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Charles Toase interview: Career after the war

After the war was over, did you go straight into a job as a librarian or did you do something else?

Well I wasn’t called up. I was expecting to be but I assumed you were in a reserved occupation until you finished your exams. I waited and at that time it was a bit after the end of the war and I don’t think they knew whether conscription was going to go on and whether they wanted people or not. So in the meantime I had applied for a job at New Malden Library because I had had connections with them through the school library. We had done various things with them – book weeks and things. Also it was a new library built in 1939 I think and as it was a nice shiny attractive building, I was attracted to it. They offered me a job but after some time they said they couldn’t hold it open any longer and I was still waiting to hear. Eventually I had my medical and I was rejected because they were only taking first class healthy people then and I wasn’t that healthy. So I wasn’t called up. I then applied to Wimbledon Public Library and was offered a job and that was my first job.

What year was that?

October 1945 I started work there. At that time there were no professional librarians there. They had all been called up and it was run largely by part-time ladies – an ambiguous phrase. I was doubtless a real pest to them because I kept asking questions – why do we do this, why don’t we do that? I probably had a little more knowledge about professional libraries than they did – not much but a little, so they shoved me upstairs to the reference library to get me out of the way, which turned out to be my natural habitat anyway. That had been neglected through the war years and needed a lot of work and I was the only person there apart from the part-time ladies coming to give me a tea break. I eventually built it up to a staff of 12 in the reference library.   

Were you involved with any other libraries on exchange arrangements?

It was just Wimbledon. Wimbledon was a borough on its own of course then before the London Borough of Merton and it had at that time only the one library. Later they did open a branch at Wimbledon Park but it was rather on its own then. I did get involved with the profession, though. Looking back I seemed to have joined the Library Association, the professional body, straight away. I’ve been a member since 1945. Quite unusual I think. I have a letter from the secretary of the Library Association before I’d got a job, saying he thought it would be worth my joining the body. I got highly involved with that on committees and chaired things and so on. After all these years in fact I still am involved there, even having retired for 20 years.

How did your career develop after that?

I stayed with the reference library and that didn’t really develop until the London Borough of Merton came along. Then of course there were much larger resources. It was three or four times the size it had been. There were other reference libraries I then found myself in charge of and we were able to build up the stock, increase the staff and the services and it became a really big reference library indeed with ultimately 12 staff.  

So how long were you working for the library overall, from 1945 until…?

1992.

…and what were your job titles?

Well they varied. When it came to the Borough of Merton I ended up as Borough Reference Librarian and stuck in that particular branch of the profession because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously there were always problems and irritations but it was the sort of work I enjoyed, building up stock, organising and indexing things and answering enquiries which is to some extent what I am still doing in the Museum now.