Joan T

Joan T

Joan was born on the 5th November 1924.

She is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 8th May 2012.

Joan was part of the group of Wadsley Friends whose joint interview you will find under Wadsley Friends. However she spoke separately to Mary and this is the transcript of that separate interview conducted in the presence of her friends. Joan passed her 11+ and went to the secondary School of Art in Surrey St opposite the Central Library.

MG: Joan was born on the 5th of November 1924 and lived in Wisewood and was then in the forces, and then came back after 1948 to Wisewood. [Editor: Joan moved to Sheffield from Bradford when she was about four.]

MG: Thank you very much, Joan.  So, you’re obviously a keen reader.  Do you know when you started to love books?

JT: No idea. I just loved books. I couldn’t have been able to read, but I just loved books.  So when I started reading, I’ve no idea.

MG: Did your parents love books?

JG: Yes they must’ve done. Most of them. I don’t know if it was me parents or me grandparents.  Walls of books, you know.

MG: Were there?

JT: Yes, I don’t know what they all were ‘cos I couldn’t read them all when I was a toddler, so.  But I just loved the books, you know. Some of ‘em were all right.  I could read through something.

MG: So do you think your parents and your grandparents bought their books or went to the library, or both?

JT: Well it’s probably both but a lot of them were rentals as well from university and all those books kept me quiet later on.   You know, so that was useful.

MG: So you acquired all those books?

JT: I did, not all of them, but quite a lot of the books were passed round.

MG: Were there any you were particularly glad to have?

JT: This is a time I’m talking about before I could read, so, but I still did, yes. There were some, yes.

MG: So, where did you go to school, Joan?

JT: At Wisewood and the College of Art.

MG: At Psalter Lane?  Was it at Psalter Lane, College of Art?

JT: Oh no it was before that.  It was at the end of Surrey Street.  Oh yes, yes. Junior it was then.

MG: And when you were at school, did you enjoy reading?

JT: Oh yes.  By then, yes.  I did then, yes.  From twelve onwards I suppose, yes.  I had books out of the library, the school library, as well as other kinds, so it was all right.  I didn’t. er, I read a lot of theirs and library books then.  More than the ones we had at home.

MG: Did anyone help you choose those books?

JT: No actually, the ones at school we were just given those.  You know, suitable ones I suppose. There were all kinds of books, you know.

MG:So they were chosen for you?

JT: Well yes because it was a – we had to write about them when we’d finished reading them, you know.  So that was to make sure we’d read them I suppose.

MG: Were there any that you loved?

JT: Well I can’t really remember any of those. I think quite a lot were fictional but I can’t remember them much.

MG: Right. So do you find you don’t remember fiction as much as other books?

JT:  Er, I don’t remember any of them actually!  Possibly so, yes.  There’s certain ones you read over again, you know.

MG: Yes. Which ones were they that you read over and over again?

JT:  Those at that time, none.  Later on I did though, the ones I had at home, I read them over and over again.  Don’t think the others I did. Just get them out once and read them.

MG: So going forward in your life, when you were an adult, which books did you read over and over again?

JT:  I don’t think I did.  Cos I didn’t read that many fiction books after that.

MG: Didn’t you?

JT:  No.  Only the ones that were still at home, you know.  They were old ones and not very trusted, perhaps, you know.  I can remember them but they’re not very interesting [laughs].  A bit, … a bit heavy going I suppose for that age, I don’t know.  Possibly.

MG:  Did you read them because you felt you should read them?

JT:  Not because I should, but I had to read every book.  It didn’t matter what it was.  A book was a book!

MG:Right, yes.

JT: You know, I couldn’t resist.  If I did go to the library I’d have to pick anything that looked a decent book.  Providing it wasn’t fiction.  And I’d read it, whatever it was.  But I don’t remember those stories.

MG:So you sort of galloped through them.

JT: Well no, it depends. No, no, I’d read it.

MG: Yes. But you must’ve read quite quickly to have read so many.

JT: No, not necessarily quickly, no. I don’t think so.

MG: No. When did you find time to read when you were at school?

JT:  At school. Apart from the school books, no, we didn’t have a lot of time, you know.

MG: No.

JT: Well with work and things you don’t have time to do much reading.

MG: No.

JT:  Apart from for school.  Them reference book things for work, for working at school, you know.

MG: So when you left school and you hadn’t got the school library, where did you find your books to read?

JT:  Er, well, I couldn’t afford any then.  So it’d have to be library at that time.  There wasn’t a lot of time really.

MG: Was that Hillsborough Library?

