Salt of the Earth: Meet Sarah Jacques who volunteers at Ripon Library

It is a common trait amongst those nominated for Salt of the Earth that they have an overwhelming desire to get involved and make a difference.

Friday, 20th November 2020, 9:45 am
Updated Friday, 20th November 2020, 9:50 am
Sarah outside Ripon Library

Almost all give countless hours of their time to help those in need, yet there is a hidden benefit that even those who volunteer may not immediately appreciate - the feeling that they’re making a difference.

This week’s Salt of the Earth is Sarah Jacques, one of the dedicated volunteers at Ripon Library.

Sarah has been involved with libraries since leaving school at the age of 16. She was fortunate enough to gain a place on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS), the equivalent to today’s modern apprenticeships, and spent 13-14 months working in Southampton Central Lending Library.

Sarah inside Ripon Library

She has always loved libraries. Growing up she would spend weekends helping the librarian in her small village library. She simply loved to read.

“When I heard that North Yorkshire County Council were planning to close some libraries, I thought ‘they can’t close them, they're too important.’

“Even though I don’t read an awful lot now, I would hate to see any library close for the people who want it and need it. I had to get involved.”

“Ripon Library is very much a community hub. We do a lot of signposting to information, counselling, citizens advice and other council services.

“It is very much an information hub. We help with blue badges, parking discs, computers, have a local history reference section and more. Our tagline is more than books.

Sarah, 50, said: “A lot of people assume you can only volunteer if you’re retired, but that’s not the case. I work full-time as an office manager in York and do alternate Saturday mornings which works out to four hours once a fortnight.”

“Duties have been a bit more restricted since covid. Everything now is isolated for 72 hours. We simply box it up and put it away for three days.

“When we take books out of quarantine we have to wipe off any overdue fees caused by covid.

“On the enquiries desk we deal with requests for pick up where people have asked for specific titles, answer queries, book public use computers and renew books.”

The library now has a meet and greet policy to explain the new systems to visitors and to help point people in the right direction.

Sarah said: “I enjoy having a chin wag when I’m on the door. One lady I was chatting to for over quarter of an hour asked me if there was anywhere to get a good coffee. I pointed her in the right direction and a little later she came back and bought me a take-away coffee to say thank you.

There have been many memorable moments, however one that really stands out was a lady who came in with her daughter. They were trying to do an Indian visa application online and didn’t have a printer at home.

Sarah said: “They asked if I could help. Fortunately I had just done one the week before for my boss, so I knew exactly what I needed to do. They came back later with a bunch of flowers.”

Sarah said there are a number of reasons she enjoys volunteering: “It’s helping people. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that we’re helping to keep the library open for anyone who needs it. It’s helping someone find a book they’ve been looking for for ages. I just enjoy it. It’s a relaxing time.”

Hazel Willis, chair of the library board of trustees, said: “Sarah looks after the rota and communications systems, she’s always updating people, looks after volunteer training and regulations.

“She does the odd quiz as well to keep us going. She’s had to keep changing the rota to make sure we have enough volunteers. She’s done a sterling job.”

Outreach librarian Claire Thomspson said: ““Sarah has written regular newsletters to the volunteers to keep them up to date about library news and kept them entertained with short quizzes.

“She has also managed the rota which ensures that volunteers are able to sign up for sessions easily and see at a glance when sessions are covered and where there are gaps.

“The library hours have gradually been increased since July so that has meant quite a lot of changes to the rota too, we’re really lucky that Sarah has the skills and patience to do this.”

The library is currently urgently looking for more volunteers. Sarah said: “We have around 50 volunteers, but currently only 20-22 are active. A few are not volunteering as they’re shielding and we’re not able to fill all the shifts.

“There is a risk that if we can’t get volunteers, the library could temporarily have to close for those shifts. If you like books and helping people or you’re computer savvy and want to help people skill up email us on [email protected] or call into the library.”

Outreach librarian Claire Thompson said: “The library at Ripon is a hybrid library which means that paid staff work in partnership with the Ripon Library Volunteers to deliver the service.

“All of the library volunteers complete library training and bring skills, ideas and enthusiasm which help to make the library a welcoming and pleasant place to visit, borrow books, access information and use library computers.

“It’s a very dedicated, positive and supportive team, and we’re delighted that so many volunteers were keen and able to return to library as soon as possible after lockdown.

“Pre-covid the library volunteers ran and supported storytimes for under fives, family activities, coffee and conversation groups, and helped people with IT and family history research.

“The Ripon Library Trustee Group have been very supportive of the library reopening and extending opening hours since lockdown was eased. Fortnightly online meetings have really helped us to plan well, and open the library safely.

“Different trustees have taken the lead with specific roles and that’s been really helpful. Nicky has been telephoning library volunteers during lockdown to check whether they are ok, Alex and Sheila have been helping to recruit and welcome new volunteers since we have reopened, and Sandra has been co-ordinating and updating the volunteer training records.

The library is currently open Monday 10am -12 noon and 2pm-6pm, Tuesday to Friday 10am -12 noon and 2pm-5pm, and Saturday 10am -2pm

You can come into the library to choose books, use computers or wifi. You can also call and arrange to collect books from the library door, or have books delivered to your doorstep if you are shielding or unable to easily visit the library, or use the new North Yorkshire Library App to view the library catalogue, access free e-books, e-audiobooks, digital library resources, family history resources and online newspapers and magazines.

Contact [email protected] or 01609 536623 for more information and to find out about library volunteering.