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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 03-Feb-17 15:38:05

Think you know your library?

Most of us have fond memories of libraries - the excitement of being taken to find a new book as a child, the peace and quiet of perusing the shelves as an adult. But when author Chris Paling started his job as a Library Officer, he saw a side to his library that he wasn't quite prepared for...

Chris Paling

Think you know your library?

Posted on: Fri 03-Feb-17 15:38:05


Lead photo

How much do you see of what really goes on in your library?

Nothing prepares you for your first day as a 'library officer'. Certainly not the media stereotypes, definitely not your fond memories of visits as a child or as a parent. The world has changed. Welcome to the front line of a society in crisis.

On the first day on the job a fight broke out between one of the regular customers – street sleeper 'Brewer' – and a man and his wife who'd popped in on their trip to the UK to see how our libraries compared with theirs. Brewer decided they were talking too loudly, disturbing his newspaper reading. Yes, it was an eye opener to realize that Fiction is the front room of a number of rough sleepers who come in for the warmth and safety. And so long as they don't physically or verbally attack the other customers they're welcome to stay, although sleeping is forbidden.

This is not to suggest the modern library is always a war zone. The majority of customers treat the place, the books and the other users with respect. It's perhaps the only place in the city they can wander into and find relative peace, civilized people to talk to, comfy seats and decent tea or coffee. But there's something about the brief transaction between library officer and customer that binds you together.

I was surprised at how many people, ostensibly visiting to change their books, mainly wanted to talk. For some, it's evidently their only conversation of the day.

I was surprised at how many people, ostensibly visiting to change their books, mainly wanted to talk. For some, it's evidently their only conversation of the day. For some, it's a place they can find somebody to help them find accommodation, a GP, a long lost relative, or the postal address of the Home Secretary.

'The Travelling Man' is another of the regulars: late seventies, he always arrives with a story about his life – of his friendship with the Great Train Robbers' getaway driver, of his childhood in bombed-out London, stowing away on the top of Routemaster buses just to see the city, of the man who came into the Chelsea pub at which he drank and explained he was in for a quick one because he'd just killed his wife and his friends were hoping to get him across the channel.

Last week, a man, early seventies, well dressed, educated, sat down at the main desk and within a few minutes had explained that he had very little time left to live. He nevertheless wanted to maintain his routines for as long as possible.

Some of the customers are angry, some are confused, some in genuine need. Many confound the stereotypes. I recently learned that another of the regulars had fallen on hard times in Liverpool, travelled south looking for work and, for two months, has been living in his car.

As the young come to rely on their parents for childcare more and more, grandparents are in great evidence, most seeming to relish the time they are spending with their grandchildren. Children's is a happy place; a primary-coloured world of harvested smiles.

No two days are the same, but most are a privilege. Libraries are full of stories. Not all of them in books.

Chris' book, Reading allowed (dedicated to his grandson), is published by Little Brown and is available from Amazon.

By Chris Paling

Twitter: @littlebrown

mumofmadboys Fri 03-Feb-17 16:05:16

I enjoyed reading that. I think the book would be a good read, full of anacdotes!

travelsafar Fri 03-Feb-17 18:00:57

I love my local library and use it nearly every week. I take my grand daughter in there too when she comes to stay as her parents just dont have the time .

I am quite happy to sit on the sofa while she looks at different books and makes her choices. Sometimes we have a little read of the choosen ones to make sure she wants to hear the rest of the story when we get home.

Sometimes in the school holiday they hold events and we try to go to those as well.

gillyknits Sat 04-Feb-17 10:02:39

My daughter works in a village library and loves her job. On any day she can be helping someone make a will, get a blue parking badge or look up their family history. Then there are the lonely people who come to chat or bring their new grandchildren to meet her.She does story time for little ears and helps children find books that will encourage them to read.
On 1st April she will be out of work, leaving the job she loves! She is devastated, as are all her customers. The local council is turning over 21 libraries to be run by volunteers. I just hope that they will go that extra mile for their customers and that there will still be libraries in ten years time!

GrandmaMoira Sat 04-Feb-17 12:19:13

This doesn't sound like a modern library. There's no peace, comfy seats or tea and coffee in most libraries. It's mostly people using the computers or having tutorials, there's very few books and it's quite noisy. Most libraries are run by charities by volunteers and open part time hours. I used to love going to the library for many years but have given up and get my books from charity shops.

inishowen Sun 05-Feb-17 10:48:14

As a child I adored books but only had the few that my teacher gave me. Our next door neighbour had three girls and she took them to the library weekly. i was allowed to tag along but i didn't realise i could join! I was so wistful, watching these girls choose their books. Eventually I got to join when our neighbour noticed my distress. I can never understand why my mum didn't suggest it in the first place.

