Library Life


A Day in the Life ...

... of one of Oundle Library's Stock Assistants
Article text
Isn’t it wonderful that our library in Oundle is so well used? Many activities take place here, all apart from the ordinary borrowing and returning of books. Book groups meet, the Scrabble group has a weekly session, mums and toddlers come every week to the children’s library, talks take place and much more. One thing all these activities have in common, though, is that people come to the library to take part in them.

But we have a group of people who also use the library, who cannot get to it in person. They are the housebound. They are mostly older people, some with disabilities and others who just can’t get to the library. Most of them have been faithful library customers all their lives and for these people we offer a Home Library Service.

This service has a handful of dedicated drivers who each have a specific round. They collect bags of books and take them to their ‘people’ once a month. And then there is me, one of the library’s volunteer Stock Assistants. Like the drivers I’m a volunteer, and I work at Oundle Library once or twice a week. I’m also one of the people who chooses the books for the Home Library customers.

My day goes like this. I come in at 9am when the library opens, I get out my box of cards and my box of bags and I set to. In my little box of cards, I have a short word picture provided by each customer of what kind of books they like and – equally important - dislike. One person’s card could for example say:
8 – 10 books
Ordinary print
Gentle crime
No nasty thrillers or war
General fiction

I then spend some time browsing the shelves looking for books that fit. Whenever I choose a book, I write the customer’s name inside the front cover so that next month or 6 months down the line when I pick up the same book, thinking it would be ideal, I can see that I had just the same thought previously. In this way we can make sure that a customer does not get the same book again and again. After that I check them out and put the bags ready for the drivers.

So far so easy. The fun comes when a customer has been having books for a long time. We will have exhausted the shelves of books directly relating to their choice. In those cases, I will sometimes ask the library assistants to order something along the same lines in, or I will try to find something which I think they might like. That is fun and stimulating and it’s really nice when I get a feedback saying that a person has especially enjoyed my picks.

Sometimes I almost pull my hair out trying to come up with something because, of course, not all customers have such a wide remit as in the above example. There might be one saying:
Half a dozen books
Large print only
Westerns only
Lightweight books as can’t hold heavy books.

That last one can be a challenge. Large print books are, by their very nature, heavy. We have some large print paperbacks, so they tend to go out often.

I normally ‘do’ 6 to 8 bags in a morning once every week. Other than that, I do general shelving and tidying of shelves, which is good fun. The library is blessed with a large number of books (especially recently since the Library Service has started buying new books again), probably a quarter again as many as there is shelf space for. So I puzzle out how to get them in without jamming them too tight. Occasionally I find myself moving books from shelf to shelf to take up slack in one place and at the same time relieving a tight spot in another.

And talking about tightly packed spots. No prizes for guessing which shelves are the most packed, but also the most popular. You guessed it: crime fiction. Those shelves are always very full. Luckily when I have packed up 20-odd bags of books, many of which contain crime fiction, the shelves are lighter. This only lasts though until the drivers deliver back the previous month’s 20-odd bags. Then it is pulling-hair time again trying to get them back.

I love this little ‘job’ of mine. I enjoy choosing the books, trying to get the mix just right, even though it is pretty hard physical work and I often stagger home to collapse in a chair. I enjoy chatting about books to the customers who come in, and helping them if I can. And I like shelving and tidying the shelves – good job I have a tidy sort of mind! And, as an added bonus, I often find books which I myself want to take out and read even, on occasion, new books that have just arrived and are highly sought after. Never has my account had so many books out at any one time. Recently I even picked up the latest Margaret Atwood ‘The Testaments’ – it was just there on the shelf!!!

And one added little thing. After 10 years of retirement from a lifetime as a midwife I get a real kick out of saying to my husband every Monday morning: ‘I’m off to work now’. Never did I think I would say that again and with such enjoyment.

There are lots of different volunteering opportunities at Oundle Library. From helping as a Stock Assistant to running craft sessions for children. Or maybe you have an idea for something that hasn’t been tried before? If you think you might like to volunteer at your library please speak to a member of staff to find out more.