CHILDREN’S BOOKS OFFICER FOR THE NBL
We asked Beverley Mathias to give us some help with The Vikings. Her article is on pages 18-19.
Last September Beverley Mathias suddenly found herself in the middle of the British children’s book world. A few weeks before, she had arrived from Australia, `hoping to find something to do in children’s books’, wandered into the NBL, applied for the job and been appointed.
Such a sudden transformation would leave most people dazed and breathless, but Bev is not the sort to be without breath for long. She immediately set about meeting and making herself known to people all over the country, and working out what she wanted to achieve at the NBL. Her qualifications and experience, energy and enthusiasm, point to an interesting future.
Beverley Mathias was born in Melbourne `of British parents’ – her father emigrated from Birkenhead and her mother’s family were Scottish crofters who went out in the nineteenth century. She is a compulsive reader (who doesn’t remember learning to read) and since joining the public library as a child has `never been without a library card, except for my first two weeks in England’.
She is also a living advertisement for do-it-yourself education. She left school at fourteen for domestic college but left because of illness (‘I still love cooking.’) and went into the book department of the Myer Emporium (one of the three largest stores in the world). A mistake in a job advertisement (they had omitted `qualified’ before `assistant’) took her into the Sunshine City Library. Soon it was night school for O-levels and the start of the long road to becoming a qualified librarian.
In 1971 she became Children’s Services Librarian for Camberwell-Waverley Regional Library Service (200,000 borrowers, 2 million issues a year, 76,000 books) with four branches and eight specialised children’s staff. With `no funds’ she set out to `find the children and bring them in’. Holiday activities, mounting visits from authors, film clubs, storytimes, all helped – as did involving parents and a water fountain located in the library. `They came for a drink and stayed to look at books.’
Five years later it was time for a change and she went `to find how the other half lives’ as business manager for Joyce and Court Oldmeadow (past winners of the Eleanor Farjeon Award for services to children’s books) in their Melbourne bookshop. She was at the same time completing a part-time BA degree at Monash University. Last year, her degree completed, pastures new beckoned and here she is.
What does a Children’s Books Officer do?
`It’s about dispensing information, answering letters, phone-calls, putting people in touch with the expertise they want, giving practical help, offering a sympathetic ear. It also means being a catalyst – generating ideas, getting things going. You need to be informed and in touch so I spend a lot of time listening, observing, travelling around, making links with organisations concerned with children and books.’ (Bev is on the board of the SBA.)
But it is also about being a librarian and Bev has plans. With more space in Book House, the reference collection of children’s books can now include all books published in the past two years (previously books were removed after one). It will be catalogued and classified and laid out like a children’s library. It will also, if Bev has her way, have children in it! She’s exploring the idea of children coming in after school to browse so that she can see their reactions to new books. And that’s only the beginning. 45 East Hill looks like being a friendly and exciting place. Why not pay it a visit? Bev would like to meet you.