Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category

Yesterday, on Twitter, @greebstreebling asked people to tell her the loveliest thing anybody ever did for them. It pulled me up short and really made me think about all the wonderful things people have done for me, and I realised that all of them were for the same reason. They “Loved me”.

Then I thought what each of these people did that let me know they truly loved me. I came up with this list.

I know Grandad loved me  because when I was a child he let me polish his bald head with beeswax and a duster.

I know my Dad loved me because he sang to me every day (including Baby Mine Don’t You Cry  when the children next door bullied me and made me cry).

I know my Mum loved me because she told me I made her feel safe just before she died.

Auntie Lil’s face would light up with happiness whenever I went to see her and she would hug me as if I was precious.

Dave stayed as long as he could, no matter how tired he was.

Tim knows who my favourite poet is, and read a chapter of My Neighbour Totoro out loud to me every night when I was in hospital.

That’s before I even start to think of the animals who have loved me and shared my happiness and sorrow, expressing an unselfish compassionate love without words. My life would have been less rich if I had not known them.

I feel so lucky when I remember these loveliest things. Thank you, Mobeena, for making me think.



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Recently I have been thinking about how I ended up where I am now, and the things that people have said and done that changed my life. These are 10 that shaped my working life. I am grateful to them all because without them I wouldn’t have had such a varied career, or got so much from it.

1) “You will never be any good at anything technical because you are worse than useless at mathematics”

My mathematics teacher when I was 15. She was the reason I decided not to do anything technical or number related.

2) “I hope you are good at making tea, you will be doing a lot of that in the library”

One of the interview panel when I applied for a job in public libraries at 20. She was the reason I joined the Civil Service.

3) “The great thing about programming is you don’t need to be some sort of maths genius”

My line manager when she suggested I try for a promotion into the IT Department and I said I was rubbish at mathematics. She was the reason I got into IT. Oh, and yes, I did meet that maths teacher again and took enormous delight in telling her I worked in IT and was loving it.

4) “I am very glad to see you back at work, there is a job we need doing and you are best suited for it. X has been off sick for two weeks, buy them a suitable card on your lunch break, girls always know the right thing to get”

My Senior Executive Officer when I came back to work after extended bereavement leave. He was the reason I decided to get into management.

5) “I  am so grateful that you helped me move out of your team, I thought I was a failure, but now I know I am just not good at that, but I am good at this”

A team member who was really not performing well, so we sat and worked out what he really wanted to be doing, and got him transferred to that team instead, where he blossomed. He was the reason I realised there is more to management than just getting the job done and that other part is the most rewarding of all.

6) “I just wanted to see if you had any balls”

My Director in a Government agency where I was a consultant when I asked him for a pay rise, as all the male consultants had been given a raise but not me (the only female on that team). He was the reason I decided I wanted to stop that rubbish happening to other people for whatever reason.

7) “If you could do anything at all when your contract ends what would it be?”

My husband. He was the reason I plucked up courage to apply for HE courses, give up work and become a full time student.

8) “You have a very unusual mind”

My personal tutor at Manchester Metropolitan University. He was the reason I decided thinking differently is not necessarily a bad thing and librarianship was definitely what I wanted to do.

9) “Maybe you are in the wrong job, and you aren’t suited to being a librarian”

An employee of a chartered professional organisation when I asked for advice dealing with bullying from senior management in my workplace. She was the reason  decided I wanted to change that organisation.

10) “You are the reason I stuck out my Access to HE course. Your help with referencing and research made me realise what I could achieve. I have started my Masters now and I wanted to say thank you”

A mature student I met after I had left my job and was wondering if perhaps the professional organisation employee was right. He was the reason I stayed in librarianship, but changed jobs to somewhere I felt I could make more of those differences.

Thank you all.

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Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived (nearly) at the seaside. Her name was Catherine and she had one brother (her hero), one Daddy (her even bigger Hero) and one Mummy (her star and her idol). She lived in a very special house on a very special estate. The War Memorial homes. Catherine could never understand why people gave each other a knowing look when she said where she lived. Her “best friend” would not come and play at her house because her Daddy said that Catherine’s Mummy and Daddy weren’t in the same “group” as them. Her best friend repeated this incomprehensible comment to her before saying” and Mummy says you can’t come to our house because my Daddy works at Barclays and your Daddy looks foreign”. Catherine talked to her Daddy but he laughed and said never mind what silly people say. So she didn’t. She spent her time out of school with her pet hedgehog (Mummy and Daddy had made it better when it got knocked down), the barn owl Daddy rescued from the outside toilet, and her roller skate (which was really her pet dog and had a lead of its own and could do tricks – mainly roll over and heel).

Catherine had a wonderful childhood because even though they never had holidays abroad, they had hardly any money, her clothes were never in fashion and sometimes her schoolmates laughed at them, she was always encouraged to think  about things, nobody ever stopped her asking questions and always tried to answer them, she had all the books she wanted to read from the public library and she knew she was loved whatever she chose to do.

Until she was eleven Catherine dreamt of being an archeologist, to do this she was going to go to University and study history. Catherine passed her 11+ and went to Grammar School (now luxury apartments). This was a good thing (apparently). At Grammar School she was taught English by a truly inspirational woman and decided she would study English Literature and become an academic, she would discover new knowledge and improve the world (somehow). At this time her love of anything unable to speak out on its own behalf began to really blossom. Her parents had some concerns, especially when she stood up and shouted at the trainers at the circus for being cruel to the elephants, sat in the local fur shop giving a running commentary on how FAT fur coats made people look and how cruel the fur trade was, and was very vocal about the Unspeakable in pursuit of the Inedible. They had a “quiet word”. Apparently they wanted Catherine to realise she probably wouldn’t be able to rescue every “lame duck” she met. However, they couldn’t hide that they were actually proud of her for standing up for her dreams and her principles.

