Archive for June, 2011

1) Fylde mobile library

This is the first library I ever remember using. The excitement as my Mum and I waited at the “stop” for the doors to hiss open. Then the tricky climb up the steep steps, to be met with the smell of polish mixed with books, a hint of diesel and the Lily of the Valley perfume the “lady” used. One end of the mobile was dedicated to children’s books. I can see them now if I close my eyes. My Mum always let me choose my own books, sometimes suggesting ones I hadn’t read that she thought I would enjoy, but always letting me make the final decision. I discovered a beautiful version of Sleeping Beauty that had one particular illustration which for some reason completely captured my imagination and I repeatedly borrowed it just for that one image. One day the “lady” came out from behind the counter, knelt next to me on the floor and suggested I might like to borrow a book  on art instead, specifically costume and historical imagery. It was a book for adults which technically I shouldn’t have been able to borrow but she had seen my interest and encouraged it. The book included the painting of Ophelia by Millais. I made a mental connection between Sleeping Beauty’s image and Ophelia’s although I didn’t understand the true significance of the image. I learnt that non-fiction was as great a treasure trove as fiction. I loved that mobile library and hero-worshipped the librarian who ran it. It was like the magic shop that appears and disappears, and she was the magical shop-keeper.

2) St Annes Library 

When I was older, we started walking to St Annes library instead. It’s a Carnegie library, and my Mum told me all about Carnegie, and how libraries had become available to everybody partly because of people like him. She taught me how to find books about the history of things I was interested in, and also that fiction could bring events and people to life in my imagination. I learnt not to confuse them when I wrote in a history assignment that Philip of Spain fancied Elizabeth 1st but she rejected him, and that’s why he sent the Armada. Low mark and a lecture. Thanks for that Jean Plaidy!

There was a Reading Room at this library, and I would meet my Dad there sometimes. He was self taught in many areas, using the library resources, and studying in the Reading Room surrounded by volumes of encyclopaedias, law, directories and of course newspapers. I would sometimes do my homework in there.

As I got older, left home, found work, and life changed St Annes library was a constant. I always found information I needed there, and the staff were always happy to make suggestions for new fiction I might enjoy. They were amazing when my parents died within a week of each other, finding story and picture books we could use to help their grandchildren come to terms with what had happened. The librarians’ matter of fact but totally understanding approach helped me, too.

Watching them work wonders in providing a modern service in a historical, and sometimes unsuitable, building was inspirational. It became  the benchmark I would always compare back to, a measure I expected other libraries to achieve. It’s the library I picture when I talk about public libraries, it’s the library that I will always think of as “mine”.

3) Ambleside Library

In my late teens I went to work in Grasmere for a while. I was unbearably homesick. There was no library in Grasmere so I would catch the bus to Ambleside, the beautiful countryside would ease my loneliness to some extent, but discovering old friends on the shelves of the library would give me company.  My English teacher had given me a list of books to read in my lifetime when I left school, amongst them were the Herries Chronicles. The librarian noticed I was working my way through them at a rate of knots and asked if I was interested in reading about the author, the locations and the surrounding history. I was fascinated and my homesickness gradually faded as I began to feel more sense of belonging where I lived. Obviously, I also made friends and stopped feeling so lonely, but without the library those first weeks would have been much worse. I learned that as long as there was a library I would be able to belong to a community.

4) Hartlepool Library

This stood me in good stead when I spent a short while in Hartlepool. I never felt at home, and some unhappy times were spent there, but the library was again a sanctuary, source of information and provider of food for my imagination. It was the largest library I had used until then, but still had the feeling of familiarity and belonging that a good public library has. No judgement, no exclusion and no barriers.

5) Bamber Bridge Library

When I finally gave in to my genes and undertook a Library and Information Management degree this was my local library, and it was where I did one of my placements. There was no computer access and we used Browne Issue. Guess who knocked the cards all over the floor? Yes, dear reader, it was me. The staff were wonderful, supportive, patient and sharing. They taught me more in to weeks about what it means to actually work in a small community centric public library than three years of University ever could. Although I still think that a solid day of processing Mills and Boon was a bit excessive. They knew nearly every body who came in, from toddlers to octogenarians, they knew their likes, dislikes and foibles, were unfailingly patient and professional, even when frustrated by rudeness, aggression or even drunkenness. The space was miniscule, the technology non-existent and the facilities basic. I learnt that the people who belonged to the library should always be treated with respect and that any difficulties in delivering the service should be kept internal and not broadcast. I also learnt how to deliver a full pint service in a half-pint building. When I think of Bamber Bridge I smile (and wish it was mine).

