LT is doing his famous Christmas Card Audit, so I’ve removed the one I’d been using as a bookmark and put a receipt in its place.
When I used to work at Lowestoft Library, back in the 70s – the old library in Suffolk Road, that is, not the present one in Clapham Road – we used to find all sorts of things used as bookmarks. I was never sure which were wild exaggerations or entirely made up, but one of the older members of staff assured us she’d once found a kipper and another laid claim to a rasher of bacon: whether raw or cooked wasn’t part of the story. The worst thing I ever found was a suppository wrapper, which is hardly enough to make into an anecdote.
In those days, the borrowers’ name tickets weren’t generally used and coloured plastic tokens were handed out instead in exchange for the returned books. The borrower gave them back on taking out the new books. Twice a year, we spent several weeks checking everyone’s tickets, which was a laborious job. Someone brought his books back, we asked his name, looked in the file for his tickets, kept in a little pouch, gave them to him, he went to choose his books and we stamped them in a different colour ink, so that we’d know not to ask again next time (when they’d be given that colour token), and put the tickets with their pouch back in a different file, to show they’d been checked. Books could be borrowed for three weeks so, after a month, most people had been checked out. If they didn’t want to borrow books that day, they were supposed to ask for their tickets anyway, so we checked through all the pouches and transferred empty ones. In due course, after a few more weeks, those people who hadn’t brought books back were contacted, to be reminded that the fines were building up. Huge queues used to build up when these checks were being done, which showed why we didn’t check names all the time, as some smaller libraries did.
I had a number of favourite customers, though I rarely knew their names – if I happened to be told it once every six months at most, that wasn’t too easy to remember. On the few occasions I did, however, the pleasure at being remembered was a delight and it spurred me on to try to remember more names.
I started it as a Saturday job when I was at school, sixteen years old. We worked from 8.45 to 5.30 with a 15 minute break morning and afternoon and an hour for lunch, which was taken in two shifts. We received paid Bank Holidays (the library was closed on the Saturday before a Bank Holiday Monday) and two weeks paid holiday a year. And we got the Civil Service increment annually and the youngest members of staff got an age-related increase every year too. Though, when I started, I got about a pound a day, we’re not talking big bucks here. All the same, I was obsessed with books and reading and it was my dream job.