Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #2

A Personal History

Work Experience

The intention for my work experience year was that I would circulate around departments and branches to get an overview of the service. I think, though, that once my college place was secured, they heaved a sigh of relief and forgot about me.

Opening hours for the borough’s full-time branches were 9.30 – 8pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 9.30 – 5pm on Wednesday and Saturday.

Most of my work experience year was spent as a Library Assistant in my nearest local branch. This was located in a wooden building behind an old house earmarked for redevelopment. The car park at the front of the house was shaded by trees. Tucked behind the library was a Scout hut.

As Library Assistant, my hours of work were. . .

9am – 8pm, two days per week;

9am – 1pm, one day per week;

9am – 5pm, two days per week.

For two weeks out of three, one of my nine-to-five days was Saturday. The third week would be my Saturday off and I would work instead on my ‘free’ weekday.

Before our borough was merged with another (or submerged, as some staff would have it) ours had been a major branch in the area, and we held the music library for our half of the borough. This was located with the enquiry desk at the far end of the building and staffed by qualified librarians. I only stepped behind it if we were very short of staff to cover for tea breaks.

It may be difficult to believe, given the emptiness of today’s public libraries, that on Saturdays the queue of people returning books stretched out of the door and along the path to the car park. We welcomed Cup Final Saturdays, when the library – like the roads – would empty before the game. The morning might be manic, but those of us lucky enough to be working on that Saturday would enjoy a leisurely afternoon.

Photo by Tembela Bohle on Pexels.com

The library opened to the public at 9.30am, and every day would begin with a half-hour of shelf-checking to ensure books were in the correct order. Correct order was alphabetical by author for fiction and Dewey Decimal Classification for non-fiction.

Shelf checking was an ongoing drudgery. The last author or class number set to rights would be recorded on the staff notice board at the end of one’s stint, to be the starting point for the next timetabled shelf-checker.

The daily timetable was posted first thing in the morning, and was usually up by the time staff arrived at eight forty-five. Library Assistants were timetabled onto the loan counter in two-hour shifts. We didn’t call it a circulation desk; ‘the desk’ was the reference desk.

Off-counter sessions were either shelving, shelf-checking, or workroom. When returned books for re-shelving ran out, the lucky shelvers moved on to more shelf-checking.

Workroom tasks were a whole new blogpost. . .

Any Library Assistants out there? Tell us about your working day?

Next time: the workroom.

Copyright © Cathy Cade 2021

19 thoughts on “Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #2

  1. Yes, I used to be a Library Assistant back in 1980 -1982. I worked one late evening until 8pm on Mondays, 9 -5pm other weekdays, and then every other Saturday. I used to be in charge of ordering records and cassettes. I also used to read stories to the little ones. The job I hated most was ‘shelving’.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Shelving and checking were always with us. Back in the busy days, borrowers would get quite annoyed when we trundled along with a trolley to take books off the returned shelves for re-shelving. On the plus side, many returned books would get picked off before we got to them.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes – it’s a shame they have been cut so drastically in the UK. Our part-time ‘Community Hub’ was very supportive of our writing group debut anthology. In fact, both anthologies were tweaked and uploaded for publication at the library. Unfortunately any plans for follow-up events to publicise the second anthology were scuppered by covid. (Not to mention Phil’s novel, ‘Killing Time in Cambridge’ and my two publications.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You allowed me to remember that in college my work study job was in the library. I must be the outlier because I loved shelving books. I got familiar with the Library of Congress numbers and happily brought order. Very very quiet, peaceful and orderly. A contrast to my regular college life!

    Liked by 1 person

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