It’s funny how careers evolve.

When I was plying my civil engineering trade on motorway construction sites many years ago (not that many you understand….), I never imagined that I’d be at an SCL conference talking about my role as Chief Executive of the new Leadership for Libraries Taskforce. But here I am, looking forward to meeting all the  amazing  people who are really the heart of our public library network.

I guess my early life and career reflects that of many other people . Firstly learning to read and write, including many trips to the library (Miffy and Topsy and Tim were my first favourites before you ask!). Then school, university, first job –  though  ending up in civil engineering maybe broke the mould somewhat. At the time, it was almost a totally male-dominated profession . I really only found out about it because my Dad was a civil engineer and would take me to work with him in the school holidays so I could see what he got up to. Certainly few careers advisers at that time  were telling girl s  to go into engineering – and I’m not sure it’s much better now!

Kathy Settle GDS portrait2


So I had the advantage of a family member who could help me see the career options available to me and then support me in applying for university and my first job. Unfortunately, I fully recognise that  I was lucky and that not everyone has this support available to them at home . And that’s where libraries  come in, as one of the few places  people  can go for impartial help and advice – alongside their school of course.

In my library tours (averaging one day a fortnight; coming to a town near you soon!) and from emails received , I have heard many inspirational stories of how libraries have transformed peoples’ lives. You don’t really need me to talk about these because you see it first hand every day, but some  stories courtesy of West Sussex by way of example :

“Mr E came into the library to complete his online job search. One of the jobs he wished to apply for required his CV attached to an e-mail before it could be sent. He was unsure how to go about this so asked for my assistance. I showed him how to upload a document to his e-mail in order for him to apply both for this job and any in the future that had the same requirements. The following day, Mr E came back to the Library to inform me that he had received an e-mail inviting him to a job interview.”

“Mrs P had recently started volunteering at a Nursing Home and had met Mrs D. Mrs D had been admitted on Christmas Eve for Palliative Care. Part of her condition involved a deterioration of her sight; Mrs D was feeling isolated and bored. Mrs P came to the Library to see if we had any talking books (she wasn’t a regular customer). I showed her the different formats we have and she selected a PlayAway. Mrs P came back

[to report that] Mrs D had enjoyed the PlayAway and the format worked for her. Nina’s quality of life had improved with something to occupy her day with.”

So when things feel tough (and I know they often do),  please  remember the people in your community who rely on you. And don’t forget those people who are not yet library users – maybe because they have no idea of the wide range of agendas that libraries now cover. I think one of the most significant activities the Taskforce can perform is to raise the profile of the public library network and its 21st century offer – to users and non-users; to Local Authority Chief Executives and Portfolio Holders; to Government Ministers – so that your great work is universally recognised, appreciated, supported and built upon.

I look forward to working with you all in the days and months to come.

Kathy Settle
Chief Executive
Leadership for Libraries Taskforce