Chairman's report to the Annual General Meeting for the year to March 31, 2022

The Gibson Library year started with two major problems which we have not yet been able to resolve, both of which were consequences of the County Library's move to a new online catalogue. A stock check of the lending collection revealed that the catalogue records for about 1,200 volumes in our lending collection had been accidentally deleted from the catalogue. These were removed from the shelves and placed in truggs pending the creation of new records. This has created considerable congestion in both the Gibson Room and in the former library office, which was to have been made available as a volunteer workroom. It was only in January (this year) that the County Council has assigned a member of staff to the creation of replacement records, since when new records have been created for about one-third of the books affected.

There have been a number of knock-on consequences:
     Without proper access to the office space it has not been been possible to bring back all the volunteers into the library, and some of those that have been brought back have been assigned to different tasks.
     Access to some shelves has been blocked or impeded by the stacked truggs; we had to suspend our rebinding programme for the last year, and we have drastically reduced the acquisition of new stock and back-stocking. We have, however, been able to have several antiquarian publications conserved at the Essex Record Office, helped by a grant from the Gibson Walden Fund.

The other problem created by the introduction of the new library catalogue, was that all our lending stock (approx 14,000 volumes) was designated as being for library use only. As a result, very few of our books were lent during the last year. As books already on loan were returned and shelved they added to the congestion, as no new loans have been made, which might have created some space. In spite of repeated assurances, the County Council has not been able to resolve this problem.

In mitigation, we have been able, with assistance from the Council, to use shelves upstairs in the Corn Exchange gallery to provide about 20 shelves of more recent acquisitions that may be borrowed, and also a large selection of reference volumes for ease of consultation.

One positive move forward has been the completion of the second stage of our programme to improve the signage promoting the Gibson Library within the Corn Exchange, including new signs over and at the side of the entrance, and a frosted glass panel depicting the Gibson stork on central staircase.

During the year, Library opening hours have changed, giving readers access on Wednesday afternoons, when the library was previously closed. Although we welcome this move, volunteer use of the reading room on Wednesday afternoons has been restricted by public use. As a result of the pandemic use of the Reading Room has fallen, but we are seeing signs of an increase in use as the Library returns to a pre-pandemic level of activity.

There have been two important additions to the Gibson Library collections during the year, the first being the deposit on long-loan of the Library from the Society of Friends' Meeting House in Saffron Walden. The placing of the books into the Library was the culmination of several years of discussions and a considerable amount of work by both the Gibson Library Society volunteers and the Trustee's of the Friends' Meeting, and was marked by a press event, that was also attended by two historians with a continuing interest in local Quaker history were present - Julie Miller and Kevin Davey - who have previously lectured to the Gibson Library Society.

The second major addition to the collection, was the photographic collection of former Borough Surveyor, the late Richard Jemmett, a member of the Society. It was his wish that the local photographs in his collection should be placed in the Gibson Library, and this has been achieved with the help of his daughter Claire Comba, who has also assigned the copyright and reproduction rights to the Gibson Library Society. Particular thanks for help with this should go to Richard Woods, who assisted with the physical transfer of the photographs, and then undertook the sorting of the slide collection with assistance from John Bagley and Sue Everett.

We have been able to maintain a good standard of talks via Zoom over the last year and audience numbers have held up well. We were particularly pleased to be able to organise the online lecture by Andrew Hann of English Heritage last September in memory of our committee member Lizzie Sanders. At present, we intend to hold some in-library meetings across the summer months, but will revert to Zoom between Autumn and Easter.

Fortunately with the help of our many dedicated volunteers, we have been able to continue to make considerable progress with the behind the scenes tasks of running the Library. Gillian Brooker has produced an updated and very welcome version of the index to the Saffron Walden Historical Journal, which is an invaluable resource for many local history enquiries. Pat Gregory has been updating the local scrapbooks, and helping process items added to the Library's collections. Richard Woods, has been helping on a number of local history indexing projects, and also assisted in the acquisition and sorting of Richard Jemmett's local slides and photographs. In this he has been assisted by John Bagley and Sue Everett. New volunteer Fiona Benson has been sorting and categorising the many larger photographs donated by Richard Jemmett's family, prior to indexing. Margaret Graves has continued her task of indexing and adding new items to the boxes of Local History ephemera, and also keeping the box contents tidy. Sue Kinmonth and Diane Bond have restarted their regular programme of dusting the books in the historic collection.

Our major fund-raising project during this year has resulted in the successful purchase of a new digital reader microfilm scanner for the Archive Access Point. The ancient film readers were no longer capable of servicing, even by cannibalising the parts, and the surviving machine no longer provided copies. Several committee members attended online demonstrations of more up-tod-date replacements, resulting in the purchase of a new scanner, and associated technology, including a new printer, and successful fund-raising by Kelly Cole and other members of the committee resulted in our receiving donations from:
      ECC Locality Fund, via Cllr Paul Gadd £1,000
      UDC New Homes Bonus Cllr Barbara Light £500
      UDC Leisure and Culture Fund £500
      Private donations £1,250 (Celie and John Gordon, and Verity Steele)
The total raised from donations was £3,250, the remaining balance coming from Library Trust Funds.

It is not generally recognised that the Archive Access point was established as a three-way partnership project, between the Essex Record Office, the County Library, and the Gibson Library (when it was still the Town Library), and the Gibson Library's extensive microfilm holdings were co-located alongside resources from the Essex Record Office. These microfilms include extensive back-runs of local newspapers on microfilm, which are regularly updated.

I would at this point like to mention the considerable support given to the Gibson Library by the staff of the County Library, in particular those from Saffron Walden, especially Sarah Turpin and Ruth Stickley, and from Graham Herbing, who left the Library Service and Julia Trew, who form part of the Essex Libraries' management team in West Essex. Sarah Turpin also deserves special mention for the many book displays that she has organised throughout the year, promoting the books and ephemera held in the Library.

My report would not be complete without mentioning our committee members and the work they have done on behalf of the Library and of the Society. Our treasurer, Peter Walker, not only maintains the Society accounts with a high degree of efficiency, he also volunteers on a weekly basis in the Library, in addition to maintaining the Society website, and hosting our Zoom events. In addition to this he has also provided invaluable support in our continual battle with the County Council's Finance Department, to get them provide a proper record of the Trust finances and to submit the accounts to the Charity Committee on time.

Gillian Williamson our secretary and 'Reader Champion' also volunteers in the Library. In particular this year, Gillian has been following up her research into the local Pageant, preparing a small exhibition which was taken to a national Pageant event in London, and writing up her research in an article for the Historical Journal. Together with Kelly Cole, Gillian also organised a Saturday-only display of some Library Treasures.

Committee member Kelly Cole has been steering our branding and fund-raising activities for several years now, something which requires a significant amount of behind the scenes activity, identifying grant-making bodies, carefully researching our fund-raising objective and completing application forms, including gathering and organising detailed evidence to support our applications.

One of our long-term projects that is coming to fruition is a new book about the Gibson Library and its books. At the end of the last financial year, we commissioned local author Clare Mulley to write the text, which (thanks to Clare) has turned out to be much longer and more exciting than originally envisaged and we are looking forward to seeing this book in print later this year.

Your committee members all work hard, and with good humour throughout the year, and I am very pleased that they are all willing to stand for re-election at the AGM.

Martyn Everett,
Chairman, Gibson Library Society, 11 May 2022

Return to the AGM 2022 page.

© Gibson Library Society, 2021