Last week, Roger shared some stories from Dora Axon relating to her experiences as a librarian in Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith; this week, we hear about her experiences in Buxton, where she started work in 1949.
At this time the library at Buxton was the responsibility of the borough council, in contrast to the libraries at Whaley Bridge and Chapel en le Frith which were Derbyshire County Council establishments. After having failed to secure appointment to the chief officer’s post of librarian and museums officer at Buxton Dora Axon accepted appointment as first assistant. Her letters include much detail of her thoughts about whom to approach for testimonials; about the conduct of the interviews, and about the merits or otherwise of other candidates. After three weeks in the new job Dora Axon writes of enjoying the experience. She writes approvingly of the recently appointed chief librarian. She lists her responsibilities, believing that she might have more accurately been designated deputy chief, rather than first assistant:
I am consultant on administration and policy, and responsible for the Staff. I have never met so small a staff that required so much looking after in my life. Three in number, they are free, untrained and uncurbed: they have never met a rule about librarianship and when introduced to one quite forget to carry it out – or don’t – the whole place is chaos.
Dora Axon records her hope of achieving an improvement within two months. Her duties also included classification and cataloguing, book selection and ordering, and even acting as understudy to the borough meteorologist. She anticipated that a large proportion of her time would be spent in her office and that she would not achieve the familiarity with readers that she had known in her previous job at Whaley Bridge.
Six months or so later improvements appear to have been elusive:
It is usual for a successor to deplore the shortcomings of his predecessor, but surely there has never been a place like Buxton. Everywhere we found chaos, and no method of dealing with it except falsifying records and tearing up the evidence! Worse still the staff trained on this happy-go-lucky lack of principle and system are incapable of recognising system – or even the need for it. … Our young and capable and enthusiastic new librarian is a thwarted and disgusted man, regretting, I think, his move to such an unprogressive hole. You would term it Bumbledom at its worst.
Dora Axon goes on to criticise the actions of committee men: appointing a qualified person, only to block every improvement he tries to make; and seeking to employ staff and stock a library service on the cheap. Such improvements as were being made involved hard work:
The up-hill task, training the stupid glamour girls, is mine, and in all my work I have never encountered such a gradient.
Dora Axon felt further burdened by the presence of a young wealthy volunteer discovering whether she might like to pursue training as librarian:
So far as we are concerned she is an additional blot; she doesn’t want to work, won’t work, “downs” a job she dislikes, and objects to doing anything as told, or accurately. She is with us for three months: I had had enough after the first morning.
In July 1950 Dora Axon wrote a long letter while on holiday in Ilfracombe – she includes her observations of the libraries in Ilfracombe and Bideford. In relation to Buxton it seems likely that she was correct about the regrets of the recently appointed chief librarian: in less than a year he had left. Her application for the chief’s post was not successful:
Though I had the backing of my own Committee, they were over-ruled by the Mayor. … who shouted “No women” and flung the six applications [from women] aside without consideration. To an appeal made by the Library chairman, who said: “She’s capable and she’s qualified – what more do you want?” the Mayor said: “She’s a woman and we can’t have a woman head of department.”
Three weeks after the successful candidate had started work Dora Axon submitted a claim for salary re-grading. The salary claim was pursued for many months: Dora Axon accuses the town clerk of presenting, at the ultimate hearing, “lies and evasions.” She was ultimately successful:
I have crashed into the Admin. Profess. And Technical Grades where no woman in Buxton has ever got before!
Having been in post for two years Dora Axon was able to list positive achievements:
The staff are “falling to” when given a job. And I am getting an increasing number of people who introduce themselves with “I’ve been advised to come to you – I wonder if you can help me …”.