Looking back over Rustington Library’s 50 years as a much-loved local institution

Harry Clark, who ran Rustington Library back in 1969, when it first opened, and Vicki Davey, the current manager
Harry Clark, who ran Rustington Library back in 1969, when it first opened, and Vicki Davey, the current manager

Staff celebrating Rustington Library’s 50th birthday say it is a much-loved local institution that has changed a great deal over the years but still remains a haven for book lovers.

The library, in Claigmar Road, provides much more that reading material for the community, with activities for all ages, digital support and information resources.

Retired librarian Harry Clark, who ran Rustington Library back in 1969, when it first opened, and Vicki Davey, the current manager met up to discuss the way the service has developed over the years.

Harry said: “I was an avid reader when I was young and so it was natural that I should volunteer to help in the school library and then go on to work in public libraries.

“My axiom was always to try to get the right book to the right person. To do this, I had to motivate the staff, select the book stock and advise the readers. Until the advent of Google et al we had to deal with many and varied enquiries for particular books or information. This could be technical, like what is a Thermocouple (the answer came in German!) or more straightforward.”

Harry said he thoroughly enjoyed his career and recalled Rustington was a very well-used library in the 1970s, with issues nearing 300,000 per annum.

Vicki said she wanted to work directly with the general public and the library service offered the perfect opportunity.

She explained: “I lived in the area and liked the idea of supporting the local community. I had always enjoyed working with customers face to face and discovered as time went on that I was actually quite good at it.

“The role has changed greatly over the past few years. Book are still our core offer and the main reason why most of our customers use us, however there are a great number of other reasons why residents visit us.

“I manage a group of five libraries from Ferring to Littlehampton and my role is primarily to support the staff teams but I also liaise closely with the local communities, looking for opportunities to work together.

“I spend a lot of time dealing with emails and unfortunately this means my role is no longer as much customer facing as it once was. As a manager, I am less hands on and more of a co-ordinator and so this is part of the job I miss the most.

“Occasionally I will timetable a day out of the office to work within the library. I’m usually in the way but I still like to feel part of the team.

“I enjoy the variety – no day is ever the same. The public never cease to amaze me with what they ask or how they behave, good and bad. I love working with my great teams, each one is passionate about the library they work from and the service they provide. I like that I am able to make decisions that will help and support the local community and see the success that comes from them.”

Back in 1969, the library was part of a rapidly growing area of new buildings, mostly bungalows, and there was an influx of people, usually from the London area, who were very used to using large libraries.

Harry recalled: “They could be demanding at times. We had evening openings and the library was used purely for issuing books and answering enquiries. It wasn’t then thought to be a community service as it is today with activities taking place within the building.”

Now, the library is a thriving community hub that attracts 80,000 visitors and loans more than 110,000 items a year.

Vicki said: “There have been some significant changes to what all West Sussex libraries now offer and how we deliver these services to our residents. We are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of our communities, whilst always offering a good range of books and a warm welcome.”

Rustington Library offers regular activities for adults, such as a readings group, Knit & Natter, Tea @ 3, board games and a monthly reminiscence group.

The library hosts a weekly Baby Rhyme Time, Toddler Time and storytime for children, in addition to numerous activities across the year. The most important of these is the annual Summer Reading Challenge that supports reading across the school summer break.

Rustington Library has two IT volunteers who offer support if you have an issue with a tablet, laptop or even smart phone. The library also provides free Wi-Fi and public computers, which are freely available to all for a small charge, along with printing and scanning facilities.

The library answers up to 8,000 information enquiries a year and offers a comprehensive eLibrary. This includes websites such as Ancestry, if you are researching a family tree, or PressReader, which gives access to more than 7,000 newspapers and magazines, free of charge.

Learn my Way is a free course on how to use a computer and has resources such as My Work Search to support local job seekers, all offered at Rustington Library.

If you are not able to visit the library yourself, there are volunteers who can choose books for you and visit you at home as part of the Home Library Direct service.

If you would rather download something to a device or tablet, it offers eProducts such as eAudio, eBooks and eMagazines all free of charge and easily accessible. Volunteer support accessing this online library is also available via the Digital Library Plus scheme.