KatyK Sun 05-Feb-17 11:47:45

I can remember going to the library when I was a child. I used to find it a wonderful experience. The library seemed huge to me then and the fact that you could choose a book, get it stamped and take it home was a bit of a thrill. Our local library is small and there are usually people sitting at computers in there. The new library in Birmingham city centre is a sight to behold - fantastic. I believe the council are struggling to fund it, which is a shame.

pollyperkins Sun 05-Feb-17 11:50:36

Well I disagree Grandmamoira - Ive never seen a library such as you describe! We use ours regularly - yes there are computers and a cafe (in a different area) and also a childrens area with toys and books, but also lots of books to borrow in a fairly quiet area. We also visit similar libraries in two orher towns with grandchildren . They are all friendly welcoming places and the children love going.

henetha Sun 05-Feb-17 12:01:44

I've been a member of the Devon Library Service for 72 years. Is this is a record?
To me libraries are amongst the most wonderful places on earth. I must have read thousands of books from them. And now I can use the computers, borrow CD's or DVD's, have a cup of tea, read newspapers and magazines, study local history in a special section upstairs, or sign up to various classes.
Ours is still reasonably quiet, in spite of a new corner set up for teenagers. They can be a bit disruptive, but if it gets them reading then it's worth it. And they are only there out of school hours.
And there are reading clubs including ones for children.
I think libraries are marvellous.

Reebs456 Sun 05-Feb-17 14:09:56

I've always loved libraries ever since I was little. The best bit was choosing books to take home. Considering we went every week the librarians never bothered to get to know us. Even today most of them are barely friendly. They should be warm & caring like teachers.

Juggernaut Sun 05-Feb-17 14:33:23

I spent over thirty eight years working as a librarian, and loved every moment of the first thirty seven years!
However, our local council decided that libraries were a soft target, and started to decimate the service.
Eventually I reached the point where I could no longer tolerate the conditions, lack of funding, cuts in hours, loss of facilities etc, so when I was offered early retirement, I jumped at the chance!
I miss parts of the job, providing people with the information they need, helping with filling in official forms, seeing children develop a love of reading, but I don't miss the stress of fighting to maintain a service when the council have decided to destroy it!
One day everyone will realise how very important libraries are, I just hope they realise before it's too late!

JanT8 Sun 05-Feb-17 14:40:26

I have wonderful memories of going to the library every week with my Dad. We would go on his bike which had one of those little saddles on the crossbar. It was the highlight of my week, coming home with (I think the maximum number then was three) lovely books that I hadn't read. Because I was such an avid reader three wasn't really enough but I would find others that I really wanted to read and I would 'hide' them behind other books, and hope they would still be there the following week.
I now have a kindle but still love to have an actual book in my hand.
If it comes to the point of our local library to close and then be run by volunteers I would be first in the queue to volunteer. What would our world be like without books?

Juggernaut Sun 05-Feb-17 14:44:43

Many, many librarians are very friendly, those for whom the job is a passion.
Even after being retired for a few years I still see many of my readers frequently, still know them by name, remember what genre they read, who their favourite authors were etc.
I loved my job, and the people I served, adults and children alike, so not all of us are unfriendly and miserable.
There are others, however, who just do the job for the money, and have no interest in people, but I suppose that's the same in all walks of life.

Linsco56 Sun 05-Feb-17 15:27:43

I visited my local library yesterday and as usual the staff were lovely. However 2 of our local libraries will merge this year and relocate to a new and purpose built community hub which will house council meeting rooms, community hall, registration services and the library. The library assistant I chatted to yesterday told me 7 of the 12 jobs split between the 2 libraries would be lost.

Conni7 Sun 05-Feb-17 15:42:47

I remember when libraries had a big notice saying "Silence", but now we have Knit and Natter groups. When I mentioned that it was difficult to concentrate with such a noise, the assistant said that they have to consider all sorts of social groups in order to keep them open. I can sympathise with this, but could we have specific quiet times as well.

GrandmaMoira Sun 05-Feb-17 19:15:49

It sounds as if some areas still have traditional libraries. Sadly we no longer do in my borough and for me it is a loss.

phantom12 Sun 05-Feb-17 19:21:24

I have worked as a library assistant for the last 16 years. At first I loved my job but over the last few years have grown to like it less and less. Around 6 years ago we got self service machines and had to reapply for our own jobs albeit with much changed and shorter hours. A couple of our staff took redundancy but I gradually got used to the new regime. Just over a year ago came the second round with the same old changing and cutting of hours and reapplying again. Gradually all the staff but myself have left for various reasons. Now I find myself the eldest among new enthusiastic colleagues who think they know better ways of doing everything that I have been doing for years. They are changing things for the sake of it.I dread going to work. Thanks to the government I have to work another 5 years until I am 66 but I don't think my job will last that long.

Lesley1 Sun 05-Feb-17 20:11:43

I used to use local libraries when my children were growing up. We used to visit every week. My children were keen readers, some still are. They used to pick up to four books each I usually picked up to thirty a week. I used to read a lot when they were in bed. My only problem was that I read all the books in the genre's that I liked and had to wait ages for new ones. These days I buy books by favourite authors that I want to keep. I also have a kindle and buy ebooks from Amazon or go on sites that have free ebooks. I never go to the library now. I always said I would never have a kindle as I preferred proper books until my husband bought me one a few years ago four Christmas and I now love it.

Treebee Sun 05-Feb-17 21:32:57

I'm in the same position as Juggernaut, was a librarian all my working life and enjoyed helping people find information and buying the right books in for the local population.
All changed now with the service being squeezed and downgraded. I wasn't offered early retirement, but left before a round of cuts, jumping before I was pushed.
Libraries were vibrant places run by professionals with the support of enthusiastic and experienced assistants.
All changing now, sadly.

Nannabee Wed 08-Feb-17 14:43:50

Ah wonderful insightful read. I've always fancied being a librarian (the closest I got was working in daughters school library, where they still used the Dewey system); and like you had similar initial ideas about how that may be. I think I romanticised putting out the books in sequence and peeking in the covers when time allowed. Also stamping the inside cover, not done so much now...the machines have taken over. What happy memories the library holds though and it sounds like you're passing on that tradition by making it a safe and welcoming place for visitors where you work. Every right to be proud. smile

grannypiper Thu 09-Feb-17 05:41:17

Wednesday evening was library night with my Dad, i looked forward to out visit all week, We had the most wonderful ornate building and i always felt very lucky to be allowed in ! I am so happy that it is still open decades later, although it has a much more relaxed atmosphere inside now and i am not sure it s a good thing. Yesterday i felt so lucky when i popped in to my now local library 10 minutes before closing time, i was the only customer in and spent a moment just standing and listening to the total silence, it was bliss.

kittylester Thu 09-Feb-17 06:55:14

Our village library is mow run by volunteers - I am one. I was part of the team that first took over and, as we were the first in our area, we had many hiccups along the way. Our Library is tiny but we still have to find the money to run it. The only things we get from the council is the building at a peppercorn rent and the books.

We run Rhyme Time, Saturday Stories, children's craft mornings,second hand book sales, art exhibitions and displays and talks by local groups. We have talks by authors etc. We have an independent loan system running along side the 'official' books, we have got sponsorship for a refitted and reconfigured kitchen and office and a refurbished carpark.

Our volunteers are well trained and helpful. We do have a coffee area,computers and a children's area with toys and chairs but we also have a quiet area. A few of our volunteers are retired librarians so we are not short of the relevant skills.

Whilst it is sad that librarians are being made redundant or redeployed I am proud that we are keeping a well loved and thriving facility alive and well in our village.

quizqueen Fri 14-Apr-17 23:38:41

My local library seems to be getting rid of books and replacing them with dvds etc. I don't know anyone who hires dvds any more. Surely, nearly everyone watches them on SKY or has their own! When I have read everything I am interested in, there will be no point in me going there. They also put in lots of computers a few years ago but now only have half that amount. I asked what had happened to them as I commented they were paid for with tax payers' money and was told they had been bought with lottery money but had no explanation of where the missing ones had gone. Children seem to be allowed to run wild and teenagers talk loudly on their mobile phones which is annoying but they do run free craft sessions in the school holidays which are good and I often take my granddaughter to those. They also have the occasional quiz night and some good talks ( not free).

paperbackbutterfly Fri 12-May-17 22:32:09

I loved the local library when i was small. It was a magical world. I was always in awe of the quietness and the feeling of being in somewhere special, like a cathedral. For over 20 years I've been a school librarian. I love it and I feel blessed as while public libraries seem to struggle now for income and customers and so many people seem to go to use computers rather than look in books I am glad to say school libraries are still well supported by schools. we always buy the new children's book titles and it's very rewarding to talk to young people about books and reading. I think I have one of the best of jobs.

CeliaVL Thu 01-Jun-17 13:26:06

Leslie1: you are fortunate that you have enough money to buy books on Amazon or for your Kindle when you want. As I am on a very small income I have to limit myself to an occasional charity shop purchase. But I can get as many books as I want from our Library which is still going strong in all departments. It is wonderful for me and for my grandchildren, and a good place to meet friends. I just hope we manage to bring in a new Government that will keep it open.