Let’s sing about the unsung volunteer staff at Bawtry Community Library…

09 +00002013-06-28T10:17:24+00:0030 2012 § 8 Comments

Part of the lovely audience at Bawtry Community Library

Part of the lovely audience at Bawtry Community Library

I gave my first talk in a library yesterday, at Bawtry Community Library, near Doncaster. It had been requested by Claire Holcroft and George Spencer, of Doncaster Library Service, and immaculately organised by Lesley Gilfedder at the library itself. Despite the rain and the fact that it coincided with the local school play, about twenty people attended. It was a lively and appreciative audience; most of its members had read more crime novels than I have, even though I’m a self-confessed addict, and several of them had detailed personal knowledge of the part of Lincolnshire which I write about. I felt that I learnt at least as much from them as they from me.

I gave two short readings, one from In the Family and one from Almost Love. I was asked about the characters and, especially, about why I’d chosen to make a dysfunctional family the focus of In the Family. We talked a lot about the atmospheric qualities of the Fens and about past writers who have described them, especially Charles Dickens and Dorothy L. Sayers. We discussed plots and plot construction, how to make them work, whether it’s possible to change the plot mid-novel and how to avoid inconsistencies. Several of the audience kindly bought copies of the books.

I took some cakes (I’ve decided to make this one of my trademarks!) and, when the organised part of the evening was over, no-one was in a hurry to leave. Lesley, ever efficient, made tea and coffee and we all stayed to talk.

Of course, I know about public library cutbacks, but I had no idea how swingeing they have been in some authorities or how magnificently local communities have responded in order to save their libraries. Bawtry is a lovely library: it has a cared-for look; there are bright paintings on the walls; the stock is impeccably arranged and there is a large children’s area where the floor has been carpeted in multi-coloured tiles to aid the playing of games and telling of stories. It keeps full opening hours and, as last night, is also sometimes open late. All of this is achieved by volunteers. It has about ninety of them, typically working three-hour shifts. As well as manning the library, they clean it and care for the grounds. They’ve been operating this arrangement for eighteen months and, so far, not one volunteer has dropped out. I understand that most of the other libraries that come under the aegis of the Doncaster local authority are also run in this way, though not all manage to keep such long opening hours as Bawtry.

I am amazed and full of admiration, tinged also with a little bit of shame. The public library charter entitles people to the right to borrow books from a local library, yet the people of Bawtry would not be able to do this if so many of them were not prepared to give up their own time to make it work. It is both a huge local achievement and a national scandal that this state of affairs should exist.

I’d therefore like this post to stand as a tribute to the wonderful people from Bawtry whom I met yesterday and to all their friends and colleagues who continue to make the library the vibrant hub of their community. Thank you. And especial thanks to Lesley, for all your unobtrusive hard work behind the scenes.

Elaine Aldred and Christina James at Bawtry Community Library

Elaine Aldred and Christina James at Bawtry Community Library

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§ 8 Responses to Let’s sing about the unsung volunteer staff at Bawtry Community Library…

  • Jo Carroll says:

    Many of our libraries would be closed without volunteers to keep them going – so I’ll join in the singing.

    But am also mindful of librarians who have lost their jobs – dismissed by councils who have no idea of the skills they bring, especially the help they give to young people and their research. Their expertise is beyond the skills of most volunteers, however dedicated they are.

  • vallypee says:

    I did not know so many libraries had closed in England, Christina. What these people are doing is magnificent. Communities need libraries and it is certainly something I would subscribe to and support if I were in their shoes. We are very fortunate here in NL that the libraries have not suffered that kind of fate (not that I know of anyway). Many of them have become quite high tech with computers and databases rather than as many actual books, but they are still here.

  • Anabel Marsh says:

    I agree very strongly with Jo’s second paragraph. In addition, this might be working well in Bawtry but what about areas where libraries close and they don’t have a willing pool of helpers? The library service will become a patchwork of provision – a postcode lottery to use an overworked phrase.I’m sure these volunteers ARE doing a magnificent job but it’s a scandal that they should have to provide what is actually a statutory service. I’m afraid I can’t sing even a little bit.

    • Well, as I have said, it is a national scandal, Anabel, so we are in complete agreement on that score. I cannot help but applaud this incredible volunteer achievement, however, which does itself shame a system which defies the charter. 🙂

      • Anabel Marsh says:

        Indeed – I know you know all that! I used to work for Doncaster Libraries and I’ve been trying to remember the name of the librarian at Bawtry in the 80s. I can picture her quite clearly but no name attaches itself.

        It’s all very sad to watch, even sadder as the NHS and the education system also seem to be going down the tubes. We have a certain immunity in Scotland, but who knows what will happen next year?

        I better stop before my blood starts to boil at the thought of certain politicians…..

      • What comes so strongly across in your comment is your concern; I am absolutely sure that many share it. Thank you, Anabel.

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