Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #1

A personal history

I am at a loss for something to write about while avoiding New Year resolutions, lockdown, or another recap of 2020 (all covered more eloquently by fellow bloggers).

I will instead be recapping UK public libraries in the nineteen-seventies, based on my article published in Best of British magazine, August 2018, having reinstated everything I cut to meet the wordcount – and a bit more.

Library Training in the ’60s

In 1968, I joined our local London borough’s public library service as a trainee librarian.

It wasn’t exactly a vocation. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. A posh school friend had a Saturday job in the local library. She’d told us the work was easy and the pay reasonable, so when the headmistress asked what I intended to do with my A-Levels, I said I might try for a job in the library.

At once, she was on the telephone to the Borough Librarian. One of his candidates for Trainee Librarian that year had failed to make the grades required to take up her library school place. I did want to be a Librarian – didn’t I?

The borough sent two trainees to library school each year . The Borough Librarian couldn’t reallocate this funding to any other purpose so he was keen to find a replacement, especially as this was the last year the borough would be recruiting trainees.

Already, the UK’s cuts to public libraries had begun.

Photo by Masha Raymers on Pexels.com

Traineeship was a four-year commitment, for which I would be paid a salary throughout.

A year’s work experience would take me through the different departments of the library service followed by two years of Library School. I would then work a supervised year as a librarian before I could qualify as a Chartered Librarian. This would entitle me to add the initials A.L.A. after my name (Associate of the Library Association), but only as long as I maintained membership of the Library Association.

My fellow trainee that year had already completed a university first degree and would be taking the one-year postgraduate course at Library School. A postgraduate qualification is now the usual route to librarianship.

(The Library Association merged with the Institute of Information Scientists in 2002 to become the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – or CILIP. Somehow, MCLIP doesn’t trip off the tongue in the same way as ALA.)

A snag developed when the Library School that usually accepted the borough’s trainees declined to offer me a place on interview. They felt my attitude was ‘too frivolous’ for librarianship, and who’s to say they were wrong?

I’m not sure if it is a measure of the forbearance of the Borough Librarian or his desperation to allocate that year’s funding that directed me to the less prestigious Library School at the other side of London. They must have been as desperate for candidates as the Borough Librarian, since I was accepted for entry in September 1969.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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Any Librarians Out There? How does this compare with your experience?

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Next time: Library Assistant

11 thoughts on “Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #1

  1. My daughter worked Saturdays at the local library while at school and at college. When she went to university the experience she had gained in using the library index system proved invaluable when conducting research at the university’s library. for her degree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the Borough Librarian considered me something of a maverick too. I was called to his office once or twice during my ten years in the public library service when he’d been asked by my line manager of the time to ‘have a word’ with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to read that you once were a librarian. These days the Librarian faces a new normal as everything is digitalised. I remember when researching for classes in university there was this dewey decimal way of trying to find a book as a student. Then before I know it, it went semi electronic and nowadays with Google, I hardly need to step into any library. In Lil Red Dot, the library now compromises computers, digital books, children’s corner with all things digital and small area for newsprint to cater to the seniors. Hard copy or soft copy books are available but shrinking in quantum titles I feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. most of our work in University Learning Resources (where I ended up) was teaching students — and staff – how to use our subscribed online resources. That’s where research lies these days. And my kindle is more useful when I’m reading when eating – it doesn’t curl up. I still prefer a printed book for other reading though. It doesn’t run out of battery.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed this glimpse into the past. When I was teaching many years ago, the schools changed “library” to “media center” and “librarian” to “media specialist.” It bothered me then, and it still bothers me.

    I’m not sure why other than when I was a student myself many years before, the librarian was always a child’s best friend, and certainly mine. Our little town was visited by the bookmobile every two weeks on Mondays. Those were the best days ever thanks to the librarians who staffed the bookmobile.

    Our main library here is Portsmouth is the only one in this whole area that still has the feel of being a “real” library. Walking up the many steps to get to the front door still gives me the feeling that “anything is possible in this place.” When I was renovating my house, I had to learn a lot of new skills. I’d tell everyone who would listen, “I have a library card. I can do anything!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Our local ‘Community Hub’ is only open on certain days so it might as well be a mobile if it weren’t for the computers in there. Community Hub is marginally better that ‘Learning Centre’ which was popular for a while municipally but patronising, I felt. At least in the University I retired from, ‘Learning Resource Centre’ was relevant to the purpose of the institution.

      Liked by 2 people

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