October: there’s a new month to write on the bookplates. On one side of the library, the wildflower meadow has been mown for the winter, while on the other side squirrels chase each other around rings of crunchy leaves arranged by the gardens team.
I’m enjoying the increase of students that comes with the start of the academic year; that moment where you help a reader find the information they need is one of the most rewarding aspects of library work. Inductions have been delivered, and students are beginning to remember where the book returns box is and how to persuade the self-issue machine to scan their library cards. And when the staff can’t be around, hopefully our updated guidebooks are helping the students to navigate the library, as well as the re-designed signs giving (hopefully) helpful hints at the point of need.
But in those quiet weeks before the students returned, much of my time was spent digging through multiple sources of book donations. I never knew quite what to expect when I opened each slightly musty box. Some were simply labelled ‘Odds’.
Donated books, in contrast to books that have only ever belonged to the library, bear more of a trace of an individual reader’s life. They are depositories of nicknames, Christmas cards, and unofficial reviews in biro (‘not as awful as I expected’). I found newspaper clippings, postcards, and typewritten author correspondence about nuns.
New marks and notes are not encouraged in library books: we are trying to preserve our collection for future readers. Our books are full, though, of invisible notes. Library books are no less brought alive by readers; readers, in turn, are marked by the new information from the books. Whether an inspiring autobiography from Our Shared Shelf (more on that in a later post), a textbook that completes the final lines of a coding project, or a dictionary flicked open to a new favourite word – books are interwoven with readers’ lives. Book donors’ more apparent interactions with the physical items are a reminder of this.
But anyway, that’s enough sitting around romanticising circulation. Libraries may be vessels of new ideas, old ideas, rediscovered ideas, and disproven ideas, but they are also full of day-to-day tasks. This week, as it’s nearly Halloween, I’ve been busy helping Freddy the library skeleton keep our display stocked with horror DVDs, Gothic tales and plastic spiders. Signs need laminating. Acquisitions need classifying. And I’m also meeting some exciting new ‘colleagues’ who I’ll hopefully be sharing photos of in the next blog…