Letter from Barry library
I remember arriving in Barry and seeing the library for the first time, with its ceiling-high windows, embedded into an old building topped off with a clock tower, fronting a busy one way street in the centre of town.
I was four weeks away from giving birth to my second child and, remembering how helpful the Cardiff Central library branch had been to the first year of mothering to me, I decided to visit them as soon as possible.
I looked up the website and the rhyme and sign times and made a mental note to show up and wind the bobbin up with my brand-new kid.
Today, it has been five years since I began working there, regularly winding bobbins up with a forever growing and changing bunch of local babies. My daughter is now six. I’ve been living in Barry for a little more than that.
Barry. Bazza. Bazz. Barrybados. My most permanent address since arriving in the UK from Poland in 2009.
My most permanent job, too. It makes me smile still that I ended up working a similar job as my mother. She was also a librarian – a proper one, with a degree! – albeit in a primary school.
It makes complete sense though, as someone who lives for books and lives in hope of finally finishing writing one, to end up with this job. A dream job, so many people say when I tell them about it. All quiet and nerdy. Nice place to work.
Oh how we laugh.
The public library is the only place of public authority where you can just come and hang out. One simply cannot rock up to the police station. Or to the hospital. Or to the mayor’s office.
Some people come here and act as if they own us because they pay their council tax. Some people ask us questions we have no business knowing answers to.
Sometimes we can direct them to the place that might, sometimes we have to send them away.
Here are some other ways in which we can help, and regularly do:
- We can provide you, subject to stock availability, for free, with all manner of recycling bags: food waste, orange for cardboard, grey boxes for bottles and jars, blue for mixed plastic and tins, white for your papers and unwanted letters, small and large green caddies for your compost. We will patiently explain to you what goes where if you’ve just moved into the area. We will nod and understand that you need more bags because they have been nicked, blown away, ripped apart.
- If you’re a parent or carer, we will provide you and your little ones with countless entertainment. From books to puzzles to colouring pages to songs and story times, amser stori, lego sessions, ti a fi, rhyme times, craft, summer activities, baby massage, reading challenges, soft cushions. A warm, dry, colourful place to spend some time without spending money.
- If you’re lonely and cold we will make you a cup of tea or coffee every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon. Free of charge. Some of us will chat to you about your day. All of us will give you a smile and extra sugar if you ask for it. There will definitely be more of you, and you will make friendships and be excited for another day to hang out. Some days you’ll get lucky and there will be biscuits, too.
- If you’re coming from outside of Barry on Dave’s Coaches and wear one of those ridiculous Nessa or Smithy masks and look for the toilet we might let you use one of ours (unless they’re out of order, then we’ll direct you to the nearest and cleanest public ones – just next door to us). We will not laugh at you.
- If you live in a care home or are homebound we will find a way to get a selection of books delivered to you, regularly and of course, free of charge. We’ll pick them up too.
- If you’re looking for an article about your dad’s car accident that occurred in a warm month of 1957 – we’ll help you find it.
- If you need to charge up your phone, study for exams, call a taxi when you have no credit, if you ran out of sanitary products – we’ve got you.
- Medical emergency? A fall? Your waters just broke? We’ll call who we need to and stay with you until you’re taken care of by professionals.
- Did you escape a harrowing warzone only to be placed with your entire multigenerational family in a hotel room, a building full of people, near a motorway, with nowhere safe and green to take a walk to, and are you losing your mind waiting to find out if at any point soon you will be allowed to leave and stay with your cousin in a different part of the country, find a job, start again? Some of us will come and bring entertainment for your little ones, glue-sticks and buttons, ribbons and glitter, story books and chocolate coins, so that you can breathe on your own for a bit longer than a split second.
- A whole alphabet of ways to serve the local community. We are all proud of our work and at the same time we all feel like we are losing our marbles often.
The library is a loud, busy place. I often get overstimulated and snappy, but each day I show up, together with a team of my colleagues, and together we do our best for the people of this town.
And all that before we even finish shelving the returns, processing new books, ordering crime novels yn Gymraeg from the Swansea branch for one of our borrowers
When the day is done, I put the blinds down on the ceiling-high windows, write down the door numbers – we still need to worry about the footfall – and leave through the back door to wait at my bus stop.
The 93 bus takes me home, where my own family safely grows.
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