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Interview With a Library and Information Assistant

Libraries are pretty cool places to explore, right? I wanted to interview somebody who works in one. Meet Hannah, who works as a Library and Information Assistant. Wondering exactly what her job entails? Lets find out.

Tell me a bit about yourself I'm Hannah. I was born in Crewe in Cheshire, in England, but have spent most of my life living in East Anglia. For the last twenty and a bit years my home has been Norwich. I'm married and have one daughter. I studied Performing Arts and always assumed I'd be an actress, but instead after working in a few different jobs I have been happily working as a Library and Information Assistant for Norfolk County Council since 2001. I also work as a freelance storyteller and early years practitioner. What does your job as a Library and Information assistant involve? Our role is very varied and interesting. Essentially we're sort of "checkout assistants" and it would be easy to become very process driven, but what's so lovely about the job is the fact we move around the shop floor participating in different duties. Pre Covid, we obviously had many tasks that are much more difficult to perform, but as we start to re-open and emerge from the fog of lockdown, we're figuring out how we can still be a friendly face in the community. We shelve books, we perform shelf checks to satisfy requests, send items to other libraries in the county, we assist with IT enquiries and council based questions, we signpost vulnerable people to other agencies and more recently, some of us have been trained in social prescribing. My area of expertise is the children's library. I deliver story times and bounce and rhyme sessions. Throughout lockdown I continued to film and share online content along with my colleagues. The pandemic has highlighted in quite a stark way the fact that not everyone has access to a lot of the things many of us take for granted, so the role of a library assistant is to be an impartial, friendly figure ready to help. What would you say to someone who thinks libraries are becoming obsolete? That's such a hard question because I'd initially have to bite my tongue and ask them to check their privilege... But on a more serious note I think it's important to remember that libraries are important and valuable because they are worth so much despite being pretty cost effective. They will never be obsolete because people will always require information. There's an assumption that everyone has access to the internet. They really don't. So we've moved with the times and now provide computers to people who need them. Quite often this will be for job applications or universal credit applications. Even council housing. But also thinking about the essence of a library - books are at the heart of everything we offer. The library means that people can study and obtain qualifications. I met someone who studied Law as a mature student and she wouldn't have been able to do it if it wasn't for the library.

Libraries also absorb a lot of what is cut elsewhere in the local authorities. A few years ago Norfolk lost all but a few of its children's centres. So it fell upon us to help provide assistance to new parents and babies in the community. We have weighing stations in libraries and signpost to other agencies if help is needed. Libraries are not and will never be obsolete for those that depend on its services. What services does your library offer the public? I guess I've covered a lot of that in my previous answer! But we're a vital public service to those who need it. I think it's also worth noting that The Millennium Library where I work, issues more books than any other library in the country, which means people do still love books and reading. Our branch libraries are a lifeline to local communities, as well as our mobile library vans. While we were closed during lockdown one of my roles was to contact customers who may have been isolated or vulnerable and ensure they had access to shopping and medicine etc and get them help if it was needed. Quite often the first thing they'd say to me when they established where I was calling from was "When are libraries opening again? We miss you!" What type of events does the library host for the local community? There are SO MANY events we offer. Currently we're trying to continue them online but off the top of my head we have: Baby Time Bounce and Rhyme Story Time Lego Club Zine making workshops Just a Cuppa Reading Pathways Come Singing Knit and Natter Music at Midday Local History talks Book Groups One great project I worked on, promoted physical activity in children and families that was part of a wider initiative to tackle social isolation and the issues surrounding that, bringing people of all ages together to take part in all sorts of different activities. All of this stuff can happen if the investment is there, and is so valuable!

What do you love about your job? I'm a very sociable person and I love people, so my job means I can meet loads of different people every day. I love that I get to read loads of brilliant children's books and build up my knowledge to assist customers with enquiries. And every shift is different. You never know what will happen! What do books mean to you? As a child books were a lifeline. A chance to escape. They give us a chance to empathise and educate ourselves. You really can't underestimate the power of a book. As an adult I worry I don't read as much as I used to, but life gets in the way. I also have to reassure myself that as a child and well into my teenage years/early twenties I read A LOT of books and still do read when I can.

Do you have a favourite book? That's such a hard question. I have many favourites... I may have to cheat a bit today and go for a silly one - 'The Meaning of Liff' by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.

Do you have any favourite authors? When I'm at work I tend to gravitate towards recommending female authors like Kate Atkinson and Zadie Smith. Children's authors like Shirley Hughes, John Burningham, Judith Kerr, and Michael Rosen will always get a mention because they're ace. Lastly, what interests do you have outside of literature? I'm happiest when I'm sat in the pub with my friends. Last year, I decided to bite the bullet and have a go at performing stand up comedy. It was terrifying but I'm glad I attempted it. A lot of my time is spent watching comedy - either sit coms or stand up. I love cooking and baking. And subsequently eating. And as a compromise I've also just started circuit training. So I can eat more.

Thankyou to the lovely Hannah for sharing what her job at the local library involves. What an awesome job she has. I agree. Libraries will always be an important and valuable part of the community.

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