Then the daft girl met a Boy. She decided to share his dream, and become a hotel receptionist so they could open the hotel he dreamt of. This meant not going to University and disappointing her beloved Mum. So she failed her A levels on purpose and went to Catering College instead. She became a Head Receptionist at a wonderful hotel and still dreamt of a future running their own hotel. Except now He was sharing that dream with another girl.

Skip a few years forward and Catherine had joined the Civil Service, where she dreamt of a great career progressing to mandarin status and the dizzy heights. Except she was a girl. Despite the fact she passed the exams with more marks and a better report than a Senior Manager’s son, she didn’t get promoted and he did. Somebody suggested she should try for a job in the Computing department. So she did. She started as a computer programmer in a department where being female was to be in a minority. It was fantastic. New dreams were born, inspired by Ada Lovelace and Lynne Lindsay. Catherine had many happy years working (playing) with computers and creating systems that she hoped would make life better for many lame ducks.

All this time at the back of her head Catherine still dreamt of university, learning and a way to be useful which her Mum would have been proud of (by now Catherine had been an orphan for ten years). Her husband supported her pursuing her real dream and so she saved up, sold her sports car (same model not actual car), and went to a wonderful university to study Library and Information Management.

It was a revelation. All the dreams, all the reading, all the talking and working she had been doing suddenly came together and she was incredibly happy. It was hard work but she finally felt that she was doing what she was always meant to do and that it would result in her being able to help other people achieve their own dreams. Before she had started the course her father in law and brother in law had joked with her that being such a very mature student might be difficult and she would struggle to get the grades her younger colleagues managed. She bet them she would get a 1st – a new dream. Catherine graduated with a 1st Class Hons, 2 awards and the highest marks in the cohort. A dream achieved.

Since then Catherine has had other dreams, some of which she achieved and others which she had taken away. On the whole she has achieved a greater proportion than she has lost. One huge dream she always knew would never happen. She would never be part of an elite university working on new ways to help other people achieve their dreams. After all she was from a very underprivileged background, with no A levels and worked in a profession that many people under-rated and didn’t value. Then one day she got an email, and all her academic dreams came true. Not only did they come true but now what she was given the opprotunity to do may very well help other people achieve their own dreams too.

The moral of this story is always think about things, read, ask questions, realise that “lame ducks” matter, and remember you are loved; then there is nothing that you cannot achieve.

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me tell you a story. It is a true story and it happened to me shortly after I moved back to my hometown after a year working away.

Many years ago a woman knocked on my door. She was careworn and faded in appearance, apart from her eyes which were shrewd and alert. Her mouth was bracketed by bitter lines and her forehead furrowed. As soon as I opened my door she started her spiel. “I am a poor woman with nobody to care for me and my children. Would you have such a thing as some old clothes to spare for me?” As it happened I had just moved in and had decided it was time to clear my wardrobe and make a fresh start all round, so I had some clothes already bundled up to go to a charity shop. I told her to wait at my door, which I carefully shut, and went to the back of the house to fetch them.

When I turned round she was right behind me. I still have no idea how she got there. My dog was barking his head off in the kitchen where I shut him before I answered the door, but she was unfazed as she looked around. I persuaded her back towards the living room, and handed her the clothes. I told her it was all I had and she turned to leave. Then she stopped, turned to me and said “I’ll tell you your future for £5”. I said I had no wish to know what was coming and opened the door (I knew I had closed it!) and said “Goodbye, I hope the clothes help”. She stood like a rock in the middle of the room. She stared at me for what seemed a long time, but wasn’t really. Then she took a pillowcase (new) from her bag and said “I won’t take anything from you without giving something in return”. She held out the case and said “Keep this and you will have good luck”. Slightly disconcerted, I took it from her and she took the bag of clothes and stepped outside. I watched as she began to walk over my garden.

Suddenly she stopped, turned around and walked back to me. She looked me straight in the eye and she said “You have had much pain and sadness, and it is all you can see ahead. Everything you have now you have worked for, everything you ever have you will work for. You think you will always be sad but I want you to know that soon you will meet again someone you once knew, who will make you happy. Make sure you recognise them. I am very glad to have met you, you are a special person”. And she turned and left.

To say I was unsettled by what she said would be an understatement. The tone of her voice and the way she looked me in the eye had been so convincing but how could she know what had happened to me in the last couple of years and don’t all fortune tellers say you are about to meet the “perfect” partner.

I told my brother what happened and he scoffed and said she was a flim-flam artist, skilled at reading people and interpreting the objects in my home to come up with a plausible story. I thought he was probably right, but in that case why had she only taken the clothes and not asked for more?

A few weeks later a friend got in touch, his marriage had broken down and he was catching up with friends he had lost touch with. He asked if I would like to meet up. That would have probably happened anyway, but did the Fortune Teller’s comments give me the subconscious push to go for that first drink?  Who knows. We celebrated 20 years of marriage a month ago (well, to be honest we both forgot but when I spotted the date we opened a bottle of wine).

I moved out of the area again shortly after her visit. I think about her occasionally. I am glad I didn’t shut my door in her face, because she reminded me that change and opportunity happen when you least expect them and aren’t looking for them. Some risks are worth taking. It’s up to us to recognise them when they appear, sometimes we just need a push in the right direction.

I still don’t believe in fortune telling though.

(But I do still have the pillowcase, still unused, in the linen cupboard).

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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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