This week we’re saying the fondest of farewells to Ann Goulding, our Senior Library Assistant who’s heading for retirement after an astonishing 49 years at the Library.
Ann started working here as a 16-year-old in 1974. For almost half a century she’s been a supremely dedicated servant to and ambassador for the Library. It’s very difficult to imagine life here without her!
As she prepares to shelve her last book, Ann sat down with our Head of Marketing, Adam Bayfield, to look back on her time at the Library, share some of her happiest memories, and reflect on how the service - and the building - has evolved.
“I feel I know every inch of this building…it’s like a family member to me. It’s always been here, and we’ve grown together.”
So, Ann – 49 years at the Library! Let’s do some reminiscing. When did you start working here?
I remember it well. My first day at work was Wednesday 4 September 1974. I was 16 and I’d just left school.
How did you get the job?
There was an advert in the Press. It was actually my mother who saw it, and she said, ‘what do you think?’ I wasn’t really sure, but I thought I’d see what it was all about, so I came down to the Library – I’d never been inside the building before – and I spoke with Mr Shepherd, who was the Chief Librarian at the time. It wasn’t really an interview – he didn’t ask many questions, and I thought I probably hadn’t got it. But more or less as soon as I got home, the phone rang, and he said, "can you start tomorrow?"
What are your memories of that time?
The Library was a very different place back then. It was basically just one room, the Assembly Room, plus what’s now the Children’s Library, which was the reading room. And there was the little room at the back which is the newspaper room now – that was where Mr Shepherd had his office. I think there were only five members of staff, including me. Just the Chief Librarian and a handful of assistants.
So not many staff, and not a lot of customers either! At that point it was still a subscription service – it was £5.00 for the year, or £2.50 for six months. That was a lot of money in those days. The number of subscribers was falling, and the Library wasn’t busy at all. It would take a whole week to fill up a returns trolley with books. Totally different to what it’s like now.
Why were there only a couple of rooms in use? What was going on in the rest of the building?
That’s a good question! I still don’t really know. The top floor was still the Museum. The Hayward Room on the second floor was more or less empty, with chairs all round the sides, and a stage and a piano – I think GADOC used it sometimes. But that was it.
And then there was the Clifton Room (next to the Assembly Room on the first floor). It was closed off to the public, and it was just absolutely full of old books, piled from the floor to the ceiling, from where the DVDs are now all the way to the far end. Old books, and all sorts of other things. I remember finding sacks full of coal, a cricket bat signed by famous Victorian cricketers, a couple of old firing pistols, and a beautiful Bible that I’ve never seen since – this stuff was just lying around! It was very bizarre – my mouth fell open when I saw it. It was like a timewarp. That’s my great mystery – what was that room meant to be? What had it been used for? It was as if someone had been working through it 60 or 70 years before and just stopped suddenly halfway through.
A couple of years after I started, we took on the huge task of clearing that room out – I think most of that stuff went up to Guernsey Museum. It was a big job, and I remember my hands getting very dirty!
A snapshot of the Clifton Room as it was when Ann started.
I suppose you must have enjoyed the job? Because you stayed.
Oh, I loved it! It was all just so fascinating. The only negative at the time was that the building was sad. I remember thinking, what a sad building, because it had been abandoned. Of course, now when I look around, I think, wow. It’s alive, there are people everywhere – it’s happy! It’s such a transformation. If you could have only seen it then.
We’ve definitely been on a journey, me and this building. I feel I know every inch of it, Adam. It’s like a family member to me! It’s always been here, and we’ve grown together. It’s been a big part of my life – a very big part. The building is in me. That might sound a bit silly to people, but it’s how I feel.
That doesn’t sound silly at all! It makes perfect sense. Now, you said that when you started, the Library wasn’t very busy. I guess that started to change when it became a free service in 1981?
It was the best thing ever. Almost overnight, we became enormously busy. And the people coming in were so happy about it. There were so many people who simply couldn’t afford to join the Library before – whereas now, anyone could come in, and join, and take a book out, and they were all so thrilled.
That was when children started coming in, too – before that, the Children’s Library was just one lonely trolley, only a couple of dozen books. That’s what we called the Children’s Library! You compare that to our beautiful Children’s Library now, my gosh. Amazing.
