Nearly 40 years ago, the record office purchased a small bundle of letters primarily sent to Charles Kay Ogden, the founder of the Orthological Institute which was concerned chiefly with the development of Basic English.
Cataloguing volunteer, Roger Jennens, has recently listed all the letters and here he writes of the rich observations they contain from a librarian working at in north Derbyshire around 1950 .
The writer of the letters, Dora Axon of Buxton, returned to work in 1948 following the death of her husband. A qualified librarian who had previously worked in Manchester, she had not been in paid employment during the fifteen years of her marriage. She was appointed to a post at Whaley Bridge library but in the interval before that library was ready to be opened she was asked at short notice to assist at the library at Chapel-en-le-Frith. At the time this was a busy centre for library provision in north Derbyshire, including a mobile library. Dora Axon records her enjoyment of the work: she found every one of the staff welcoming. Perhaps her assessment of the library users has a hint of condescension:
The borrowers are not bad – all kinds, but extremely friendly with just two or three intelligent ones. The library is a meeting ground for all the villagers and there appears to be no rule against talking, which everyone does, out loud. We never “shush” then as we used to do in Manchester; it’s awfully funny and delightful.”
Dora Axon was impressed by the mobile library service:
She was, however, hopeful that she would not be required to go out on a round:
Some rounds are terribly hard going: the issues reaching 700 a day and a handful of special requests that all need looking up and securing for the next call.
Early in 1949 a branch library was opened in the windowless basement of council offices in Whaley Bridge. The library was open from 2pm to 8pm daily, with a half-hour closure at 4.30pm. The new provision soon proved popular: the initial book stock of 5,000 volumes was soon increased to 6,000. In the first few weeks 800 readers were registered:
They clatter down the stairs at 2pm prompt and only reluctantly do they clatter up at 4.30pm and 8pm. … They are a nice public, the “Whaleys” from labourers to professional men, from country women who call me “luv” to nice middle-class “ladies” and from nice laddies of 14, (we don’t cater for younger), to university and college students.
Dora Axon was kept busy, particular on days when no assistance was forthcoming from another library:
All my nice borrowers apologise for troubling me and some offer to help. 360-500 issues a day; new readers to enrol and help; a postal service to attend to and all the ordinary routine work – it would keep 3 staff occupied at all times and it’s all supposed to be done by one!
Before long, mindful of the potential impact of winter weather on her daily bus journeys between Buxton and Whaley Bridge, and reluctant to remain working in a basement Dora Axon applied for a post at the library in Buxton.
Whaley population has lapped me up and will, I know, be sorry to lose me. And I shall never again have such congenial borrowers, nor such a splendid collection of books, every one asking to be read.
Next time: Dora describes her experience in Buxton.
See the new catalogue in full under reference D2313.