I am asked frequently by visitors to Gladstone's Library, and by my friends, what it is that I do during my time here. This blog will give a bit of insight into my routine as the only non-residential intern currently on the team at Gladstone's Library.
Gladstone’s Library is a one of kind residential library, nestled away in Hawarden, North Wales. This extraordinary Grade I listed library was founded by the prominent Victorian statesman, William Ewart Gladstone, and is dedicated to upholding his legacy. Along with affordable accommodation and locally-sourced and freshly cooked food at the Food for Thought bistro, the Library also provides the perfect, creative study space. It is a unique environment which promotes open discussion and debate, individual reflection, and the pursuit of knowledge.
I really enjoy coming to work because of the relaxed atmosphere and friendly, fun staff!
As I’m a non-residential intern, I work full time weekday hours: 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday. In summary, my weekdays are similar in routine and involve alternating between working on the Enquiry Desk for half of the day, and working on other tasks in Library Services for the other half.
I commute by bus from Chester, which is easy and affordable. I like to arrive at the Library before 9am as it means I can spend time at breakfast catching up with my fellow interns and laughing with them over a steaming cup of freshly filtered coffee and a buttery croissant.
We then open up the library's Reading Rooms and Annex; switching on lights, tidying, replacing any used slip books or missing pencils, starting up computers, and generally making sure everything is in order. After this we have our ‘Operations Hour’ where we get through all of the day's circulation (returning used books), and doing odd tasks like tidying and processing newly catalogued items.
Depending on our rota, we alternate between being based on the Enquiry Desk and working on other projects. Depending on the day of the week, an intern may be in the Marketing office most of the day or having a much deserved day off!
When we are on the Enquiry Desk, we greet everyone who enters the Reading Rooms, ensuring people sign in (this is particularly important as it allows us to keep accurate statistics of the Reading Room’s usage) and that we are always available to help with any and every query. Many fun, and odd little tasks can be done from the desk, for example; environmental monitoring (recording the day’s weather, along with the daily temperature and humidity of parts of the library); marketing (we schedule social media posts and find interesting things to discuss and photograph); cataloguing (entering new acquisitions onto the Heritage Cirqa system so we have a record of the item); general research (sometimes we get queries which we have to do a bit of detective work for and it’s fun to use all of the resources at our disposal to find the answer or obscure book or photograph etc).
The majority of these tasks are punctuated by many mugs of tea and coffee to keep us operating at maximum capacity (it’s well known that library staff are fuelled by caffeine). If you see me furrowing my brows in concentration while staring at the computer as if willing it to give me answers, then I'm most likely cataloguing a tricky (and old) acquisition. If I look incredibly happy, then I've just decided it's time for a much needed coffee break and am already fantasising about my caffeine fix (oh coffee, how I love thee).
Another task which I carry out on the desk is my archiving project. I'm currently working my way through the manuscripts and research of English spy novelist, Lionel Davidson (1922-2009). His published titles include: The Night of Wenceslas (1960), The Rose of Tibet (1962), and The Chelsea Murders (1978). From reading parts of The Chelsea Murders’ manuscripts and the painstaking research that went into the creation of his novel, I’ve found Davidson to be a brutally honest writer with a sharp wit and richly diverse characters. His vivid character descriptions and choice of slang always causes me to smother a laugh.
It is important that the items within the archive are recorded exactly in the order in which we receive them, and the information we note down about each item is as specific as possible. Each item needs a label attaching, which includes the item’s title, the archive’s creator, the author of the piece, the amount of sheets, pagination, date (if any), measurements and any additional notes. Once every item has been labelled, this information can be entered onto a spreadsheet in preparation for adding to the library catalogue. Davidson is easy enough to work with in some respects, but his handwriting is another story entirely!
What I enjoy the most is processing. This is when I get to label, stamp and add protective covers (if required), to all the books, pamphlets and periodicals that have been catalogued. I think it's the creative aspect, along with physically working with the books that makes it feel so satisfying. It's something I can lose myself in.
Another aspect I love about working at this incredible library is the excitement of discovering something new and beautiful hidden among the shelves. No matter how many times one visits Gladstone’s Library there is always something great to discover. There are books of all shapes and sizes, some that fit snugly into my palm and others that are almost half my height. I like to set myself fun challenges of trying to find the chunkiest or biggest book possible! The results leave me in amused awe. I’ve found books with beautiful clasps, ornate designs and stunning engravings. We house some of the most beautifully-bound books you will ever see.
