Friday, 27 August 2010

23 things out of a hundred and one.

Well, I thought I'd better put something relevant to the Cam 23 things. Firstly, I wish to be considered an observer rather than a participant - too embarrassing to have failed to finish and to blog on everything.
The course has run mostly during the Long Vacation, when I am not at work in the Divinity library (part-time even then) so at home there was always a competition for my time and enthusiasm. Grapple with a Thing, or plan my holiday in Cornwall, or mow the lawn, or weed the garden (its a third of an acre so needs attention) or take vigorous exercise, or as a really last resort engage in housework. Some of the Things I used already, some I didn't feel personally interested in and my position in the library would not require me to explore for wrok, some I have embraced - zotero being my favourite. I could put all the weblinks for my holiday into a file, which was very useful when checking details. I couldn't work out how to share these with my travelling companion, however, so just did an ordinary email with the links.

I have great admiration for the team who put this course together, and provided such clear instructions, as well as supporting meetings. I hope they are not discouraged if someone like me falls by the wayside. Well done everyone!

Tower Hamlets

My current boyfriend offered his flat in Kensington to live in when I took up the post in Bethnal Green, so I travelled every day to and fro on the Central line from Notting Hill. It soon became apparent that very few people wanted to use the Reference library in the fine library building - all the action was downstairs, where people thronged in and out all day and evening. It was exhilirating to be in a library so well used, by people not pretending to a literary taste to impress their neighbours. Holiday reading was essential, the librarians being asked for recommendations. If none available by their favourite author, I ventured to suggest another which was in fact the same person under a pseudonym, but not thanks I don't like her books. Unlike other libraries I had worked in, the books kept under the counter were not about sex, but caged birds or tropical fish - this was the prefered pilfering material. During my times in the Reference library I re-organised the pamphlet collection, mended and tidied the stock, and then in desperation for something to do began an Open University course, the first of many.
Still the Browne system, with the adventure described earlier of all the cards being thrown on the floor overnight. I became aware of the excellent London libraries specialist subject collection: Bethnall Green had huge stocks of French and German literature, and sheet music by Schumann and Schubert. We knew where all these collections were held, so could send enquirers off to the Oval branch for stock on cricket, and back copies of Wisden.
Life in the Reefrence library was quiet, except for the morning arrival of the men who lived in the Salvation Army hostel nearby - they had to go out during the day so went here to read the newspapers and sleep. I could only ask them to leave if the noise of chatting or snoring had a complaint from another reader, of whom there were few.
A distraction was being asked to staff the Sidney Street branch from time to time - escorted to and from by a Porter, and with the police on a hot line. It was sometimes needed - one evening a group of young men started to climb the bookshelves and throw the books on the floor. Police came very quickly and ushered them out - lots of reshelving to do. We also took turns to go out on the book delivery to housebound readers. This was taken seriously by the authorities and provided a necessary service to mostly old and disabled people living in Dickensian tenement blocks. Upon arrival, we were often asked to help them get dressed, or feed the budgie (also provided by the scocial services.) We were always offered a biscuit, or an apple, which it was tactful to accept. I had never seen such deprivation, or loneliness, but the people were invariably cheerful and pleased to have a visitor.
After a year of this the aforementioned boyfriend, who had gone to work for the EEC in Brussels, thought we should be married, so we were, and off I went to live in Belgium. This had never been on my life-plan, but I had been good at French at school.....

Weybridge in Surrey

At last I had achieved a secret ambition - to be in England, living an ordinary life, not being a tourist...New Zealand had been a cultural desert for me, and here I was surrounded by ancient churches, houses, countryside, concerts, art galleries and the strange working practices of the British in 1970. I went to Weybridge because a friend was going there so why not. On the first day of the week I went into the local public library and asked if there were any jobs available, and I was asked to start tomorrow. Strangely, there was difficulty about my proudly presented new qualification- they didn't know what to do with it, so I accepted to work as an ordinary juinior, although I soon discovered all the staff below the librarian in charge had no qualifications at all. I was mildly shocked that nothing was being done to give them any training. I was even more shocked by the job demarkation then prevalent in the British workplace. If a job needed to be done and it wasn't 'their' job, they wouldn't do it.
(at this time British library staff were qualified by either post graduate Diploma, or a course which presented the qualification of ALA. Neither of these were as wide ranging as the one I had followed in NZ, although the Diploma people had deeper experience of other systems of classification.)
After a year of working the odd hours of the public library I transferred to the Surrey County Libraries HQ in Esher and worked in the Book Supply Department. Curiously most of the new books came from Harrods, and their representative called every week with newly published books for consideration by the book selection panel.
After two years of this unambitious work, I decided I needed to earn more money and applied for various jobs as a qualified librarian. Tower Hamlets offered me the job of assistant reference librarian at Bethnall Green so I jumped at it. Didn't know where it was, but the salary was twice what I was then being paid.


