June 18, 2024, by Nicholas Blake

George Green Library: Then and Now

To commemorate 60 years since the opening of George Green Library, Tracey O’Sullivan, Library Advisor, shares her memories and photographs from working there since 1985.

Imagine the scene: no computers, no mobile phones, no Wi-Fi, no laptops, no self-service machines, just lots of books, journals and the like; card index cabinets and photocopier machines that you put money in to use!  This was George Green Library, or rather the Science Library, as it was named, when I joined in 1985.

My first experience of the library was trying to get inside. The letter I had been sent clearly stated I was to enter via the Staff Entrance. However, I spent five minutes running round the library trying to find a door labelled as such. I did not find it and as time was moving on, I tried the back door.  Hey presto and in I walked. When I told the Librarian sometime later about this, he profusely apologised, and the letter was amended.

Photograph of Tracey O'Sullivan posing next to a wooden hatch in a wall and holding a rope.

Tracey in the original staff room at George Green Library posing with the dumb waiter used to transport books down to the basement store, c.2002 (UMP/6/24/31)

How times have changed, and here we are years later, using cards to enter the library, and more technology than ever. The students were also quiet, very little noise.  It was just accepted you were in a library. Again, how different things are today.

When I first started working at GGL, we were still in the process of barcoding the books.  At that time, each library acquired, catalogued, processed, and labelled their own books.  It did mean that you got to know the stock working with the books and journals.  When we were having a sort through the journals some time ago, I found one for discard that I had processed on only my second week in the job. I asked if I could keep it as a memento, it was a lovely trip down memory lane.

Opening hours were Monday to Fridays and Saturday mornings, which staff worked on a rota. No late evenings, Sundays or 24/7.

Photograph of the steps leading up to the library building. A construction fence blocks the path.

The original entrance to George Green Library complete with concrete cladding, c.2014. (UMP/6/24/33)

As time moved on, we got our first library management system called SWALCAP.  We were all given training on how to issue books via the computer. I can remember the first time I issued a book to a reader. It all seemed so very exciting.  We are now on our 4th Library management system, ALMA, and we have added so much IT hardware and furniture over the years.

Self-service machines arrived in the 1990s. I was asked to be on the working group to decide what we wanted and how they would integrate with our system. They had to be user friendly, which was not always the case, and yet now we take self-service for granted.

Fines were paid by cash or cheque. I remember deposits, which were paid for our study rooms, we kept in an old tobacco tin at the Lending Desk!

The library has had several smaller refurbishments over the years. Initially the library was laid out over three floors, with books and journal relating to subjects, shelved together.  The advent of putting all the journals together on one floor, in alphabetical order of title, made finding them so much easier.

Photograph showing shelving and unfinished shelving being assembled. In the background you can see book trolleys and a library lending desk.

Photograph of the Short Loan Collection at George Green Library during refurbishments in the 1990s. (UMP/6/24/32)

The library was renamed the George Green Library in 1993. We had a presentation ceremony, and the staff had a small fuddle to celebrate.

We have a piece of bespoke artwork which was commissioned specifically. The artist painted autumn leaves, representing George Green’s functions. For anyone who has never heard of George Green, he was a miller from Sneinton, who went to Cambridge University. His mathematical functions are still used in physics and engineering to this day.

The extension to George Green Library began in 2014 and was finished in 2016.  Noise, dust, fumes, explosions, floods, and builders’ bums, we had it all! The library stayed open all the time during the building work, we still offered a full service.

Photograph of library interior with books and shelving removed and crates and upended furniture.

Furniture and book stock being moved during refurbishment and extension of George Green Library, c.2014. (UMP/6/24/28)

Just before the library was due to reopen, we were flooded. The whole of the ground floor had to be redone, as the electrics are under the floors. Although students could not come into the building, staff worked, and we had a rota system so we could retrieve books off the shelves for customers. I have to say the smell and dampness was dreadful!

Photograph of dark, square hole in the floor.

The old lift shaft at George Green Library, taken during refurbishment, c.2014-2016. (UMP/6/24/29)

The library advisor role has changed over the years, both in name and what we do. Roving became a big feature. It was felt students were often reluctant to ask for help if staff were sitting behind desks. I can say this is not the case! We do a lot more general housekeeping, checking cables, IT equipment, clearing away rubbish. We are much more customer service focused these days.

The library has many different types of study areas; this was a feature of the extension, working on what students want and how they study. We can average 800+ students daily during term time. The advent of the café was a real bonus.

Photograph showing library staff members grabbing colourful hats off each other's heads

George Green Library staff playing the legendary hat game, c.2005. (UMP/6/24/30)

On a personal note, I am enormously proud of my long service.  I have learnt so much, made friends for life, played the legendary hat game at our Christmas parties, and seen the building change and evolve to what we have today.

Photograph of Tracey sat behind a desk with a sign saying "HELP POINT"

Tracey at George Green Library today!

With thanks to Tracey O’Sullivan for writing this blog post and for donating her photographs to the University archive at Manuscripts and Special Collections.

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