The role of library assistant

 15 May 2012

Tracey Baldock-Yaxley works in a public library serving the market town of North Walsham, Norfolk. She spends part of her time on a mobile library, visiting small villages and remote areas.

North Walsham is a busy branch library, very much part of the local community.
North Walsham is a busy branch library, very much part of the local community.

Working in the library

“North Walsham is a busy branch library, very much part of the local community. Nowadays, we have a big focus on customer service. Because people use self-service machines to borrow and return books, assistants can be out in the main library, away from the counter, offering help and advice.”

As a community hub, the library provides many services and activities, including:

  • nursery rhyme sessions for young children
  • book clubs
  • advice sessions run by Age UK
  • a knitting group
  • information on council and other services
  • books for people who are housebound, in partnership with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).

Access to computers and the internet is an important service offered by the library. All the library assistants have computer skills and they help to run computer classes and workshops. They also help vulnerable people to access information via the internet.

"We’re always trying to come up with new ideas to help promote library stock and to publicise events."

“We often help beginners, who haven’t got computers at home. We also work with people who need to apply for jobs online.”

Making the library’s stock look appealing and eye-catching is another key aspect of the library assistants’ work.

“We focus on making attractive displays, often on a particular theme. We promote ‘recommended reads’. We’re always trying to come up with new ideas to help promote library stock and to publicise events run by the library service.”

“We also do a lot of stock maintenance. A spreadsheet gives us information about grubby stock - that has been borrowed many times and dead stock - books that haven’t been borrowed recently.

“We take the grubby stock off the shelves and replace it with new copies. The dead stock is either removed or passed on to other libraries, where there may be more demand.”

Tracey’s other responsibilities in the library include:

  • processing books and other items that customers have reserved
  • banking cash from library fines, fees and charges
  • taking computer bookings
  • helping with surveys of library users.

Working in the mobile library

To serve surrounding rural areas, North Walsham Library runs a mobile library service. The mobile library, based in a large van, takes books and other resources to people in 70 villages and out-of-the-way places.

Tracey assists the full-time van driver on the mobile library once a week. They have two routes, visiting each one on alternate weeks. One route takes Tracey through the countryside, to the North Norfolk coast and back.

“In the course of the day we’ll call at 16 stops, including villages, an old people’s home and a centre for people with learning disabilities. We spend 10-30 minutes at each stop.

"On the mobile, I use a laptop to issue and discharge books. When I get back to the library I download information from the laptop to the main computer system.”

“I love working on the mobile library. Because it visits small places, I get to know the people well. We talk about what they’ve been reading and what’s happening in their community.”

Getting a job as a library assistant

Tracey’s first job was in a restaurant owned by her parents, where she learnt valuable customer service skills. She took a break to have children and later enrolled on an NVQ level 2 course in administration.

The course involved work experience at North Walsham Library, which led to a Saturday job. Over time, Tracey was able to take on more hours, and she now works 22 hours a week.

“I love working on the mobile library. Because it visits small places, I get to know the people well."

To get started as a library assistant, Tracey recommends:

  • volunteering in a library
  • joining the relief register - a list of people willing to work temporarily, to cover for sickness and holiday periods.

“It’s a great job. You use your skills and work as part of a team. As library assistants, we all support one another.”


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