6) Manchester Central Library

I studied at manchester Metropolitan University at a time when the new library was being built. The library continued to operate but sometimes it wasn’t my ideal study environment. Students were allowed membership of the public library service so I spent a lot of my first year in the most amazing library space I have used to date. I loved the circular room where the management works were kept. , and would sometimes get dizzy wandering round the shelves. I felt like a child again, as everything seemed larger than life. It still felt welcoming and non-judgemental though. Old fashioned, perhaps not suited to the modern world, but a privilege to have used it and studied in it, to have been part of its community. . Seems strange to think of it empty with the books stored in salt mines.  The other thing I learned at this library was how many hidden gems there must be in libraries all over the country. The Chinese library, the music library and the card catalogue spring to mind whenever I remember Manchester.

I have used, and still use, other libraries, but these six are my significant public lbraries. These are the ones that  gave me the wherewithal to become what I am in part. I have felt part of their community, and I have felt encouraged to learn, to stretch my imagination and my knowledge and to succeed. They are the ones that shaped my own library beliefs, they were all what libraries and librarians epitomise for me. They were somewhere to go for information, imagination, enlightenment, dreams and knowledge. They were supported by trained staff who cared about what they did and their community. They did not judge, deny access or withhold their service. They were modest, unobtrusive but beyond helpful. They cared, and it showed.

I have met other librarians, ones who were and always will be  far from reaching those levels of commitment, and I have felt that they should not be accorded the title of librarians. they shouldn’t represent the profession. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have encountered true public librarians throughout my life, and even more fortunate to have had free access to these 6 special public  libraries. I really hope that future generations have the same opportunities. I certainly hope that when they think the word “library” they see a place where they can go and learn and imagine,  with people who can guide them, and where they can feel they  belong to a community.


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I have been looking for a job for a while now (if you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed the occasional comment in my stream!). Today somebody suggested I should blog about my experiences, so I thought I would. Then I thought that as I have experience of both sides of the process I could also add some points from the viewpoint of the recruiter. So that’s what I have done, it is just a personal view, some points may seem obvious but perhaps that’s why they sometimes get overlooked.

When looking to fill a post what would the ideal candidate want you to do:

1 Be sure you want to recruit

2  Write the job description and person specification very carefully and clearly

3 Make sure the advertisement contains all the information an applicant may need (e.g. salary, closing date, interview date as well as job description and contact details)

4  Create the  application form very carefully so it is unambiguous and not repetitive

5  Try filling in the application form yourself

6  Make sure people know what you expect from them

7  Be prepared to talk to people about the post prior to application

8 Be absolutely sure what your selection criteria are

9  Don’t make claims you can’t keep

10 Read it through objectively, what would you think if you were applying? Make any changes you think will attract the right applicants

When completing application forms what will a prospective employer expect you to do:

1  Be sure you want the job

2  Read the job description and person specification very carefully

3  Read the application form very carefully

4  Have all the necessary documentation handy as you complete the form (e.g. relevant dates, addresses, qualifications with grades, details of    people who have agreed to be your Referees)

5  Treat the application process seriously, allocating time, space and resources to ensure it is the best you can do and will be in on time

6 Answer the questions fully but concisely

7  Address all aspects of the person specification, no matter how obvious they seem

8  Make sure you are not rambling or waffling

9  Don’t make claims you have no evidence to support

10 Read it through objectively, what would you think if you were shortlisting? Make any changes you think will strengthen your profile

When interviewing what will candidates need you to do:

1  Be welcoming but not effusive

2  Make sure you know what questions you will ask

3  Have answers to questions candidates may reasonably ask

4  Take all candidates seriously

5  Don’t go in with your decision made and your mind closed

6 Listen properly to what candidates are saying

7  Show respect for candidates and the process by dressing and behaving appropriately

8  Never look bored

9  Know what the candidate said in their application

10 Give an idea of when results of interviews will be announced

When being interviewed what the recruiter will expect from you:

1  Be appropriately dressed and groomed for the post

2  Pleasant but not over familiar

3  Listen to and answer the questions you are asked

4  Know about the organisation and the job role within it

5  Remember what you put in your application form

6  Have evidence to support your suitability as per the person specification

7  Ask intelligent relevant questions and listen to the answers

8  Take the process seriously

9  Have an open mind

10 Be keen but not desperate

When giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates:

1  Arrange a time for the feedback

2  Set a time limit for the appointment

3  Be prepared for them to be upset

4  Be honest but not rude

5   Be constructive

6   Don’t make it obvious you can’t remember which one they were

7   Don’t sound as if you haven’t read their application or listened to their answers

8   Don’t get sucked into an argument

9   Be able to justify what you say

10  Suggest ways to improve only if asked

When receiving feedback you should: 

1  Arrange a mutually convenient time

2 Try not to take it personally

3  Listen to the reasons

4  Don’t argue

5  Ask how you can improve

6  Don’t flog a dead horse

7  Be polite

8  Ask if you could apply for future posts

9  Remember they don’t have to give you feedback so they are trying to help you

10 Say thank you

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