'What does the Library mean to you?' We asked some of our volunteers. Here's what they said.
'To me the Working Class Movement Library means:
- A house of treasures where I am allowed to handle the most wonderful books and objects documenting two and a half centuries of the struggles and achievements of working class people - my people. (After guidance, of course, on how to do this safely.)
- An opportunity to help to preserve, extend and share with as many people as possible, a resource bank which is bursting with inspiring exemplars, narratives and brilliantly reasoned arguments in support of peace, social justice and equality.
- A place where I can always find someone interesting to listen to and to talk to and to chuckle with.
- A group of people who encourage me to stretch myself and who hold me up when I have difficulties. I quite honestly do not know how I would have coped with my recent problems without the support of the library community.
- Somewhere to recharge my batteries. When I feel drained by the world's greed and cruelty and cynicism the Library is a place where I can find altruism and compassion and hope.
- A chance to learn and go on learning as long as I live and am physically able to get to the Library.
- A feeling that I am doing something that really matters rather than just wasting what is left of my life in ‘getting and spending'.
- A place of constant surprises - most of them pleasant.
- A foothold in a better future for mankind. The library is a sort of treasure chest for a world that desperately needs to draw on ideals from the past in order to shape a better future. If we do our jobs to the best of our abilities it will be here and in good order for generations to come'.
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Long before I became a volunteer I was well aware of how special the collection was. I had been a ‘friend' of the Library for some time, had listened to a few talks, had a tour conducted by Ruth and used it for some rather unfocussed research. It seemed to be safe and in good hands. Then I found out that the Library was about to lose a substantial portion of the financial support from the local authority and became desperately eager to do anything that came to hand to help the Library to survive.
It was a time in my life when I had some time and some energy to spare and so becoming a Library volunteer seemed to be the logical thing to do. Several years earlier I had been forced by ill health to take early retirement but was beginning to feel much better thanks to the NHS and was grateful to be able to be useful again. I could not possibly have guessed just how rewarding voluntary work in the Library would be and how much it would in turn help me to survive.
I first came to this wonderful library on a visit with some friends from the 'Growing old disgracefully' group and fell in love with it at first glance and well as first smell - oh! the smell of lovely books!
There was a plea for someone to clean the books in the Thomas Paine room and I immediately offered my services. Since then I have been coming on a regular basis and have enjoyed every minute because as I clean these old books I read them and have gleaned so much about political reform and social history going back to the eighteenth century. I have learned that there is nothing new and history always repeats itself and that our politicians are STILL making the same mistakes!
In cleaning these wonderful old books collected with such love and devotion by Ruth and Eddie Frow I am truly holding the history of this country in my hands and I consider myself very lucky to be able to do this.
Long may this Library continue to be a source of such history and research.
Two things inspired me when I first visited the WCML - I loved the story of Ruth and Eddie Frow touring the country in a van to rescue material about the working class and filling their own house with it, and then moving into the current building along with all their stock because they needed the space. Brilliant! I was also inspired by the importance of the material a record of the working classes and their struggles for decent lives - and that the history of the working people is often overlooked and not passed on. All the more vital that this library's contents are known about and made available. I thought it would be wonderful to be part of all this and, when I learned I could volunteer here, I was thrilled, and did so!
I love coming to the Library because I feel privileged to work with the material, because I can happily make lists in peace, and because I learn so much from the staff and volunteers, who are all amazingly knowledgeable and committed people. I have been able to re-acquire lost skills and learn so much recent history, both from the staff and volunteers and from the material I work with. The library inspires loyalty and it is great to be welcomed even if work and family commitments mean that sometimes I haven't been able to get in for a few weeks. This library is so important because it holds the records of working people and their struggles for fair and equal lives. Its contents need to be made available to everyone. It's great to be able to make even a tiny contribution to help this come about.
The Library is more than just a store of books, documents and artefacts. It is a small community of like-minded people who want to preserve their local heritage, and more importantly, share it with anyone who cares to come along. In the 4 years that I've been a volunteer the library staff have worked hard to attract more members of the public, with talks and exhibitions which reflect the life and history of the area as well as illustrating the treasures held on the shelves. As a result many of the volunteers have been involved in work that has brought out talents they didn't suspect they had. The library also provides academics and students with an invaluable source of material which they can access locally in comfortable and friendly surroundings.
The library is important to me and the other volunteers because it enriches our lives and stretches our brains. It is also an invaluable asset for Salford and the North-West as a vital repository of knowledge about working class history.
I have worked at the University of Salford for the last 15 years and walked past the library probably every working day during that time. I was always interested in what was behind the doors of the building and by the building itself (and the garden). I knew little about it until I read an article in a library magazine about the collection and Eddie and Ruth's story. As a lover of books all my life and a librarian (although that professional work was last done some thirty odd years ago) I was fascinated by their story and then I saw a letter from Ruth asking for volunteers for the library. This was some time ago but I lodged it in my mind as a possible for when I retired.
The retirement came last year and I was in fact made redundant. Although, I was of retirement age this was a wounding process. I loved my job and was fearful of retirement. A colleague said ‘You have to find a new life'. This seemed like a tall order!
I met Lynette and volunteered one day a week.
From the time of that meeting I felt quite at home in the library. It was like going back to my library working days in Manchester. I was happy surrounded by rooms of books. But the themes of the library collection also took me back to a friendship I formed when I first started to work in Manchester Public Library aged 18. I worked with Muriel some 30 years older than me and she told me stories of her youth in Manchester. She came from a Socialist family. Her father had suffered unemployment in the early thirties. She was involved in political activities through the Co-op Youth Circle. This connected her to a group of young people active in the politics of the left and involved in anti-fascist movements, helping refugees who were beginning to arrive from Germany, peace movements, and involvement in an anti-war exhibition. The Spanish Civil War was an important and personal campaign and many of her friends went to fight in Spain and some lost their lives. A highlight at this time was her active participation in protest at Sir Oswald Mosley's appearance at the Free Trade Hall. So looking around the exhibition at WCML on my first visit I was reminded of my good friend and my arrival in Manchester and being made aware of the radical movements that had started in Manchester.
I believe the collection to be important because it is unique and holds many treasures. Many may think that we have working life sorted out now but I think it is crucial that we know where we have come from and to mark the work of those who struggled to make a just society. Unhappily, some of these issues are again coming to the fore.
Salford is a working class city, by and large, and has suffered deprivation and troubled times over many years. It seems entirely appropriate that the library should be rooted in this community and I have observed at the various lectures at the library that local people are well informed and engaged in their history and working lives.
What strikes me is the number of pamphlets and leaflets, which have been preserved through the library, which in many instances might have been discarded due to their ephemeral nature and I think it is important that these things are treasured and recorded for future generations to study.
I enjoy my work at the library and look forward to the day a week that I come in and add information to the online catalogue. It was thrilling that from day one I was adding material online and each day that I was at the library I was making more of the library's stock available. I have been able to recapture my previous professional life and my connections to my early library life in Manchester. I am so grateful for this and appreciate the generosity and trust placed in me by the library's staff. In turn I feel useful and valued.
So - a year on - I have made a new life entirely thanks to the library and an enabling community of fellow volunteers, professional staff and trustees - a diverse and interesting group of people. Work at the library is combined with lectures, exhibitions and volunteers' lunches once a month making a rounded experience of activities in a welcoming and stimulating environment.