I retired this April after thirty-six and a half years of library service – and what lovely memories I take with me. I started working for Hammersmith and Fulham libraries on 2 October 1978, at Fulham Library. I was fresh out of University having spent all my life in Llandeilo, Carms and Aberystwyth, Wales.
At the Fulham Library of the 70s, everyone was addressed by surname; I was called Miss Stephens! It was all very civilised and polite – a cup of tea was made and taken to the Chief Librarian’s office every day. I worked in the adult lending library. This was the day of the Long Player records (LPs) – interestingly enough LPs are coming back into fashion now – and each LP was meticulously checked under a lamp for scratches. Fulham had the first purpose built music library in London. We had book approval meetings once a week, where the newest books were passed round a table and we discussed in great depth whether we would consider buying it for our library. There were trays of Browne ticket issue cards, a far cry from the computers of today!
The library would close on Saturday at 1.00pm, and there would be queues waiting outside at 2.00pm. One member of staff would hold fort on the counter, and the rest of us from managers down would be shelving and “strict ordering” the books; my first introduction to team work, which stood me in good stead during the refurbishments at Westfield and Hammersmith.
I spent most of my time in LBHF working in Fulham, Hammersmith Lending and Music Library, Clem Attlee Branch Library, Hammersmith Stock Department, Shepherds Bush library, Hammersmith Cataloguing Department (some more throwbacks to the earlier years was the presence of a banda machine for churning out catalogue cards, which we had to accurately file in catalogue drawers. I also remember having to operate a telephone peg switchboard when the telephonist was at lunch, a task I dreaded as it was so easy to connect the wrong people up by mistake!).
I had plenty of variety of work during this time, including enquiry work, cataloguing and classification, looking after the teenage collection, reading to Under 5s, supervising school classes in Clem Attlee Branch, working as a Music and Audio Visual Librarian in the heyday of the CD and DVD, and more recently being part of a stock team at Hammersmith and latterly in Kensington Central and Victoria Library when my team began working across the three boroughs in 2012.
I suppose I had a taste of cross-borough working in the 1980s when I worked at Charing Cross – no, not in Westminster, but as a hospital librarian at Charing Cross Hospital! We had a glorified cupboard of books there, which we brought over from Hammersmith Library. We used to go around the wards with trolleys delivering books to the patients who were interested in reading them. I’ve also had many a fine time on the mobile library ranging from the salubrious St Peter’s Square in Hammersmith to the far reaches of the Hammersmith border with Brent. A far cry from the mobile library in Wales, where I did some volunteer work visiting farms in the Black Mountains. More recently, I even got to visit Wormwood Scrubs Prison Library!
I have seen two library centenaries: Hammersmith Library in 2005 where, as a result of my music interest, we organised singing workshops run by Music House for Children. And the Fulham Library Centenary (2009) when we dressed up in period costume and sang music from the era.
During my sojourn as a Music Librarian, I also became heavily involved in the Sing London project, organising Sing Musicals and Sing Gospel in various branch sites. Fulham Library Exhibition Hall has always proved a bonus for music events with its large space and piano in situ. Perhaps the greatest highlight was meeting and chatting to Gareth Malone at the launch of Sing London in the V&A. Other events have included a Women in Music Festival with the Fairer Sax playing as guests, a series of lunchtime music events at the library including Irish Music from the nearby Irish Centre, and we had a senior citizens music club too where we used to perform and listen to music.
We’ve also had some entertaining author visits. The late Sir Terry Pratchett came to Hammersmith Library as well as local authors such as Dan Waddell the crime writer, Misha Glenny and Lucinda Hawksley (the great-great-great-granddaughter of Victorian novelist Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine).
My other main interest apart from music is sport and I was delighted to visit four primary schools with a colleague (Rob) to do a Premier League Reading Stars programme, which encouraged children to read through the medium of football. We also organised tours to the educational centres at Chelsea FC, Fulham and QPR, which the children really enjoyed.
I would not have stayed working in the same place for so long had it not been for the wonderful camaraderie of the staff. We had many a social event from Country & Western, Punk and WWII theme parties to cricket matches and football matches with other library boroughs, visits to the Margate Fair, Brighton etc! I even once had the wonderful opportunity to go to Amsterdam on a library exchange visit to meet librarians from other European countries, due to a then twinning association programme There’s even time today in our close knit Stock Team to have a go at the Quick Crossword at lunchtime, in between writing stock specifications for each library and organising purchase of new material such as Graphic Novels or Skills for Life books…
The library today is much changed from that of 1978: computers, online learning and the great opportunity to go virtual, borrow e-books and e-audio: great if you’re travelling or perhaps unable to get to the library for any reason. There’s still the physical book available though, and I’ve revelled in the opportunity to be able to select books over the years and learn about various subject areas. I used to have such a variety of enquiries – from someone doing an university degree and wanting their set texts on audio because they were dyselexic, to another person saying they were distantly related to the footballer Jackie Milburn and wanted to learn more about him.
It has to be the pleasure of serving the public, and the wonderful colleagues and friends I’ve made over the years, that has kept me in the same job for so long. Although I’m sad to be leaving, I have a lot of happy memories to treasure.
Elin Jones 12/4/15