Three generations of Hastings children have come through the doors of the Children’s Library since Pauline Crouch began working there in the 1970s. Some people Pauline signed up as toddlers now bring their own children and grandchildren to the library.
I can see one of the reasons they kept coming back: Pauline’s enthusiasm is infectious. Her eyes twinkle as she recalls the events she’s run over the years. “One of my favourites was the ‘Libraries are Magic’ day I put on about ten years ago,” she says. “There were competitions all day, craft workshops, a Harry Potter family quiz with a Harry lookalike, magic show, puppet show and a fancy dress parade.” Pauline also used to run trips to Bodiam and Pevensey castles during the summer holidays, with author talks, craft workshops, face painting and high-energy games. “My abiding memories are of struggling to put up gazebos in the pouring rain, wearing publicity t-shirts several sizes too big and screaming maniacally at over-excited children playing parachute games!” Pauline shows me a photo of herself dressed up as the Good Fairy from the children’s book Little Rabbit Foo Foo. “Scarily, this is probably how I will be best remembered!” she says.
This is hardly the stereotypical image of a stern librarian, hushing and tutting children into meek silence. It’s clear from the passion she exudes that library work was Pauline’s vocation - although she laughed when, in 1971, a careers adviser told her as much. “I didn’t believe them at the time!” But after completing her A-levels, Pauline began working as a library assistant. A couple of years later she got a job in the Children’s Library, and there she remained until 2015.
Forty years of change: fun, filing and funding
Library work has also changed considerably since the 1970s. Back then, the Children’s Library didn’t open until after school hours. “People often wonder what I did during the day, but you have to remember that everything was done manually back then,” Pauline explains. “Placing reservations was time consuming and keeping the catalogue up to date was a laborious task. Each book had its own numbered card and it all had to be filed - accurately! - by hand. If one card was out of place it took hours of searching customers’ tickets to sort out the mistake.” When the first computer system arrived, staff spent days sticking barcodes into books. At the end of each day, lending data was recorded onto a spool of tape and sent off to the main computer, which Pauline recalls “looked like a big washing machine.”
Funding levels for the library have dipped and peaked over the last few decades, too. “There have been good times with plenty of funding to promote reading to children of different ages,” Pauline tells me. Hastings Children’s Library has also been fortunate to have a separate location since 1979, which has meant more space and flexibility for activities. “But with every tough time, we’ve had to reduce activities and services,” notes Pauline. “And I’ve never witnessed it as bad as it is now.” Are the current restructures and cuts one of the reasons she’s leaving? “The honest truth is that I probably wouldn’t have retired quite this early had the situation not been changing at work,” Pauline tells me. “But the job brought me a lot of satisfaction and pleasure and now I am about to embark on another adventure.”
A new chapter, a new adventure
But the Hastings Children’s Library will always hold a special place in her heart. Pauline still remembers the shiver of excitement she felt when she first picked up The Snowman by Raymond Briggs back in 1978. “At that moment I just knew that sharing the love of stories and illustrations with children, being able to encourage them to read for pleasure and introducing them to new authors and illustrators was what I wanted to do. Imagination fuels discovery, invention and creativity. That’s why the library service is so vital. It’s not just about the books, but the expertise, the encouragement, the enthusiasm you find there.” Indeed, I think. These are qualities Pauline has in abundance.
I ask Pauline if she has a message for all the people she’s inspired over the years. “Where did all the time go and how can I possibly be old enough to even contemplate it?” she says. “Thank you to everyone, staff and customers, who have made my almost forty years at the Children’s Library so wonderful. I hope I have instilled a passion for stories in several generations of children. Keep reading, everyone!”