The New Zealand Library Association (NZLA) loomed large in library circles - a combination of CLG and the old LA in the UK. I was asked to join the committee in Christchurch (part of the on-going apprenticeship scheme) and enjoyed helping with meetings, driving elderly members to and from meetings....and was headhunted! So I joined the staff of the Teachers' College library. This was a busy place, with students and academics all rushing in and out, asking real questions, or in the case of the academics, wondering where the spotty books were...a bit of delving and they proved to be a series of teacher manuals on mathematics, with spotty covers. The library was arranged according to the Bliss classification, which I really enjoyed using - ideally suited for an education library.
In the meantime, over three years, the training course for the Certificate of the NZLA continued. This involved one month every year full time at the Library School in Wellington, where we were pushed through such things as cataloguing, classification (Dewey was deemed enough for us), indexing, how to work with an architect to design a library, reference skills, the history of the book, world literature, bibliography, book repair and book binding, and I cannot remember any more. During the years in between we had exercises to carry out - compiling annotated bibiographies, practice classification and cataloguing, and under the mentorship of a local trainer, doing various tasks in our library. In many ways it was like an OU course, with the dreaded TMA.
However, I finished it, shortly before going to England on the great traditional Colonial return to the Homeland.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Wellington to Christchurc h

After a year in the School Library Service HQ in Wellington, and living at home, I decided on a change, so took advantage of a relocation possibility within the National Library Service. My great ambition was to drive a mobile library - into the remote hills and mountains of the South Island of New Zealand, based in Christchurch. The librarians in charge of these vans took their vehicles out for a month at a time, dropping off books in rural communities, staying overnight in farmhouses, picking up fresh supplies of books from railway stations. The romance! the intrepitude! Scenery as in the Lord of the Rings films!
So off I went to learn how to drive a large truck, and after a couple of lessons was deemed fit to take the test. I could only drive with bare feet still, which worried the testing inspector somewhat, but I passed - turning my truck in three points on a very steep hill, knowing what tyre pressures I should have outside a town of whaetver population (the lower the number of souls the worse the road surface.).
Off I went to Christchurch, to stay in a YWCA hostel, and the first question asked on presenting myself to the librarian in charge was how old are you - 19 - sorry you are too young for the job. Why hadnt this been mentioned before?
I spent the next two years working in the Country Library Service, supporting the work of the mobile librarians, hearing their tales of running out of water in the radiator when climbing a steep hill....the scones.....the mo-ped in the body of the van for when they stopped overnight. Sigh.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010


I have been assuming that people know about life BC (before computers): manual issuing systems and catalogues, but for those under the age of 40 or so, here is the scene.

The Browne issuing system involved little pockets glued into the inside front cover of every book, with the author title and accession number of the book written on it. A card with the same information was kept in this little pocket. Fiction works had the author's surname at the top, then the title, accession number and so on, non-fiction had the Dewey (or other) classification number at the top, then author, title, number and so on. Readers were issued with little ticket pockets, the quantity varying according to the habit of the library (3 for children, 5 for adults maybe). Here is an Australian library manual entry:

I think the Gresswell's catalogue still has the equipment for sale - its used in many school libraries still, even if their catalogues are computerised.

that link didnt seem to work, but I will carry on.

On issue, the reader would present the books and their tickets, the cards would be taken from the books, put into the pockets and the due date stamped on the book's due date label. At the end of the day all the filled tickets would be put into appropriate order behind a label with the due date, and stored in channeled boxes.

When the book was returned, staff would look at the due date, find the section, riffle through to find the tickets and cards, return the cards to the books and the ticket to the reader and hey presto. Job done. Except when you inadvertently put the wrong card into the wrong book...

Renewals were done by stamping the new due date onto a slip of paper and putting it into the original card/ticket file. An ongoing argument ran about putting the renewed record into the new date file, but this meant confusion on return if the reader had failed to note the new date on the due date labe.. Overdues were done by that due date being passed and those tickets remaining in that date being sent letters of threat and encouragement.

Some excitements: when I was working in the Bethnal Green library, early 1970's, some naughty people got into the library overnight and upended the whole lot of these trays all over the floor!! the next morning, as the Senior on duty, I ordered the whole sequence to be put into one, with orphan tickets and cards put into another sequence...and we forgot about overdues for a fortnight. Other problems were caused, even as now, by people using the tickets of other family members without permission, and the wrong person being chased for lost books. Otherwise this system worked very well and depended upon electricity only as far as lighting was needed after sunset.

The dictionary catalogue was maintained by production of cards when thebook was received into stock, the main entry being the author or other (series, festschrift et cetera), and other cards for the title, and subjects. A note was made on the back of the main entry of which other cards had been made, so that they could be removed whrn the book was withdrawn. The accession number was also written on the back of the main entry...several for multiple copies.
Typewriters were used to produce the cards, with cunning grooves in the platen roll, into which the card was set, to hold it in place while typing.

The cards were filed in dictionary sequence in the catalogue drawers - beautiful items of furniture, now redundant - with observance of the word-by-word or letter-by-letter preference of the library. (the latter would have 'machine' in the middle of the usual range of Scottish surnames).

Saturday, 19 June 2010


In advance of the family move to Wellington some thought was given to my finding a job. (sister and brother still at school) My mother had a vague idea that my godmother's brother in law was something in libraries, and when she mentioned the name I fell off my chair: he was the National Librarian! Godmother wrote to him to see if a job could be found and he came up with a lovely post as a trainee in the Schools Library Service. (I never did meet Geoffrey Alley.)

The SLS was a division of the National Library Service, and had offices in the 4 main centres in New Zealand. The national head was Hector Macaskill, who ran this like a military operation. I learned a great deal about ideal management from observing him: when all the boxes of books came back at the end of school terms, everyone on the staff, including him, set to with checking the contents against lists of loans, setting aside books which needed mending or rebinding, and then reshelving them. (Imagine my horror at job-demarcation when I came to work in Surrey County Libraries in 1970!)
This was by now 1964. I am sorry to say that the swinging sixties passed me by entirely - my great musical discovery at the time was the complete recordings of Handel's Organ Concerti.

The professional body for librarians, the NZ Library Association, stepped up the drive to educate library staff and introduced its Certificate. I was on the first run of this wide-ranging course, which involved a sort of apprenticeship combined with sandwich courses at the national Library School, spread over three years. The only other qualification available in NZ at that time was a post graduate dipoloma offered by the Library School in Wellington - another branch of the National Library. Watch out for a course description next time!