Lunch time is always a good time. The food is amazing and each day a surprise as we wonder what will be on the menu and if we should have dessert or attempt some self-restraint (dessert usually wins). We get to spend time socialising with colleagues and talking to residents and visitors. Sometimes I like to use the last half of my lunch to catch up on previous Writer in Residence, Stella Duffy’s, short stories (Everything is Moving, Everything is Joined) in my favourite spot in the Gladstone Room with a cup of tea.
Then there’s the Glimpses! These are times when we interns can show visitors the Reading Rooms, and relay information about William Gladstone, his lovely library and its intriguing collections. Glimpses are available seven days a week at 12 noon, 2pm and 4pm (lasting around 15 minutes). It's very rewarding to meet new people and see so many engage with what we have to offer. It’s free to join as a Day Reader and you can access the Reading Rooms 9am - 5pm, Monday to Saturday. Residents and Friends have daily access from 9am - 10pm.
After lunch, it’s back to work, either on the desk or in Library Services; then just before 5pm, we make sure the Reading Rooms and Annex are tidy and safe before calling it a day. On a few occasions I’ve stayed late to spend more time with the other interns. We have had dinner and drinks together, taken amusing group photos, explored Hawarden a little and visited the pub. I particularly enjoyed one evening after dinner when we retired to the Gladstone Room for a game of Articulate! The sun was setting, lamps were being switched on, copious amounts of tea and coffee was being consumed, and the room was cosy and alive with discussion and laughter.
My weekends vary week to week and are always my own (one of the perks of being a non-residential intern). My Saturdays are spent away from the Library but my Sundays alternate between staying in Chester and visiting Gladstone’s Library, depending on how tired I am from the rest of the week and what I have planned.
Saturdays are my busy days. I catch up on chores around my house, then get ready for my weekly Shaolin Kung Fu training at the University of Chester. My training hours are 11am - 1pm. From there, I head to the Chester Library for my usual voluntary work until closing time at 4pm. Normally I’m completely exhausted by this point and head home to relax with a book, spend time with my friends and fiancé, or create digital art. Though sometimes I stay in the city centre and wander around the shops, get a coffee or visit the Chester Cathedral or Grosvenor Museum.
My Sundays are completely my own. Recently, I wanted to spend a Sunday at Gladstone's Library, using the library for the first time to research and read, like everyone else. Rather than the regular feeling of self-fulfilment I get from working, I experienced a different kind of contentment. The freedom to browse and use any book I wanted. To sit at a desk by lamplight and lose myself typing for hours without a care in the world. It was bliss.
One of my favourite things to do, which may be a bit odd (and a bit of a hazard), is to sit on the floor between the rolling stacks in the Annex when I’m alone and I've found a particularly interesting section on the 19th Century. It's peaceful and I can properly peruse each book before deciding if it's 'the one.'
During one Sunday at the Library, I experienced writer's block for a few hours, and after lunch, decided on impulse to take a break and get a permit to walk through the local woods. If you’re staying at the Library you can also get a permit to explore the beautiful park, castle grounds and hidden wonders of Bilberry Woods!
It was a damp, drizzly day with mud everywhere, but that just made it more of an adventure as I hopped over huge puddles, climbed fences and tried to keep my balance. The wood was peaceful with a heavy scent of wet foliage and earth, a slight undertone of sweetness from the carpet of bluebells on the right of the path. I was completely alone and for the first time in a long time, felt like a child again. I ran, climbed and ran some more. I met a herd of cows and discovered the abandoned Corn Mill. It was messy and tiring, but it was a great relief and it removed my writer’s block, allowing me to work on my first blog. That’s the beauty of Gladstone’s Library. It’s within easy access of Chester city centre and all surrounding areas, yet enveloped by countryside so you get the best of both worlds. It’s great to know that there’s such a peaceful retreat on my doorstep to escape to when I want to study in solitude, meet new like-minded people, and take the time out to explore the local natural surroundings.
Each day is different but always fun and full of valuable experience. I try to live each moment to its fullest to make the most out of my time in this wonderful place that I'm so privileged to be a part of, and to create many wonderful memories to look back on.
Gladstone's Library is truly unlike anywhere else. A hidden gem which hopefully more people will have the chance to discover and explore.