A Day in the Life of…

a Librarian

Gill Sherry

Claire McCormick was born and bred in Girvan. She attended Girvan Academy before working in publishing, finance, and then joining the Library Service. For the last four years she has been based at her local library in Girvan and is currently Acting Manager. Claire considers her role ‘the perfect job’ and is more than happy to tell me all about it!

How long have you been a librarian?

I have worked for South Ayrshire Council’s Library Service for over six years now, since returning to work after having my children.

Was there much training involved?

Yes. The library service is multi-faceted, so training is given on library systems, IT, running events and promotional activities, and on the online aspects of the service.

What do you like best about your job?

The library has always been my favourite place, ever since a very young me used to visit my local library every week to choose new books. I love the smell of books, the warm, accepting atmosphere of libraries, the heady knowledge that I could pick any one of the novels I could see on the shelves to read. There has always been something magical and welcoming to me about libraries (and bookshops) and it is the greatest feeling to be able to promote this to others. To see a kid dragging their parent by the hand in through the front door to join the library because they get the magic, they get the excitement, it’s lovely.

Do you dislike anything about it?

The common embedded misconceptions of the services we provide. Parents staying away from libraries because they borrowed a children’s book two years ago and can’t find it. The retired gentlemen who lost his library card, so didn’t come back. Please just come in, we will quickly sort situations like this with no judgement. The misunderstanding that libraries are just for high-brow literature readers. They are so much more than this! There is PC and Wi-Fi access, Film Clubs, Craft Groups, Children’s events and activities and so much more. All of our services are designed with our customers in mind and there is something for everyone, regardless of age. It costs nothing to join the library service and most of our clubs, workshops and events are free. It is a constant frustration to me when people assume there is a financial charge to join or that they will not be made welcome in what is essentially their library.

Can you briefly describe what a typical day involves?

There is no typical day! I could be catching up on necessary building or staffing admin, preparing for, or taking a primary school visit, setting up for our Book Group or Writing Group, or providing IT customer support in a one-to-one session. There could be a Community Spanish Class or a Craft Workshop running while I record an online book review for our social media platforms or lead a busy Bookbug session for babies and toddlers. The variety of day-to-day library work is the best aspect of this job, the paperwork not so much!

Do you have a favourite book and/or author?

I read from one end of the spectrum to the other and back again and find it very difficult to commit to only one favourite of either. It feels somehow disloyal to highlight one author or book over others. I love contemporary fiction writers like Lucy Foley, Marian Keyes, Michael Robotham, Dorothy Koomson and Jodi Picoult, but I am just as likely to pick up an old Charles Dickens, Jane Austen or F Scott Fitzgerald. My favourite American author is the wonderfully unique Toni Morrison and my favourite poet is the Glasgow genius Edwin Morgan, both of whom are sadly no longer with us. I am geekily and unapologetically passionate about all things Shakespeare and collect vintage editions of his works as a hobby, although I have been warned that I am not allowed any more bookcases in my home! However, if pushed, I most frequently recommend the author Terry Pratchett. If I had to pick one of his books as my favourite, I would probably have to choose The Shepherd’s Crown, as it was the last book he ever wrote and will always therefore have a special emotional pull for me.

One piece of advice for someone looking to become a librarian?

Terry Pratchett (yes, him again) once accurately wrote: ‘You get all sorts in the library, and the librarian gets it all’. Yes, working in a library requires a certain knowledge of literature, but it is vastly more important to be able to communicate well with your customers, whatever their needs, and to make them smile and feel at ease, whatever their request. In any given hour in the library, I could be debating Shakespearean tragedies with one customer (Macbeth is my favourite, by the way), then singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and reading fairy tales in a Bookbug session. Both are equally significant and if you don’t value the baby’s response to your Bookbug session as highly as you enjoy a literary debate, then this is not the career for you.

What would you be if you weren’t a librarian?

In the real, boring, have-to-pay-the-mortgage world, probably an English Literature teacher. I have an Honours degree from Glasgow University in English Literature and Scottish History, so teaching has always been the back-up plan. In an alternate, limitless reality, I would love to be the female Stephen King, except scarier and Scottish.

Career highlight so far?

That is a difficult question! The one occasion that does stand out for me occurred during the first lockdown when all our libraries were shut. There was a great deal of concern amongst the library staff for the customers we know rely on our services, especially those now isolated at home. After some virtual brain storming, South Ayrshire Libraries put together an online offer called ‘Armchair Chats’, where we would run monthly online Zoom sessions with a guest speaker giving a topical presentation, such as Mindfulness or Positive Thinking. The premise was that although our library buildings were closed, we could still connect with our library community. I chaired the sessions from my laptop in my own armchair. After weeks at home with just my children and my pets, to see colleagues and customers, albeit over Zoom, coming together, laughing and chatting, was fantastic and a real highlight for me. It felt like we had achieved something good.

If you had to sum up your job in one word, what would it be?