Lara Haggerty is Keeper of Books, Library of Innerpeffray.
As someone who made her childhood book collection into its own library; shelved a-z by author, with a reference card for each book and a hand drawn table in the front for a date stamp; surprisingly I didn’t train as a librarian, I often wonder why it never occurred to me. I went to Glasgow University and studied English Literature and Theatre and after graduating embarked on a series of arts projects, mainly with children and young people, firstly freelance, then full time with a theatre company, and later for a local authority. After 20 years of this my love of books was not diminished, but I was ready for a change. In 2009 the unique opportunity to work at Scotland’s first lending library was advertised and I was thrilled to be the one the Trustees chose to be the next Keeper of Books – a post that has existed since the Library began in 1680.
I had to learn a lot of practical book handling and conservation detail when I started, the history of books and libraries, not to mention large chunks of Scottish history I had missed, but although the learning curve was steep, it was one of most enjoyable experiences I’d ever undertaken. I’ve done lots of short courses, and I’m wondering if I can fit in something more substantial. Most of the skills I use day-to-day are ones that have been part of my working life for a long time: most small charities operate in very similar ways so I was used to working with a Board of Trustees and I’d worked in museums and art galleries as well as theatre so I knew about exhibitions, presentation and marketing, and the challenges of getting people through the door.
Every day is different at Innerpeffray, although sometimes it feels like we exist in a continuum of our own: ‘Innerpeffray time’ is something of a joke with our volunteer team. For a start we are open Wednesday – Saturday and Sunday afternoons, so no Monday mornings for me! Always being out of sync with the ordinary working week is just the start. Very little has changed at the Library for a very long time, and changes have been slow, so a visit is like stepping back in time into a slower world.
Today the Library is a museum, and we welcome visitors from all over the world – including lots of Librarians! This means my job is more about the display and interpretation of the collection, than its use as a reference and information resource, however, we are a very hands-on museum and although we ceased lending in 1968, visitors and researchers are able to handle and read books for themselves. When we open the doors and shutters to the amazing windows in the morning, we just don’t know who is going to come through the door (if anyone!) We have 5000 books at Innerpeffray and, as it was a public lending collection, these are very varied in subject matter, which is great for exhibitions, and a challenge for us to find a book that will appeal to each and every visitor. We are also very proud of our Borrowers’ Register, which records every person who borrowed a book between 1747 and 1968. The Register includes the name, address and often occupation of the borrower so we are often responding to requests for information from the Register from family historians or academics interested in reading history.
It is, of course, impossible to know everything about every book in the collection and all the history that surrounds it, though sometimes this is the assumption and dealing with visitor expectation is one of the challenges, or answering questions on abstruse and obscure subjects. There is nothing to beat finding a visitor just the right book: or even better, finding their great grandfather’s signature in the Borrowers’ Register.
Sadly, I don’t use time between visitors to read books (well, not often!): as an independent charitable trust called, rather splendidly, The Innerpeffray Mortification, the Library raises all its own funds and, as well as applying for grants, the main focus of my job is to attract more visitors and generate funds to enable us to keep open. I’m the only member of staff, but Innerpeffray has a great team of volunteers who help me show visitors round the exhibitions, I work closely with our Board of Governors, and we have over 2000 visitors a year so it’s not a lonely job! There’s also a lot of moral and practical support in the tourism and museum networks and in fora like the Rare Books in Scotland group who have given me loads of help.
I have the kind of job I could only have dreamed of as a child – I spend all day surrounded by a wondrous collection of rare books, in a gorgeous neo-classical building, in the depths of the lush, green countryside of Perthshire, sharing its treasures with like-minded people. The job brings its stresses and challenges, but I think I can live with that.
Innerpeffray has just reopened (1st March) after its winter closure and I urge as many people as possible to visit. I’ve been twice and loved it, so I hope to go again this year. Follow the link in the introduction or keep in touch on Twitter via @Innerpeffray.