Stewart Bain: Behind the Scenes at the Library

Category: Reading

“Good morning, I found a bumblebee floating in a bucket of water and I wondered if there is perhaps something like a Bumblebee Preservation Society?”

Working in a library you must be prepared for the fact that you can, and will, be asked anything. Despite living in the age of the internet, it is heartening that the library is still the information provider of choice for so many. The bumblebee query came via telephone, just after 9am, from a man who “knows nothing about computers and doesn’t intend to”. By quarter past nine our caller had full contact details for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and we are delighted to report that the bee is once again bumbling about the gardens of Orkney, whilst avoiding water filled receptacles.

The bumblebee query was the start of another busy day in the library, a day which highlights just why the library service is so unique. First up there was Bookbug, which saw the children’s library full to overflowing with babies, toddlers and parents, all rhyming and singing at the top of their voices.  Those in the adult library were lucky enough to have their browsing accompanied by Baa Baa Black Sheep and other old favourites. It can be guaranteed they also felt some reassurance from the fact that in this ever changing world the wheels on the bus continue to go round and round. However, there was some concern over the fate of five missing ducks, but following a major bout of parental quacking the absent avians returned to the fold.

While the children’s library was alive to the sound of music, the foyer was alive to the sound of Skyping Indonesians. The crew from a visiting cruise liner were taking full advantage of the free Wi-Fi to catch up with friends and family. In the height of summer there are so many different nationalities passing through the building that the casual observer might think the library is holding a meeting of the United Nations. Even as the tourist season draws to an end the Indonesians had to fight it out with Americans, Australians and Canadians for prime laptop positions.

As the visitors enjoyed modern methods of communication, at the other side of the foyer half a dozen people were blackening their fingertips with the contents of the newspaper rack. They were catching up with the latest developments in the financial crisis, the situation in the Middle-East, and the all-important line-up for Strictly 2011. Newspapers of the non-finger blackening variety were also being perused in the archive, with a student whizzing through microfilm of The Orcadian from 1884 to find the information that would help ensure an A+.

All that was in the morning; the afternoon would see one of our Twitter followers in Cape Town asking for help with their family tree, someone trying to find evidence of a marriage in the 1740s, and a girl wanting her necklace photocopied, which was a first for all concerned. Then, just before we closed for the evening, a man came in desperate to consult British Poultry Standards (Sixth Edition). So the day ended with birds and began with bees, and if you need that subject explained we’ve got plenty of books that should cover the necessary details.

Library users are not just the people who come in and borrow books; the woman having a coffee in the foyer while she waits for a friend or the man buying a Mr T fancy dress outfit on eBay are library users. The child looking for information about crops grown in India and the pensioner tending their crops on Farmville are library users. Libraries are for everyone. If you haven’t been to yours lately pop in and see what is going on. You might be surprised.

Stewart Bain began working at Orkney Library in the same year that B*witched split up. He does a bit of Reader Development and is (ir)responsible for the @OrkneyLibrary Twitter account. Likes biscuits.