Memories of a Library Assistant in Edinburgh

MANY years ago I used to work in a library. Now that you've stopped laughing I'll continue. It wasn't just any library, it was THE library, the numero uno of book depositories, the largest in the nation . . . the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge. Let's face it, if you're going to hand out books for a living you might as well aim for the top.

And that was basically what my job consisted of - handing out books. Apart from the exciting times I got to wheel them on a trolley into the rarefied world of the Advocates Library next door. To be clear, I was in no way ever a "librarian", just a lowly deliverer of weighty tomes to the intellectually-gifted few who were allowed up the hallowed stairs to the Reading Room.

I was just out of school, and to even be considered for such an unskilled job I had to be interviewed by a panel of three people. Yes, a triumvirate of academics to quiz a 17-year-old to discover if she's got the necessary qualifications to deliver a book. Apparently, my limbs were deemed acceptable.

Then, the National Library was a daunting place. The Reading Room was run by a matriarchal character called Ms Deas, straight from the pages of a Muriel Spark novel. She had all her staff living in quiet fear - and God help any general member of the public who tried to get into the place without the necessary paperwork. If you weren't an academic or a PhD student you had no chance.

More from Gina Davidson at the Edinburgh News.


As the director of a public library, I can assure you that I spend two-thirds of my time worrying over accounts and expenses. When I read these stories of library employees who embezzle tens of thousands of dollars, I am astonished. How can this be? I have a hard enough time getting my municipality's finance office to pay the bills they are SUPPOSED to pay.

This article was very uninformed. What happened in this case is hugely regrettable, but cannot be attributed to an organisation being "run by academics in their bicycle clips".

No one can condone the breach of trust, or the lack of processes in place to spot it much earlier, but it's very unfortunate that a journalist should feel able to make claims about reasons and blame without checking any of the facts.

The article is riddled with assumptions and errors. I'm not surprised that the author decided librarianship wasn't for her.

Do you mean this particular library?

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