JT:   Er, yes.  It didn’t go on very long because the war was on then and so I did other things.

MG: Yeah.  And you were in the forces until 1948, and did you have any access to leisure reading then?

JT: None.

MG: None?

JT:  No time at all.

MG: No time.  Where were you in the forces, Joan, where?

JT: Where? Bedfordshire.

MG: Right. So that really meant your reading stopped until 1948?

JT: Yes it did yes.

MG: And when you came out of the forces you were 24, and what did you do then?

JT: Mm, I went into an office.  I did try nursing but the men went mad, [typist’s note, I listened to this many times, but this is what it sounded like to me.  It may have been me mam went mad] so I went into an office.  I still went reading some things, you know.

MG: Yes.

JT:  But not quite as much, perhaps.

MG: No.  Where did you find your books when you were 24?

JT:  Well they would be library books, yes.

MG: Yes.  Yes.  Can you remember any book that you read and you thought, “Oo this is a really adult book, you know, I’m not reading children’s stuff anymore.  This is an adult book.

JT:   I don’t really remember reading children’s books!

MG: Really?

JT:  Well, I don’t remember any.

MG: No.

JT: At all.

MG: No.

JT: Erm, I don’t know really, I can’t think oh, Yorkshire, what do they call her?

MG: Winifred Holtby?

JT:  Pardon?

MG:  Winifred Holtby, you didn’t read…..

JT: No, no.  Can’t remember.  Sorry.

MG: So when you got your parents’ books and your uncles’ books and some of your grandparents’ books,

JT:  I did read technical books in between these things.

MG: Oh did you?

JT:  You see, that took up time.

MG: Yes.

JT:  I think I’ve still got a book on aeronautical engineering.  I thought of going into that,

MG: Really.

JT:  but when I got there I decided it was a bit out of date by then!

MG: So was that what you worked on in the war, aeronautical?

JT:  No.

MG: No.

JT:  No.

MG:But you liked reading.

JT:  Oh yes.

MG: Engineering books.

JT:  Anything yes!

MG: Did you?

JT: Yes!  But you don’t remember all of it, do you?

MG:No.

JT:  But I remember quite a bit of it, a good bit of that.

MG:Yes, so you’ve still got your aeronautical  …

JT: I remember those but I don’t remember the fiction ones at all.

MG: Ah, that’s interesting.  So you remember the non-fiction more than the fiction.

JT: Yes. Well, ‘cause you use them as reference books you do remember them.  It’s something you’re learning isn’t it?

MG: Yeah. Yes, yes. So fiction was something you just did for a bit of pleasure and then forgot about it.

JT: Oh yes, yes.

MG: That’s interesting!  So there’s no novel that really you re-read?  Or have re-read as an adult because you particularly like it?

JT: I think I’ve read a few but I can’t just recall what they are. Not important enough to remember. I’ve not got a very good memory anyway.

MG: Well Jean said she enjoyed Dickens very much, was he a favourite?  Not at all?

JT: That’s not my cup of tea at all.   No I’m afraid.  I mean, it just doesn’t interest me.

MG: I think there was an author who was involved in aeronautical engineering called Nevil Shute.

JT:Oh yes.

MG: Did you read any of his?

JT: Yes, yes I did.  I remember those, yes. He was in the Air Force. Yes, yes.

MG:Thank you very much.  Bringing it right up to date actually Joan, which books are you enjoying at the moment?

JT: Mm, I read very little, actually. A lot of the books I have are reference books for anything I want to do, you know. Those of course get read over and over again but, er, the other ones I possibly I might read in bed, paperback ones, as a sort of, I’m just trying to think, popular things. Not, they’re fiction, yes, but er I only like certain ones.

MG: Yes So with your parents’ books and your grandparents’ books, were they mostly factual or fiction?  Both, right?

JT: Yes.

MG: That’s very interesting.  Thank you very much Joan.

Tyas 2 [Joan wanted to add something at the end of our interview so this is where I caught up with her.]

JT: … in my life at five [laughs].

MG: Put you off?

JT: It put me off school.

MG: Oh, no.

JT: So I didn’t bother any more with anything. I’ve used my imagination as to where I am and so you know the rest.  Well I didn’t think if the rest of the teaching was a bit like that, I didn’t want to know.  Very stupid child!  [laughs]

MG: So school didn’t excite you?

JT: No it didn’t I’m afraid, until I got to the 11+ year for some reason. Other than that I was always sent out from classes.

MG: Were you?  Were you naughty?

