Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #4

A personal history

Central Ops

After Easter, someone remembered I was meant to be experiencing other library departments and I had a last-minute tour of Central Lending, Central Ref, Admin and Accessions, spending two weeks in each.

Central lending library was located in a Victorian building which also housed the Town Hall. Administrative departments had overflowed into a pair of Victorian semis next door.

In the borough’s Central Reference Library, I spent two weeks cutting out entries from sheets of amendments and pasting them into the relevant pages of large red volumes of UK Acts and Amendments.

In Accessions, I filed catalogue cards for a fortnight. This was where new books arrived to be classified and catalogued. Charge cards and catalogue cards were typed out (including any extras required for cross-referencing) and those for the master catalogue were filed before books were despatched to the branches that ordered them.

My desk was in the front bay window of the ground floor Accessions office. My social life at the time was lively, and after a late night I might find myself dozing off next morning, even as my fingers continued to flick through cards in the catalogue drawer. My boyfriend, coming to meet me for lunch one day, woke me by tapping on the window and didn’t let me forget it for weeks.

For my final two weeks, in Admin, I sat in the office of the Deputy Borough Librarian while he chatted. I’m still not sure what I was there to learn. The working day never seemed so long, before or since.

What was your most pointless work experience?

Next time: library school.

Copyright © Cathy Cade 2021

13 thoughts on “Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #4

  1. Hello there, when I first left school I joined a small accounting office in a Truck Centre, where they sold and maintained commercial vehicles. It was a main dealership. We were not always busy so I asked if anyone had a job I could help with. I was sent to the garage area office where someone needed help with a backlog of filing. Pleased to help until she opened a tall double filing cabinet with bundles of every flimsy receipt for work that had ever been issued. It was full and she had never filed one of them. I completed the job after a week but learned a hard lesson in life. Never volunteer until you know what’s involved!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂
      I can relate to that. When I was in the sixth form, one of our neighbours asked if I wanted a temporary weekend job reorganising his filing cabinets and filing a pile of invoices (he was a builder). It took me ages, but he paid me far more than the job was worth. I heard much later from my mum that he could never find a thing after I’d filed it all.


  2. Hello. Are libraries open in your region? I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia USA. They were closed in my immediate area for months, but eventually opened. In Philadelphia itself, I believe that the libraries have been closed since March. Neil Scheinin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were closed from March through April but then opened in a limited way until our December lockdown. Now the website says our local ‘Community Hub’ is open from 10am-2pm on Wednesday and Saturday – which will be for the exchange of books ordered online, across a counter just inside the doorway.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I did my school work experience in libraries (many years ago!). I did a lot of putting books back on the shelves, which didn’t teach me a lot other than that there are books on every subject – something I’d already suspected. The main thing I learned was to love Asterix books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True – the most boring of necessary jobs will be the ones given to work experience students. (You must have had hours of shelf checking as well.) What a shame you weren’t given a school group to read a story to or some new books to process (how far can you go wrong sticking in a date label and stamping a couple of pages? And how much would it matter? Although I believe that’s all done by the library supplier these days.) They wouldn’t have risked you filing borrower or catalogue cards unless someone had time to check you but, to be fair, that isn’t very interesting either.


  4. My classic boring job was one summer working in the mail room of a television station. They had a cooking show and offered recipes if one sent in a dime and an address. My job was to separate the dime from the letter and give the letter to the cook. You would not believe the extent people went to in sending their dimes. Many layers of tape, stapling between cards, wrapped and rewrapped. Totally soul killing work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I can imagine – scisssors and sticky tape… I suppose they were also trying to disguise the fact there was a coin in there in case some postal worker decided to investigate its value. Wouldn’t a postage stamp have been more practical?

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.