In celebration of Libraries Week 2017 SRB chats with Elaine Wallace and the staff of The A K Bell Library about what makes their library tick.
Tell us a little bit about your library.
The AK Bell Library is the flagship library of Perth and Kinross and the headquarters for the newly formed Culture Perth and Kinross Trust. The original part of the building was erected in 1838 and was initially an infirmary before going through many changes to open as a public library in November 1994.
What makes your library stand out?
The staff, the high level of customer care and the variety of services we offer from this library.
Our Doors Open Day tours are always a hit because most people don’t know what really happens on a day to day basis. There are some exceptionally talented staff members who utilise their skills for the service and the displays and art work created around “The Summer Reading Challenge” every year as testimony to this. The acquired knowledge of many staff and the genuine passion for their jobs, really makes this library stand out.
Who works there?
There have been many changes in recent years and particularly as we are now a Trust. We house the CEO of CPK, the senior and extended management team, marketing and events team, Local and Family History, Archives, café & shop, support services, caretaking staff, main lending library, commercial team and also the activities for prison services, children and young people, one mobile library and access services for the elderly and care homes are all based here. And me! And…we have just launched a Maker Space, one of the first in a public library in Scotland.
What one food/drink could your librarians not survive without?
My colleagues would no doubt say caffeine, alcohol and chocolate. Our café serves very nice cake but we also have some home bakers who bring their cakes in. There’s always a biscuit, a cake or a sweet somewhere waiting to be consumed.
What other library do you secretly admire?
I am a bit of a library geek when I’m on holiday, but the most impressive I’ve seen was the main public Library in Budapest, Metropolitan Ervin Szabo Library. I was a guest of the Hungarian National Library for 3 weeks when I was studying and I was in and out of the public libraries a lot. It’s breathtaking, even the toilets were worth a look!
What is the most enjoyable event you’ve had in the library?
We have a lot of events in this library, but on reflection the stand out moment would be the celebration of the AK Bell’s 21st birthday. I was tasked with creating a large closing event with a limited budget involving the public, invited guests and staff. With a team of staff we created an Alice in Wonderland themed evening and had a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in the café, staff dressed up in character costumes, professional photographer taking family snaps with a studio backdrop and characters, croquet with flamingo mallets, an Alice trail that took you round in circles, a Mad Hatter doing magic tricks and so much more. An incredible evening and a huge team effort.
Do you have tomorrow’s paper?
Can you recommend any good caves? This reader was genuinely looking to sleep in a cave. Extreme budget traveller!
Most rewarding moment?
A member of the public I was talking to told me he had never learned to read at school and had spent his adult life covering it up by learning some words to get by. He received some help from a friend and now wanted to read more but always stuck to children’s books. I recommended quick reads to him and on that day he borrowed his first ever adult book. He was in his late 50s.
When I worked front line I loved speaking with the readers who had fascinating histories. I heard about prisoners of war on forced marches across Germany, Soldiers fighting their way through Italy at the end of WW2, imprisonment in Stalin’s Gulags and saw a beautiful photography of one of my readers wearing his naval uniform rowing a boat in Central park, New York whilst on shore leave. These readers have now all passed away but they left a very lasting impression on me.
Biggest librarian bug bear?
Toilet paper used a bookmarks on returned books. Never a favourite option amongst the staff!
In one sentence persuade someone who has never been in your library why they should go:
It’s not just any old library, it’s the AK Bell Library!