JT: No.  I remember them always getting sent out when it was sewing time but actually I think there was a point in that.  I’m not very ambidextrous with my fingers and it was always a bit of a problem. Which is all right if you want to draw and paint, ‘cause you’re any good at it, but it’s not much good for sewing. I used to lose (I always did when I was a kid) lose needles and that.  I don’t see the point and anyway we weren’t doing anything special.  It wasn’t anything, you know, just doing, I think they did sampler things and things of that sort. And I thought, “That’s a waste of time”.  But I used to get sent out.  I much preferred it outside!  [laughs].

MG: Thank you.

Recent Posts

‘Those Cheerless Cemeteries of Books’

The thrill of entering a public library. Thousands of books arranged in familiar patterns. Fiction and non-fiction. Classics and novels contemporary and historical, romances, crime stories and thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy. Books about art, science, music, history, travel, philosophy, politics. What will I find this time? Something entirely new? a much-anticipated sequel? an old friend? Each visit is a promise.

At the beginning of the 20th century, public libraries, including Sheffield’s, looked very different from our ‘open access’ model, where the books are there for us to wander through, to pick up, to choose or return. Then, while there might be a few out on display, many public libraries hid their books away behind counters, or kept them out of sight in rooms marked ‘No Entry’. Catalogues, often out-of-date, were set out in the public area, and sometimes copies could be purchased. Borrowers would seek the advice of library staff. Once a book was chosen, an assistant checked on its availability and, if it was not already on loan, retrieved it from its shelf and handed it over to the borrower.   

The Sheffield Corporation have given a good deal of attention lately to the development of the public libraries on modern lines, and evidence of the progress that has been made will be forth coming to-day when the Central Lending Library will be open for view to the public on the open access system. … (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Thursday 1 June 1922)

From an anonymous pamphlet, The Truth about giving Readers Free Access to the Books in a Public Lending Library (1895)

With the exception of research and specialist institutions, there must be few ‘closed access’ libraries now. Why was it the norm in the early days? Maybe librarians and library authorities had little faith that books would not be disordered, damaged or even stolen by borrowers. Controlling access was a way to safeguard books owned by local ratepayers, not all of whom were happy with their money supporting the, to them, wrongly named free libraries. Perhaps there was also some attempt to influence what people read. Librarians and councils habitually worried about borrowers preferring the light novel over the serious work. The public library was, after all, invented to help people improve themselves.

Sheffield Central Lending Library 1910, with books locked away behind the counter (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com.
Ref: s02145)

As well as keeping borrower and book apart, closed access often meant problems for library staff. Book stores generally seem to have been crammed with shelving from floor to ceiling and young assistants had to scurry up and down long ladders to find books. Here is Joseph Lamb, Sheffield’s chief librarian from 1927 to 1956, on his days as an assistant:

Birmingham Central Library in those days (1913-14) was a murderous place in which only those with sound bodies and hardened minds could survive. Most of its large stock was shelved in three tiers of iron galleries reaching to the ceiling. In a closed library with an average daily issue of 900, the amount of leg work demanded of the staff was enough to qualify them as Everest climbers. (J P Lamb, Librarian While Young, The Librarian and Book World, Vol XLV, No 3, March 1956)

Opening of the Birmingham Central Free Library. Illustrated London News. Sept 16, 1865, page 256 (public domain). The ‘cheerless cemeteries’ can be seen on the left, with ladders for the staff to climb up and down.

And Sheffield librarian Herbert Waterson, who started work in 1869, hinted at the particular problems the ladders meant for Victorian women seeking library work.

Closed access inspired a piece of Victorian technology, the ‘indicator’. This was a screen, often fixed to the wall and divided into tiny sections, each matched to a book listing in the catalogue and showing if the book was in or out. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph proudly described the locally-made model installed in the new Brightside Library in 1872:

… the handsome mahogany frames on each side of the lending counter, in which is arranged what known as the ‘Indicator System,’ whereby the reader may see at glance whether the book he wishes to borrow is available or not. The system is ingenious, yet so simple that all can understand it. … (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17 August 1872)

The Cotgreave model of indicator
(from A L Champneys, Public Libraries (London, Batsford, 1907))

Indicators were often very large and could be unwieldy. The ones made in 1876 for the Upperthorpe and Highfield branches had the capacity for 12,000 books each. One of the Highfield assistants claimed that the staff used to play football behind their screen when the librarian was not on duty.[i]

