In itself an education

Shhh! It’s Libraries Week!

Believe it or not, I was never all that interested in libraries when growing up. Gasp! Horror!

I never had much need of the ones at school, and they were rarely used as libraries anyway, more as overflow classrooms. At St Benedict’s, what passed for a library was where we had our English lessons.

I did have a ticket for my nearest public library, at Cow Close, opposite St Wilfred’s Church (which was our local). It was a very small library, with not much at all for a precocious under-10, but it was a bit of exercise on the bicycle to get there so that was good. It’s now called Cow Close Community Corner, which suggests it has even fewer books now.

And yet… when I got my own books I would take great care in how I arranged them on my shelf. Never haphazardly, always with some sort of order. A taste of what was to come, perhaps.

Seat of learning

My view of libraries changed, of course, when I went to Trinity and All Saints’ College.

There was no way I was going to pass my degree1 without becoming intimate with the necessary parts of the College library. Maths was in the 510s, management & marketing at 658.45, public relations at 659.2.

When I started working in there as a Saturday library assistant, my knowledge got even better. I could take a reasonable guess on which set of shelves to aim for without even looking at the signage or what was on the shelves I passed along the way.

The original, smaller, wood-panelled library accessed via the mezzanine level had been extended in the 1980s to encompass some of the rooms and corridors on the first floor, with a new entrance from the former drama room on the ground floor. It’s very strange when I go back there now; the entrance became the staff common room, now the Students’ Union offices. The first floor was turned back into offices and meeting rooms (and I can still point out which parts of the classification where shelved where). Parts of the original library where we stored reference works, bibliographies, periodicals and part-works are now home to Tania, Brett and the rest of the Marketing and Alumni teams.

A trial career

But, as much as I enjoyed my time at TASC, it isn’t my most favourite library.

Then, as now, students went on secondments in their first and second years. Not really knowing what to do with me I was sent to Bradford to work in the Members’ Library. A six-week secondment that turned into a summer job that turned into a whole new career and profession. Hard to believe that I subsequently went into the TASC library at the start of my second year and asked if they had any library assistant jobs going as a result of that Bradford sojourn, isn’t it?? I was much more forward in my twenties.

The Members’ Library was based in the old courtroom at the City Hall. I really wish I’d taken some photos at the time, and I would love to go back one day as, this time, my words might not get the scale of the place across.

Both entrances we and our visitors used on either side of the courtroom were on the first floor, but the room itself went up at least two floors, with tall, slim glass windows. Think of it as a very large church or small cathedral (a cathedral of law, now of knowledge).

Kathi2, my boss and the only other person working there, had her office in the dock (the door at the bottom of the steps behind her chair that led to the cells were long-since closed off). My desk was in front of the dock, facing her but obviously way lower down. I knew my place!

Behind me were some bookshelves in the area in front of the Magistrates’ bench. On the wooden seats left and right, photocopier boxes full of Council papers and periodicals.

I did once clamber over the wooden railings for a nosey around and to try the doors behind the bench, which would have led to the Magistrate’s rooms. Kathi gave me a stern telling-off, as the floorboards were thoroughly rotten.

Behind the dock were the public benches… filled with box after box of archived periodicals, newspapers, committee papers and anything else that might be required one day. To be clear, that’s two storeys of benches that no-one ever went up unless they wanted to take in the view. Which I and a few people did, a couple of times. Just don’t ask about the dust.

I even went out of the doors at the top once. Just the once. The problem is that City Hall was, and is, a working building. So you were never entirely sure where you would end up. Nothing looked familiar. The safest thing to do was take a long piece of string with you and tie it to the door handle as you explored. But no-one came in through those doors either, so we clearly weren’t on the way to anywhere.

Rather than use Dewey or similar, Kathi had created her own classification scheme to catalogue all the books, which made them much easier to find. It wasn’t about classifying the whole body of knowledge, just the body of knowledge we were dealing with.

And thus my love of cat & class – and with it, a whole new career option – really took off.

  1. Yes I failed, twice, but that was my fault – not the library’s… []
  2. Also born 20 March, which might be why we got on so well. Sadly, she died suddenly in August 2018. []