A Day in the Life of Chawton House Library…

A Day in the Life of Chawton House Library – for Bing.com, Oct.’12

For somewhere apparently so quiet and rural, it’s a hive of activity at Chawton House Library, which belies its tranquil setting. Driving up to the house to start the day, the Shire horses are already out in the dewy meadow, taking turns to try pulling the newest piece of restored farm machinery to help on the estate. Into the front office, where a group of Visiting Fellows have arrived, keen to start their day’s studies, whilst the Education staff prepare the Great Hall for a Regency dancing session with a local school group. Pausing only to sniff the smell of cooking wafting from the kitchen – preparation for tomorrow’s open day café where we will serve food prepared with our own organic produce – it’s up to the Tapestry Gallery, taking care not to bump into colleagues carefully taking down one of our Jacobean paintings for conservation work. There’s also some momentary confusion as a living image of Jane Austen flits past… until the group of MA students who are filming in the Oak Room hurry in behind her, to film in the alcove where she purportedly liked to sit and dream up ideas.

Lunch is heralded by the sound of tent pegs going in, as the marquee for a forthcoming wedding in the grounds starts to take shape. After meetings and a phone which won’t stop ringing, it’s time for a quick chat with colleagues about new stock for our online shop, before the afternoon tour group arrive and our volunteer guides get put through their paces with some very insightful questions!

Later on, a gentle hum of voices is emanating from the picturesque Old Kitchen where a community group have hired the space for a meeting, whilst the door to the Reading Room never stops opening and closing, as the Library staff busy themselves setting up an exhibition of texts from the collection, to go with the theme of this evening’s public talk. Across the courtyard, the shop is doing a roaring trade as the tour group draw their visit to a close, and a large bundle of fur shoots past in a blur to go and investigate. (Another lovely aspect of working here: some staff bring their dogs to work with them, and they have all been adopted as the canine part of the team!)

The end of the day sees us signing up a number of the tour visitors to our annual supporter programme, and the estates team returning from work up at the Walled Garden. The oil lamps on the drive are lit as it begins to become dusky, in preparation for our evening visitors, all eager to hear about the life and adventures of one of the early women writers in our collection. The house is silhouetted against an increasingly-starry sky, as we all settle in to listen to our guest speaker. (Despite a sticky moment where the podcast-recording initially fails to work, it is fine on the second attempt, meaning our online friends and Facebook friends won’t have to miss out.)

As another packed day draws to a close, we all drive away with a wry smile. Whoever said it’s always quiet in a library…!

~Eleanor Marsden, Director of Development, November 2012