Monday, 19 May 2014

The Book of Me: When I grow up, I want to be........

This  post was prompted by Julie at Anglers Rest  and  her  series " Book of Me - Written by You", where she asks us  to record,   for future descendants,   memories and insights about our own lives.  

 Here the theme is "When I Grow Up, I want to be......."

From an early age, after school visits to the local library,  I played at being a Librarian and remember one Christmas being delighted at getting in my stocking a date stamp.  I made up issue labels for my books, and dragooned my family into being customers, so I  could enthusiastically stamp away. 


When I started secondary school, my parents attended a parent's evening  and came back asking if I had any idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up - I had no strong views,  so said a Librarian as that's  what came into my head, plus it was a way of getting my parents off my back!

My father was keen for me to go into a bank, as he thought that was a good job for a girl (it was the 1950's!),  As I was  hopeless at maths, I knew this would not be for me. I also knew I could never be a nurse, (a popular career choice at the time),   as I had a great fear of anything to do with hospitals.  

I read all the gamut of career fiction  and articles in "Girl" magazine  - Sue Barton District Nurse, Angela Air Hostess, Belle of the Ballet, Kay from "the Courier", Claudia of the Circus etc.

Becoming an Air Hostess was regarded as the glamour job of the day  and I rather fancied the idea of travel - but realistically I knew,  even at that age, I did not fit the image - being child who wore glasses and had straight hair in plaits or a pony tail.

Later on, going into the Civil Service was a career path suggested to me - but no-one would actually tell me  what would I be doing in  the Civil Service?  Teaching was an obvious easy career option for a girl, and I did toy with the idea - I liked young children and played the piano (an asset in those days)  but my aunt, an infant head, was not exactly encouraging.  


So what did I become?  A  Librarian - and yes I did conform a bit to the stereotyped image - the glasses did it!  

Does anyone remember the Smirnoff vodka advert where the librarian (dowdy clothes, hair in a bun and of course wearing spectacles), whips off her glasses,  loosens her hair shaking it into a tousled look, shortens her skirt, undoes her top buttons  - and gets a new look and new life?    I can't say that was me, though I did have a spell at  wearing contact lenses.

Instead,  I spent my time trying to counteract the image that all librarians did was a boring task of stamping  books! 

And what was my working life really like?
  My employment history could be summed up as "Fish Girl to Family Historian"



Fish Girl - My first job the summer I left school was helping out at a fishmonger's owned by a friend's father who was looking for some one to fill in for staff on holiday. It was totally out of character for me, but I stuck it out gutting some fish (for making herring rolls, I think), washing down the slabs and I managed somehow to cope with the cash side - maths was never my strong point and this was before the days of electronic tills. At home we ate healthily from the left over stocks of fish I took back to Mum.



Shop Girl for Cakes, Books & Tartan Trash -  For future summer and Christmas jobs, I opted for a less messy side of retail life, ranging from a busy bakery counter (dreaded having to make up the cardboard cake boxes in a hurry as I was all thumbs) to selling what we called "tartan trash" to tourists on Princes Street in Edinburgh - think garish red tasteless Stewart tartan souvenirs. 

My favourite was a bookshop where I enjoyed tidying the shelves and making sure everything was in order from the Pan and Penguin paperbacks in their familiar white and orange covers to the Classics, bound in mock midnight blue leather.     One Christmas I worked in a general stationery store that sold calculators and was clueless when facing questions such as "Why was this one more expensive and what did it do?" 

I can't recollect receiving anything that could be called "training" - you were just expected to turn up on time, wear an often ugly uniform, pick up procedures, work hard, have plenty of stamina to be on your feet all day, be respectful to superiors, especially if there was the dreaded visit from Head Office, get on with the job - and sink or swim. Life could  be  boring if there were not many customers around, but if the shop was busy,  it became a good source of anecdotes when I met up with fellow students,  as we exchanged horror stories of our holiday jobs. 

Stuck in a Snowstorm - I studied history at university, and as a student had various Saturday and holiday jobs in Edinburgh City Libraries, most memorably getting stuck in a mobile library on a hill in a snowstorm!   


An American Adventure:    Having always lived at home, I took the plunge to move 3000 miles trans-Atlantic.   I had the chance to work in the USA for a year as part of an exchange scheme for trainee librarians and my placement was at Radcliffe College, the sister college to Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. I loved Boston and New England, and took advantage, with another British girl I met, of taking the Greyhound bus offer of "99 dollars for 99 days of travel" around the States - a wonderful time.





At the Cutting Edge - My second professional job after library school  was as Information Officer at the  Edinburgh's College of Education in Edinburgh  with a remit to set up a Modern Studies Information Resource. This was long before the Internet, and the role involved setting up project files of ephemera - mainly press cuttings, and compiling source lists for students. I got to look though all the quality daily papers - a great job and nothing boring about it.    I had always fancied working as a newspaper librarian, or as a BBC researcher, though jobs are few and far between, so this was coming close to it. 


Dumbo to Dinosaurs  - I was a stay-at-home Mum, when a newsletter from my daughter's primary school announced that a school auxiliary had been asked to set up a library in the school. My professional hackles arose - obviously a job that the head teacher felt anyone could do! So I got in touch, took on the role,  and I was back classifying the school collection  and creating a catalogue. As it was a voluntary task, I could take my time and have a good look through all the books, with dinosaurs seeming to be the most popular topic - not one I could relate to. 

Was the Abbey Bombed?  This was one of the very many quirky queries I faced  when working in the local tourist information centre network for over 20 years.  It was never dull as we helped visitors get the most out of  of their holiday and was a source of many  humorous anecdotes.  And the  answer to the question?   Well - the 12th century Jedburgh Abbey was destroyed in 1544 by Henry VIII's army which invaded south Scotland in what was known as the "Rough Wooing" as Henry  tried to enforce the marriage of his son Edward to the young Mary Queen of Scots  - some 400 years before World War Two fighter planes.  I loved this job - meeting people from all over the world, answering questions, preparing displays and compiling fact sheets. 


Back to my Roots - Following redundancy, and a spell of free lancing in tourism,  I went back to my academic roots of history and librarianship,  working in the Library Service's Local Studies Dept. Not quite a full circle, but almost. My final role was as Family History Researcher at the Heritage Hub, Hawick - and how many people can say they found a job linked to a hobby - and we all know that family history can be exciting, adventurous and never boring!


So   -  being a librarian has served me very well!

The Heritage Hub, Hawick, Scottish Borders
www.heartofhawick.co.uk/heritagehub

[This article has been adapted from a posting in 2011] 



Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


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