Scholarship depends more than we sometimes admit on the support that we receive from library staff. I learned today that the lady, who for almost two decades has handled my interlibrary loans, died suddenly in the street. I’d like to acknowledge what she did for me, although she was a stranger to me.
I first became seriously interested in the Fathers and Tertullian in 1997, when I came onto the web and started the Tertullian Project. I live in a small town in the country. But the library service offered a free interlibrary loans facility, via the British Lending Library in Boston Spa, whereby scholarly books and articles could be obtained, so long as you were willing to wait for several weeks. I borrowed the volumes of Quasten, from which I learned most of what I know, before buying my own copies through Amazon. I borrowed all sorts of items, and became well known to the staff; and indeed I have done so now for almost twenty years. Sadly the free service soon became a charged-for service; and the prices rose so high that almost nobody can afford to use it.
One of the staff was a rather confused-looking cringing woman, who appeared to be a bit mentally deficient. I was rather dismayed, therefore, when she was placed in charge of handling interlibrary loans. Her name was Eve Parkes, and it could be rather a trial to explain to her what I wanted. She tended to just repeat herself a lot. I rather worried that the service would become impossible. But instead she grew into the role. Doing a responsible role successfully was good for her as well – she had found a niche in life, which she knew thoroughly, and she could even grow argumentative in her authority.
At one point the library service allowed me to order books by email. They soon found it convenient to stop this; but Eve allowed me to continue by emailing her directly. This was a great boon to me, as I often travel during the week, and it can be rather a trial of patience to get served in person on a Saturday.
A couple of years ago the county council decided to get rid of the library service in order to divert money to other purposes. The method chosen was not simple abolition, which might have attracted public outrage, but by the devious “slow death” method of replacing staff with “volunteers”, closing branches, etc. This shameful action meant many changes at the library. One of them was that British Library orders now cost $22 each – an impossible sum. But I learned from Eve that the “local” ILL service, which had only covered the county and its adjoining counties, now also could obtain books from university libraries. This was only $4.50; and it worked fine.
In recent years the availability of Google Books and PDFs online meant that I did fewer orders. But they all came through. Indeed I once needed books urgently, and she made it happen.
This week that I emailed an order in, and found to my surprise that it came back “unknown address”. I went into the library today (Saturday), and learned from her colleagues that she died suddenly, collapsing in the street. The cause of death is not known, but she was overweight and looked unhealthy; and no doubt it was a heart attack or something of the sort. She was only in her early 60’s.
I didn’t know her personally, but she looked after me down the years. I don’t suppose that anyone will remember her. So let me here acknowledge how much I owed to her, someone who made a difference.
May she rest in peace.
- As the council tax continues to rise, the money is still there; but clearly being diverted.↩