Wednesday 9 July 2014

Meet your Academic Services Librarian #12

I’m Simon French and I’m the Library Graduate Trainee for the 2014/2015 session. The photograph is of me on a literary pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Company in Paris. As you can see, even when I’m on holiday I don’t want to stray too far from the books!
Books have always played a major part in my life. One of my earliest memories as a child was joining my local library. The first time I went in, I couldn’t believe my luck. I could have any three books that I wanted. Free! This was too good an opportunity to miss. Obviously I was going to make it worth my while and so I picked the three largest books I could find.  After nearly forty years my memory of that day is a bit sketchy but I distinctly remember that one of the books was called something like ‘Warplanes of the Third Reich’. It was a huge book, bound in blue cloth filled with technical diagrams and details along with silhouettes of the planes in question. I could barely lift it and quite what use it would have been to a small boy in 1970s rural Herefordshire is anyone’s guess, but I didn’t care. It was the size of the thing that mattered.
Yet my working life did not begin in a very bookish fashion. I started out selling polythene bags for a living but the excitement of that soon waned. I stuck it out for five years and then I threw in the thrills of the bag factory to go and pursue my first love – books. I studied for my BA and MA in English Literature at the University of the West of England in Bristol. I then got a job researching and cataloguing manuscripts and rare books for an antiquarian bookseller. Some six years later I struck out on my own path and for ten more years I bought and sold books for a living.
Now I find myself working in the library. As the great Argentine writer (and librarian) Jorge Luis Borges once wrote: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”. And that is what they have always been to me, from the smallest to the largest, from a few volumes on a shelf in a corner of a room to the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library. They are places of solace and companionship; of entertainment and of learning.
Nowadays I like to think I’ve changed, but to be told that as a staff member I can take out up to sixty books on my Aber card made me feel like that little boy who first walked into that library all those years ago. Yet if the intervening years have taught me anything it is this: I’m probably not going to need a copy of ‘Warplanes of the Third Reich’. Oh, and if I have a sixty book limit on my library card then I’d better turn up to work with a wheelbarrow!

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