Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #5

A personal history

Qualified Success

Library school was part of a technical college which has since been promoted to a University along with a swathe of others in the 1990’s. To get there from the parental home, I drove through or around London, or was carried beneath it. All routes, including London Underground, took roughly the same time, so I took to missing whole days when I could – and sometimes, probably, when I shouldn’t.

During vacations from library school, I worked at Central Library.

On returning to college for my second year, I attempted to throw myself into the wider student life of the college by volunteering my services to the Student Union. Being a library school student (known within college as ‘the handbag brigade’) I was immediately given responsibility for the Student Union’s second-hand bookshop.

This was a cupboard in the common room containing outdated editions of textbooks no longer on anyone’s reading list. But I did learn to use the Roneo duplicating machine.

I never did get to grips with the minutae of Dewey Decimal Classification while at library school; probably due to missing most of the lectures. Decades later, while running a one-woman library in a sixth form centre in the early days of my second career, I discovered the point of it all when I struggled to find books I had classified the previous week.

With little academic engagement on my part, I nevertheless managed to pass the required Library Association exams at the end of each year and was released back into the world of librarianship.

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Back in the borough, I was slotted into a vacant children’s library post in a friendly branch not far from home.

The post didn’t require a professional qualification. Most children’s libraries at the time were little more than a few shelves around a square of carpet, but this was a new branch with a section separated off by shelving and its own children’s counter. Since it was the only vacancy then available, this was where I completed my qualifying year to become an ALA.

When an Assistant Librarian vacancy arose elsewhere, I had no choice but to take it since I was being paid more than a Library Assistant, even one who supervised a children’s collection. On the plus side, the new post brought with it a modest rise in salary.

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The second biggest library in the borough was another gloomy Victorian building not far from the Central Library.

I recall a homeless gent would spend winter days on our mezzanine where the reference books were shelved, dozing over a newspaper. He wasn’t ejected as long as he didn’t snore.

This branch housed the borough’s main music library, which I was now deemed fit to staff for whole afternoons on the Music Librarian’s day off. . . although I was never sure what to look out for when inspecting returned LP records, nor where anything was unless I first looked it up in the card catalogue (and not always then).

The Music Librarian favoured purple flares and velvet jackets. He rarely mixed with lending library staff. I suspect the faint whiff of disapproval emanating from the Branch Librarian and his deputy might have been a deterrent.

The chief and his sidekick had worked together for years and a favourite conversational topic was holiday venues. Since I and my newly-wedded husband could only afford camping holidays, I had little to contribute to such conversations.

This Branch Librarian was careful with resources. When parcels arrived, their string must be painstakingly untied and stored for future use. The library stationery cupboard was kept locked at all times, which was a joke when you consider that I held one of the keys.

This frugality continued outside work, and he could be seen in his lunch hour cycling (on a pre-war bicycle) between the local shops to note the cost of items on his shopping list. Then he would return to buy each item where it was cheapest.

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The position of Assistant Branch Librarian came up in the library near home where I had worked as Library Assistant. I applied with little hope and, to my amazement, got the job.

What have you applied for in hope, only to be terrified by success?

Next: Assistant Branch Librarian

Copyright © Cathy Cade 2021

7 thoughts on “Olden Days in UK Public Libraries – #5

  1. I see he was part of the mix?
    Most characters, well mine are, parts of the imagination and dash of him or her. Perhaps just someone glimpsed in the street, a relative, an acquaintance, colleague or even just an overheard voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You allowed me to recall the music room at our central library. It was filled with phonograph players records and headsets. It was very peaceful to sit with headphones on and listen to classical music after a challenging day in high school. (The library was between my school and the bus depot.)

    Liked by 1 person

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