A Day in the Life of a Head Librarian
Dylan Blyth speaks to the Scottish Poetry Libraries Rebecca Oliva
And I’m not sure you’ll want
to look at poetry; am surprised
when the pirate behind your fiery eyes
lets me help you choose a Douglas Dunn
to add to your collection.
(Extract from ‘Meeting at the Mobile Library Van’ by Pauline Prior-Pitt. Used with
permission of the author. http://www.pauline-prior-pitt.com. © 2017 Pauline Prior-Pitt)
Rebecca Oliva is head librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library, in Edinburgh. The library, located at 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, is one of three across the UK. It displays a collection of more than 4500 items, and lends to more than 2000 registered borrowers throughout the country. I recently sat down with Rebecca to discuss her work at the SPL, her passion for poetry, and which skills she most values in her role.
This is a day in the life of the head librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library.
I begin by asking Rebecca to explain the function of the SPL for those who may be unaware.
“Our mission here at the Scottish Poetry Library is to bring people and poems together”, she says. “We provide a unique national resource center of excellence for poetry, and work to enable as wide an audience as possible access to the pleasures and benefits of poetry. We lend poetry across the whole of the UK”.
“If that sounds exciting to you”, she adds, meaning everyone reading this, “you can find out more about how to become a borrower here, [on our website]”:
I ask Rebecca how long she has been in the role of head librarian.
“Nearly six months – [I’m] still a newbie”.
I continue by asking what inspired her to apply for the role in the first place.
“I have always loved poetry: I started a poetry club at high school. I studied English Literature at Edinburgh University, [then] I studied at Strathclyde on their MSc in Information and Library Sciences”.
“I also had the opportunity to hear about the Scottish Poetry Library’s fantastic ‘Living Voices’ project at a conference”, she continues. “‘Living Voices’ uses a mix of poetry, song and storytelling in care homes to inspire conversation, reminiscence, and creative response. I was really impressed by the project”.
So, I ask, what does an average day as head librarian look like?
“No two days are the same. I could be cataloguing titles for our Artists’ Book collection, giving a tour of the library, or organizing a new display of exciting poetry books”.
I ask Rebecca what the best thing about her job is. She immediately delves into her passion for poetry:
“I love spending time in the Edwin Morgan Archive, which contains all of Morgan’s published works, and a fantastic collection of visual and concrete
I then ask what the hardest thing about her role is.
“It’s difficult to resist just sitting and reading sometimes”, she jokes.As stated earlier, the library holds a treasure trove of 4500 collected works and items from all manner of Scottish poets.Coming towards the end of our chat, I ask Rebecca which 3 skills she most values in her job as head librarian.
1. Interpersonal skills: being friendly and welcoming in a library is really important.
2. Developing your listening skills: it is important to listen to the requests of library users so that you can help them to find exactly what they need.
3. Having a good knowledge of how to catalogue a book is important: cataloguing is how I build a knowledge of the resources in our collection.
Are all these skills applicable to other library positions, I ask? “No two libraries are the same, but having an enthusiasm for helping borrowers to find the right text or information is important in every library”.
I conclude by asking Rebecca what her favourite poem is.
“I’ve been reading lots of Pauline Prior-Pitt’s [quoted above] poetry recently.
She’s very funny, but my favourite right now is a sweet one called ‘Women Friends’. You can read it on our website”
By Dylan Blyth.