Kate Edwards is an Assistant Librarian with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. The library she works in is part of Sandyford Central which provides sexual, reproductive and emotional health services.
Sandyford Library is small and specialised – our fiction collection is kept to a few shelves of basics, with the rest geared toward health of the sexual, reproductive and emotional variety. It’s open to the public but also caters to the clinical staff, making it a pretty unique place to work. As with most libraries, a bit of detective work is usually required – is that book on treating autistic children in ‘Mental Health’, ‘Parenting’ or ‘Counselling’? After two months I’ve just about figured out where all the leaflets are.
There’s a lot of time spent at the computer, but we’re always on hand, often to walk people through our wonderful, though complicated, coffee machine. Staff nip in and out for their own caffeine fix, leaflets for patients on all sorts, or a quick chat and stretch of the legs. Counsellors and nurses, cleaners and admin staff, researchers and managing directors – all overworked and full of chat. The staff room is never short of wild stories.
The library is located in the waiting room of Sandyford Central. Some days, it’s standing room only for clients and we can find ourselves ushering poor souls in for a comfier seat and some peace and quiet. People can be nervous or embarrassed or a bit woozy, so we try to be prepared to offer a listening ear and a welcoming atmosphere (or a biscuit). Even working here a short time has taught me to open my mind and be prepared for anything – some people don’t mind having a chat about their latest Chlamydia check-up, but others would rather keep their very recent vasectomy to themselves. We can be asked for anything, from local classes in reflexology to leaflets on female genital mutilation to guides on contraceptives – in Kurdish. Non-judgemental, open and approachable is the goal and I’ve never been so aware of eye contact or appropriate language or even body language (get your hands out your pockets!)
Of course, we’re all for moving into the digital as well as physical. Enquiries can come to us from the Sandyford website where anyone can fill out a form to ‘Ask a Librarian’ for health info (we’re way better than Yahoo Answers). Or by way of our new Electronic Information Prescriptions – clinicians can use our handy-dandy form on a patient’s records to ask for leaflets, lists of accredited websites, details of books available in the catalogue, and pretty much anything else you can think of, to get them informed and offer them support. We pop it all in an email (snail mail is ok too!) and voila, information straight to your digital doorstep.
A few highly interesting enquiries later, I’ll get onto the computers again to do battle with the website slides, or the library news page, or the digital signage software. Three emails to check I’ve put the right picture of lazily swimming bacteria up for news about a research study. A few calls to IT support. Even more emails to various charity organisations to ask for permission to use images or for a top up of leaflets, and then a check of the Glasgow Life catalogue for books relating to this month’s slew of health campaigns. It can take a while (and a lot of grumbling at the computer) but there’s something hugely satisfying about seeing my latest slide pop up on the screen looking just the way I want it to look.
Even more satisfying is having a young lady thank us for the leaflets we’ve found for her on her little known condition and take the time to tell us how books from our library have saved her life in the past. Or when a regular patron stops by to keep us updated on her progress in transitioning from male to female, so we can share in her joy at coming to the end of a hard journey.
At the very beginning (when I woke up one day and thought ‘librarian’), I wanted to get into this profession because I loved books, had a degree in English Lit and didn’t want to be a teacher. Through the course of completing my degree, a higher calling was revealed to me – informing people! Telling them things! Things they actually need to know, even! There’s any number of things that university couldn’t teach me that can only be learned through experience and I can tell you I still find myself floundering on occasion. But everything’s a learning experience and there’s no shortage of support.
At the very least, if I ever start getting bored with my job (ha!), I’ll just have to remind myself that very few places will ever afford me the opportunity to order highly informative books on female masturbation.
Well, some very interesting enquiries there! Thanks Kate. The usual drill – please use the reply box below if you wish to comment or ask a question and Kate will get back to you via the blog or email or in person. She’s also on Twitter @captain_eddy.