Ann started working at the Library as a 16-year-old in 1974
You must have seen so many changes in the building over the years. And also, I suppose, in the library service itself. What stands out?
Going free, of course – we’ve talked about that. And then the next big development after that was computerisation. I remember when that was first spoken about, I thought, oh my goodness – I’m not sure this is for me! But it was good, actually. It was a big learning curve for me, but it was good. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be! And it brought people in, too, especially when we got our Internet terminals.
After that, the service just kept on growing and evolving. I love it. I love that we do home deliveries now, taking books to the elderly – I think that’s such a good service. I suppose I might be biased, but I do think we give a great service in everything we do. We’ve all done our bit, and I’m so proud of what it is today.
Perhaps we’ve all done our bit, but you’ve done more than most!
No, I’m very proud of what we’ve all achieved. I keep thinking back to what it was like when I came, and what it is now – that difference, to me, is incredible. I wish everyone could have seen what I saw when I started!
I’d love to have seen it! I wish we had a time machine. You’ve also seen a lot of people come through the doors over the years. Are there customers that have been coming in all this time?
There are a few, yes. Sometimes they embarrass me, they come up to the desk and say, “I’ll ask you this question – if anyone knows the answer, you will. You’ve been here a long time, because I’ve been coming in for 40 years, and you’ve always been here!”
We’ve had some characters. We once had a fight break out over the newspapers. Obviously someone had been reading the paper for too long. My most embarrassing moment was when a man came in and asked me if we had any sheet music for songs by Jim Reeves, the country singer. I took him into the Hayward Room to look for the book. It was a Saturday and it was absolutely packed with students. While I was looking for the book, he said “I’m particularly looking for this song” – it might have been He’ll Have to Go. And he proceeded to sing it all the way through, in front of all those people! Out of tune.
I said, “I tell you what, let’s go and have a look somewhere else,” and took him off to another room. Eventually he went off happily with his book, and another man came over to me and said, “Well done!”
As well as customers, you’ve also worked with a huge number of colleagues over the years. And you’ve trained them all! Everyone currently working here was trained by you.
Well, I must have done something well! I’ve made a lot of friends. We’ve certainly had a lot of staff come and go – I suppose 49 years is a long time, though in the early days we did have quite a high turnover. There was one lady who only stayed for the morning – after lunch she phoned in and said she wasn’t coming back. Not sure what happened there!
Ann with colleagues in the Library's Entrance Hall in 1992
So, your last day is Thursday 15 June. And then off you go into retirement. What are you going to miss?
Well, everybody, of course. I will really miss my colleagues. And the building. Oh my gosh, I love my building. I know it’s not my building, but it feels like my building. We’ve been together a long time.
It will be very odd on the day I leave. I mean, I’m looking forward to retiring – I’m ready for it, and I’m looking forward to having more time with family and friends. But I will miss this place immensely. That said, I’ll still be coming in from time to time, because I want to get books!
I’m glad to hear it! Will it feel strange coming in as a customer? Will you be able to walk past a shelf without tidying it?
I was actually going to say that. Yes, if anybody spots me tidying, please move me along! I know what I’m like. I’ve got so used to it. I even do it in supermarkets. Tidy their shelves for them.
Well, it’s great. You take such pride in it. And everyone really appreciates it.
Yes, I feel great when I look back and see a nice tidy shelf, and think, that looks like lovely. And people comment and say, “that looks nice.” That makes me feel good.
Celebrating the Centenary of the Library, 1980s. Ann is in the back row, second from the left.
Thinking about that 16-year-old that walked in to the Library and found that room full of old books and firing pistols. Would she have expected to be here for 49 years?
I don’t think so. I was so naïve. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! No, there’s no way I would have expected to still be here. But I did love it. That feeling was there straightaway. I loved the building from day one. I fell in love with it back then, and I’ve just carried on doing what I love, I suppose.
I think I can imagine what Guille and Allès must have felt like, when they first opened the Library and they said they were proud – well, that’s how I feel about the Library. I’m very, very proud.
Well, you should be. I don’t know what we’re going to do without you, Ann.
I’m sure you’ll manage! Just keep it tidy, please.