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Cortina Days ... when libraries were just about books

Cortina Days … when libraries were just about books

June 2, 2014
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Memories from the days when libraries were just about books.  Yes, that long ago!

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#14155b”]The author of ‘Cortina days’, spent many years as a rep and consultant, working with libraries. The title indicates the standard vehicle issued to virtually all representatives during the ‘70s and ‘80s. In those days there were very few mobile ‘phones or PC’s and the lap top was some years away yet. His area was virtually the whole of the British Isles and this meant many years of working ‘a week from home, then a week away’ and so on. The particular area in which he worked was that of bookbinding and paper conservation, in pursuit of which he often found himself with materials in the boot of his car which were worth many times the value of his family home. In those days, libraries worked in a very different way and although the basic aim of ‘to educate and entertain’ was still the same, the way in which it was approached was often very different from that of today. As with libraries both then and now, the aim of these little episodes in the life of a library services rep may also entertain. [/su_box]


At the time I was working as a rep for a company that sold pens, pencils and crayons, a, to say the least, cutthroat business, where competitors displays could often be found ‘in the skip out the back’, while yours had pride of place. These were the days of Thatcher’s new approach to business, where the only job I could find was the pens one, for which I was paid exactly half that I had been paid previously, until the government decided that certain parts of the secondary school curriculum were no longer required and so a whole industry became surplus to requirements.

I spotted the advertisement for a representative, placed by a company providing bookbinding services to public and academic libraries throughout the British Isles. The company was well over 100 years old and I was advised some time later, the main reason I was selected over several other candidates, was the fact that on arrival for the interview, I dusted my shoes before entering the building.

It was January when I began an induction course which was eventually going to last some six months, with three months in the bindery to get an understanding of the techniques employed and the language of the bookbinding trade. As I lived some 250 miles from the bindery, I was put up in a very pleasant private hotel and only worked four days per week. Even in those far off days this was, to say the least, a gentle introduction to a new industry, but hey!

Once the initial three months was over I was sent out with the man I was due to replace. He was a veteran of the campaigns in Burma during WW2, a dedicated trade unionist and a Yorkshire man to boot, so there was not a lot of wasted chatter as we set out on my introductory tour of all his customers. These journeys took us throughout the northern half of Britain and the whole of Ireland. By some curious trick of fate, we always seemed to arrive at his favourite customer’s offices at around 11-30am, meaning that by the time my introduction was completed it was lunchtime and it would be rude not to invite the customer to join us would it not? The outcome being that we would be saying goodbye to said customer at around 2-30pm, which left very little time for another call in the afternoon, so more often than not we would be in our overnight hotel at around 4-30pm.

In addition to the calls on librarians throughout the British Isles, we also attended the various Library Association conferences, in those days there were four main conferences, the English, Scottish, Welsh and, my head still pounds at the thought, the Irish LA conferences. It is some years since I attended one of these events, but my memories are of very relaxed affairs where it was possible, with minimal effort, to return home with hardly any recollection of what had transpired for the entirety of the period covered by the conference.

We spent three months in this leisurely manner, visiting people who were always happy to see us and in the main, made me feel welcome in the post which I assumed one day I would actually be working in and as such, eventually try to sell them something. Finally, on the steps of the library in Wallasey, we shook hands and went our separate ways, him into retirement and me into a career which I pursued in various guises for some twenty years and am still in contact with through my connections with the installation of RFID tags etc.