Open access in a public library was trialled as early as 1893 at Clerkenwell in London by James Duff Brown and seems to have aroused considerable opposition.[ii] It began slowly to be adopted, as the objections to it were proved baseless. But in conservative Sheffield closed access was the order of the day until after the First World War. In two places only could borrowers roam at will among the books. The branch library at Walkley, which opened in 1905 with a grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was converted to open access in 1913-14 by its pioneering librarian, Albert Ibbotson. His superiors objected but he got away with it. ‘The [open access] Walkley Library’, said a letter from Mr A Ballard to the Sheffield Independent on Tuesday 16 August 1921, ‘has been for the past seven years a veritable university to the working people’.[iii] At the same time, two schoolteacher members of the Council’s library committee petitioned successfully for the opening up of the Reference Library.[iv]

These were among the few innovations in Sheffield Libraries in the early years of the 20th century. By 1921 the service was in decline, and there was much muttering in the press. The numbers of books borrowed were falling, book stocks inadequate, administrative practices old-fashioned, staff demotivated and buildings (especially the Central Library) in poor repair. New chief and deputy librarians – R J Gordon and J P Lamb – were recruited to put things right. Determined and modern, they wasted no time.

Converting all the libraries to open access and introducing the Dewey classification system, as funding allowed, was an early decision in July 1921. The task was huge but, by the following June, the necessary alterations had been made, the stocks of books refreshed and classified. The new open Central Lending Library was ready. Albert Ibbotson from Walkley had been appointed to run it in 1918 and was probably an ally for Gordon and Lamb. He had been described by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Friday 8 March 1918 as a ‘progressive librarian’. By 1919 he had already introduced a very limited form of access: ‘…two cases in which the latest books are always placed on view, and the rapid demand for these volumes shows how useful the system is’ (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Saturday 6 September 1919).

No doubt primed by Gordon and Lamb, who both knew the value of publicity, the Sheffield Telegraph was eager to explain the new system to the city:

At the Library entrance is the staff enclosure where the issue records are kept and from which the staff control the entrance and exit wickets. A borrower desiring to change a book hands it to the assistant at the entrance counter, which is to the left on entering, and receives his borrower’s ticket exchange. The assistant then releases the wicket gate and the borrower enters the stockroom to select his book. After selecting the book he wishes to borrow he returns to the assistant who completes the necessary records and releases the exit wicket for the borrower to go out. Apart from this arrangement which will be greatly appreciated by borrowers, who can wander at will among the volumes, there is a new system of classification which makes for rapid working and ease of selection. As most borrowers at Public Libraries ask for books on a particular subject rather than by the author, and because of the many advantages gained by having all the books on the same or related subjects on one shelf, the books have been classified according to the subjects they cover. The Dewey Decimal classification has been used for this purpose and seeing it in operation, one is impressed by the value of the system. The books in the Library are arranged in two parts: prose fiction and non-fiction. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Thursday 1 June 1922)

Sheffield’s Attercliffe Library after conversion, showing the staff enclosure, the wicket gates to control access and the open shelving (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com. Ref: u01383)

The degree of detail suggests how much of a change this was. The journalist goes on to say: ‘There is no doubt that the public will appreciate the new system, under which borrowers are allowed actual contact with the shelves containing the books.’ Over the next few years, Sheffield’s branch libraries were all converted, with counters and screens removed and new shelving installed.

Borrowers in later years clearly still appreciating open access (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com. Ref: u02265)

Open access libraries are so familiar to us that any other system seems impossible. But in 1956, as J P Lamb approached retirement, he saw some merit in the old ways:

It seems to have been my library lot in my younger days to be fully occupied in re-organising old type libraries. Those cheerless cemeteries of books are now thought to have no redeeming features; but reflecting on my work in them after a lifetime spent in creating ‘modern’ mass appeal libraries, I am not at all sure that the change has been wholly good. Open access has resulted in the loss of a personal contact with the reader, which no kind of readers’ advisory system can replace. … The librarian as guide, philosopher and friend was then a reality. … (J P Lamb, as above)


[i] From Kelly, James R, Oral History of Sheffield Public Libraries, 1926-1974 (unpublished MA thesis, University of Sheffield, 1983). A copy is held in Sheffield Archives.

[ii] Kelly, Thomas, History of Public Libraries in Great Britain, 1845-1965 (London, The Library Association, 1973), pp. 175-82.

[iii] Did Mr A Ballard become Alderman A Ballard CBE who chaired the Council’s Libraries Committee between 1944 and 1954? It seems very possible.

[iv] The City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956 (Sheffield City Council, 1956). Along with the newspapers quoted, this is the main source for this article.

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