Librarians’ Voices: Barbara Prater – Part Three: Park Library and beyond

Former Sheffield library worker Barbara has told us about her days at Lane Top Library and her work on School Instruction, helping groups of children learn how to use a library. Here she describes her move to Park Library and brings us up-to-date.  

Eventually the regular 9am smell of Hubba Bubba bubble gum and pickled onion Monster Munch rising from thirty excited 14 year-olds herded into the entrance hall for their School Instruction session got too much for me to bear. I joined Astrid Gillespie, Irene Collumbine and Pauline – what was her name?- at Park Branch, upstairs in the children’s library. As the other half of the building housed a swimming pool (Park is an Edwardian municipal complex, housing a library, swimming pool and public baths), we enjoyed tropical temperatures throughout the year.

Park Library

The worst thing about that job was ‘film night’. A projectionist equipped with folding benches and film equipment arrived regularly at selected children’s libraries. Admission was by ticket only, but with only me to hold back the crowds it quickly became a free-for-all. There existed a local gang of ‘children’ who were notorious and, whilst I never issued tickets to them, they always managed to obtain one. The projectionist and I would set up the rows of folding benches – which often did just that during the general rammy [brawl] – and I guarded the doorway with my heavy rubber torch held menacingly across the gap. But they always managed to smuggle their way in. I shall not name the ring leader for fear of legal action, but I heard some years later that he went down for murder, having been disturbed during a break-in.

In 1974 my then husband’s job relocated to Teesside and we moved to Guisborough near Middlesbrough. I worked in their Central Library and then Guisborough Branch Library, until my children were born.

But Sheffield City Libraries had not seen the last of me.

In 1984 my husband’s job moved again, this time to Rotherham and the family decamped to Eckington on the outskirts of Sheffield. My motherhood experience did not match up to that of Children’s Librarian, as I presented my hapless 5 year-old to the school doctor with his unreasonable (to me) behaviour. She observed me over the top of her specs:

‘Do you have a job, Mother?’

‘How could I have a job when I have two children who are as mad as a box of frogs and driving me demented?’

‘I suggest you work on Saturdays and let your husband look after them.’

So began my weekly holiday in Sheffield Central Children’s Library. I would have paid THEM to let me work there. I went upstairs for my break that first blissful, child-free Saturday – and to my amazement there were the same tables, covered in the same wipe-able cloths, with the same departmental faces gathered around them as I had last seen ten years previously. I had travelled all over the place (it seemed to me) and experienced so many things, and yet time seemed to have stood still here in this little room.

Sheffield Central Library

As my children got older, they became more human and my life settled. I no longer sought refuge down the magic staircase to Central Junior. I spent many very happy years working in the classroom with children who had behaviour problems, whilst teaching library skills in the school library.

I now live in the Scottish Borders with yet another surname – but I’ll go no more a-roaming. I have found the perfect husband, live in the perfect town with a sandy beach surrounded by rock pools at the bottom of my road and I live in the perfect house with a sea view from my lounge window.

I will never forget Sheffield City Libraries, but I still can’t stand the smell of bubble gum or pickled onion Monster Munch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *