150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Brian Gilberthorpe – cataloguer extraordinaire and library treasure

BrianFor a whopping 55 years Brian Gilberthorpe has worked at Christchurch City Libraries, becoming a senior arbiter of accuracy in how the library catalogues its resources. An army marches on its stomach and a library is only as good as its ability to find the book or information a customer wants. That is where Brian comes in.

Working at the Library in the 1950s

Brian began his library career in 1954 at a time when standards were more formal and working conditions vastly different than today. The old library on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street was heated by a temperamental boiler system and could be cold, the card catalogue commanded an important space in the public area, male staff wore ties and female staff wore smocks buttoned to the neck, smoking was allowed in the workplace and dark wood shelving created a formal atmosphere.

In the 1950s the library opened for borrowing Monday to Friday nights until 9 o’clock. Friday night was the busiest and least popular night for library staff to be rostered to work but Fridays suited Brian and he soon began a Friday night shift which would continue for 40 years.

Customers were many and varied. Brian remembers the artist Olivia Spencer Bower, distinguished by the smell of the cigarillos she smoked announcing her presence in the library. Then there was the well-heeled Park Terrace dwelling man who left his wallet in the library. When Brian returned it he was rewarded (a month later!) with a lottery ticket which the customer had held on to until he had checked to see that it had not won anything. Among his memories are the denizens of the newspaper reading room, a warm and peaceful place especially in winter, including “Humble Harry” an intelligent but possibly shell shocked war veteran who was alcoholic and lived on the streets. Harry’s worst habit was spitting into his handkerchief which he later dried on the library radiators! Why Humble Harry? He occasionally wrote letters to the paper under that nom de plume.

From Cards to Computers

Over his years at the library Brian has made the transition from catalogue cards to computerized records. He has lead the way in making the library resources as visible as possible on our catalogue records. Once the library moved to a computerized catalogue all sorts of possibilities opened up – our music collection is an example of how the work of cataloguers allows people to search not just for an album but for the titles of individual songs.

With tens of thousands of records and customers all independently searching our catalogue with every imaginable keyword, author and subject, accuracy and consistency of organisation is critical. Brian has a passion for seeing that that happens.

Cataloguers are a key part of the backroom engine of any library organisation and Brian’s contribution to the library over many years is highly valued. He is also the longest serving Christchurch City Council employee.


Library travels with my Father

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