On Saturday morning my friends Mari and Jasper Fforde came into the library and presented me with a t-shirt bearing the legend:
“I don’t scare easily - I’m a librarian”
For me this jolly gesture really sums up the two distinct but complimentary halves of my job; that is Community and Literature. Jasper is, of course, an extremely successful novelist, but he and the wonderful Mari are also part of the community and I have watched their children grow up and been at nursery Nativity plays with them and ordered books for them in the library.
I am the Branch Librarian at Hay-on-Wye Library, which is no ordinary joint because there is a little annual festival held down the road and there are a few bookshops about the place. Hay has a population of about 1400, and many of our users live in the surrounding villages in Powys and Herefordshire. It is a town of many incomers, who are charmed by its delightful buildings, ancient castle and the romance of the bookshops and the Festival. However there are people who have lived here all their lives and have had to adjust to their town being invaded - yet again - by The English. (Hay has a history of battle, being right on the border, and the castle was razed to the ground several times in the Middle Ages.) Hay-on-Wye is firmly in Wales; the Welsh flag is always flying here, and I use Welsh greetings, and pounce on Welsh speakers to try out my egregious efforts in the language.
I feel that libraries should be at the heart of the community. I believe we should offer service to all, and be a vital part of the social infrastructure.
|Gift from a library user|
We have a lovely user-run Story Time for little people. A parent offered to read stories for half an hour a week, and the session has blossomed with other parents taking it in turns to read or sing, and I read a short Welsh book – with English translation.
We have some terrific users who know so much of the history of Hay indeed our grumpiest customer, who is really a dear, knows tons of stuff that is fascinating and useful. Excitingly we are about to install a case displaying local historical items, including a section for children.
As our community is small we have been involved in many partnerships with other local organisations and the wealth of writers who live locally means we have hosted some illustrious occasions, albeit tiny ones.
And then there’s The Festival. For 10 days a year Hay has a temporary population of up to 80,000 people who come to see some of the most exciting and interesting people in the world. I have lost track of the people I’ve seen in town – I once saw The Archbishop of Canterbury, in full regalia, walking down the street and Peter Barlow off Corrie at the café round the corner.
Hay Festival is most supportive of the Library and we have met some extraordinary people through our links with the people who run it. It is an astonishing event; every year when we get the programme I wonder at how they put it all together and one year Philip Pullman graciously agreed to do a photo-shoot in our little place.
Possibly the most exciting celeb ever was the illustrious Nancy Pearl, the most famous librarian in the world, who walked into the library, saw my Librarian Action Figure and said “That’s ME!” I was unfeasibly excited as you see in the photo.
However, although we count ourselves as very privileged to be able to meet some of the most famous people in the universe I would have to say that the best part of our job is the community aspect. To watch my colleague Paul gently and sensitively help a very vulnerable woman to fill in her Blue Badge Form is worth all the words in Proust. To welcome the young women who now come here on their own after visiting here with their school is a privilege. To be able to give some small comfort to someone whose partner has just died is just a basic human kindness.
I recently read an article via Twitter which listed the 10 Best Jobs. I was absolutely sure that being a librarian would be right at the top of the list. What other job can be so much fun, so personally educational, so tidy (I love tidying), so creative, so social, so positive, and for us in Hay the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the most exciting cultural figures in the world. Hoorah.
In a neat segue to Jasper Fforde again, here is the dedication from The Woman Who Died a Lot:
To all the librarians
that have ever been
ever will be
this book is respectfully dedicated