Outi Pickering

Outi Pickering: Trust me, I’m a librarian

“Playing with the fire hose is a sackable offence,” my new boss says and points to a heavy-looking fabric snake coiled in a glass case on the wall. I’m suitably impressed, but at the same time I’d like to laugh: I’m 47 years old, female, in my first job in the UK and also my first job as a librarian. Would I really be tempted to play with a fire hose?

Outside, the hospital looks to me like an installation of Victorian rubble; inside, it gives me a comfortable, familiar feeling as it reminds me strongly of the hospital where my mother worked when I was a child.

Sixteen years from that induction tour, and I’m retiring from my post as Assistant Librarian. My colleagues have done me proud: there are refreshments on a long table, the bunting strung above reads GOOD LUCK OUTI, and a special album provides evidence of my career.

The Warneford Hospital has long since ceased to remind me of my childhood, it has created its own memories for me. I’m hugely proud to have worked for the NHS. Of course there may have been times when I’ve considered looking elsewhere for a job, but I’ve never even got as far as filling in an application form. I try to decide whether I have a love-hate relationship with the NHS. Both words are too strong: affection and frustration would be a more accurate pair.

There was so much to learn… The proliferation of abbreviations never ceased to amuse and frustrate me. Our library customers’ accents were another challenge, since hospital staff and students originated in any part of the world and spoke any variety of English. I loved meeting people who had recently arrived in the country; I remembered so well myself what it was like, and I always tried to make them feel particularly welcome.

If you think a librarian mainly wields a date stamp and tells people to keep quiet, you’re mistaken. A healthcare librarian’s main job is to provide accurate, relevant and timely information for library users. All right, date stamps come in handy. It’s helpful if books are returned on time. As for being quiet in the library, I usually arrived at work singing or at least whistling a tune. When I apologised to early customers who were busy at computers in the library lobby, they invariably said it was rather nice being greeted with music.