Librarian Fergus Wilde has worked at Chetham’s Library for close to thirty years and in May he will begin his well-deserved retirement. Before he leaves to start this new adventure, we took the opportunity to ask Fergus about his role, career highlights and why Chetham’s Library is so special, not just in Manchester, but in the world. We’re now on the look out for a new Librarian who will lead the strategic development and day-to-day management of the Library. Find out more and apply.
How long have you worked at Chetham’s Library and what does your role involve?
“I started work at Chetham’s Library as Senior Librarian in 1997. Thanks to a confusing tradition, ‘Senior Librarian’ is junior to ‘the Librarian’, who is usually expected to be the boss. The Library cares for around 35,000 items printed before 1801, and around 80,000 printed books in total. When I joined, the catalogue of items was a confusing mass of different resources in print and typescript, and so my main role was to create a fully searchable online catalogue. That took about 15 years of people’s labour and about eight people worked on it over time. Tours, visits, looking after readers and answering queries occupied the rest of the days. I took over as Librarian in 2019.”
What makes this Library so special?
“Chetham’s is the oldest surviving public library in the country, and the oldest in the world outside a couple of wonderful civic institutions in Italy. Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653) founded it ‘for the use of scholars and others well affected to resort unto’ in his will, and his Feoffees – the executors of his will and its successors – had the library open to the public by 1655. Its collections are ‘designated as having National and International Importance’ under the Arts Council Scheme, and we’re an Accredited Museum. The books bought by the successive generations of Feoffees still sit on the shelving installed in the 1650s, and readers still use the original furniture. We’re also an archival repository, housing a wealth of historical material from medieval deeds to guides to the Belle Vue Zoo. There’s really nothing quite like it.”
What are your career highlights or memorable moments?
“Highlights are often linking up material with the experts who can bring out the knowledge within them; when we get the thanks of researchers in their books or are able to bring out something that will crack open a research question; when we’re able to make real connections that advance knowledge of the world, even by small increments. That and all the cups of coffee.”
What do you plan to do with your retirement?
“Get outdoors more! The hills await! And, perhaps unexpectedly, read more books. Running a library doesn’t mean being able to read what you like, so lots to catch up on that I’ve not been able to pursue while at my desk here.”