving the library to another, newly constructed, building. That was a huge challenge – weeding out the stock (we had a lot of new items bought for the move); arranging the disposal of the old stock (via recycling firms and a mega sale, we even sold the chairs we were sat in!); and the actual moving day (which took 12 hours, I was worn out!). Another major challenge was the upgrade to a computer library system, we were previously on the old card system in the old building. May I suggest that you never move to new premises and begin a new library software at the same time…
I have been involved in various committees within Rhondda-Cynon-Taff libraries. Some years ago we were looking at updating our library software, and as someone who’d be using it on a daily basis, I was part of the group who visited various libraries around Wales and England to learn about and test their software. We also had a group that looked at marketing. This entailed regular meetings where we discussed various methods of promotion and publicity, whether through selling items or organising events. I enjoy being part of these groups, and being able to play a small role in making our service better. And the chance to see parts of the UK I’d never before been to, was a lovely treat.
My typical day will involve issuing and returning books; answering queries, which could be anything from providing an address or phone number to family history research (sometimes it’s Americans looking for a John Evans, miner!); assistance on our public access PCs, from writing CVs to retrieving lost documents; weeding our stock, keeping it relevant for our borrowers; local history (adding new items, writing up local histories, answering queries, etc); creating and organising displays by local artists; running a monthly book club & weekly craft group; organising events; administrative duties; managing staff; and ensuring building safety and security.
My job has expanded these last few years, as this building is no longer just a library, but has a small office where people can come to the council for any queries (we have become their receptionists), and just recently, the Citizens Advice Bureau has moved in upstairs. It can be quite challenging when someone comes in saying they have an appointment. It could be for the CAB, the council One4All, Want to Work, Bridges into Work, Gingerbread, or just to use one of our public access PCs!
Most days I love my job. It’s varied and each day provides new challenges and experiences. People make my job interesting, everyone has different needs and queries. Yes, not everyone is nice to deal with, and sometimes they can be a nuisance, but on the whole, life is good. My advice to anyone wanting to work in a public library is to be friendly and outgoing. Shy, retiring people need not apply! You must like being with and talking to people, to have a genuine wish to help others. Working in a library may not be as vital as being in the emergency services, being a nurse, or a carer. But in our way, we do help to make people’s lives a little bit better. And that, for me, is job satisfaction.