Lorna Paulin, Hertfordshire County Librarian.

By Catherine Davis, First Posted On The Herts. Hidden Heroines Project Website: 17th February 2016

Image of Lorna Paulin


Lorna Paulin: Hertfordshire County Librarian and first woman President of the Library Association

By Catherine Davis, Trestle Theatre Company board member and Herts Hidden Heroines steering group member

When I was first asked to write a piece for the website I thought which artist shall I pick? Should it be Eileen Soper, illustrator of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and whose etchings were included in the Royal Academy Summer Show when she was 15? Or perhaps it should be Mary Hoad who trained at Chelsea School of Art, was the first Organiser of the County Art Collection for Hertfordshire schools and went on to become Head of St Albans School of Art. Or maybe it should be Elizabeth Fritsh an internationally renowned potter and a Digswell Fellow.

However I decided this was about hidden heroines and they don’t come much more hidden than the many women who have worked in public service, often in innovative and pioneering ways. It also seems fitting to mark one of those lives at a time of retrenchment in public library services, affected by changing demands and tightening local authority budgets. So my choice is a woman whose management of library services was outstanding and whose work, when the first woman President of the Library Association, would have an important, if publically unrealised impact on many lives in Hertfordshire and beyond.

Appropriately for a county that is home to many people who have settled in Hertfordshire from elsewhere, my heroine, Lorna Paulin, was born in 1914 in Kent. She attended the County School for Girls in Dartford and after that studied at University College London. Her first library posts were in Kent and then in Nottinghamshire after which, in 1952 she finally arrived in Hertfordshire as the County Librarian. Once there, she lived the rest of her life in Hertford where she died in 2005.

The signs of bibliographic greatness, organisational skill and ambition for a career in libraries were clear from the start. Some years ago I was lucky enough to see her teenage diary for 1930 when she would have been 12 or 13. At the back there is a list of books with the dates she has loaned them out and the name of the classmate she lent them to (there is also a much shorter list of books she had borrowed). Further on are a series of mini book reviews which include descriptions of Lorna Doone as ‘ripping’ and Jane Austen’s Persuasion as ‘Very amusing but awfully like all the others!’

In the same diary, the Careers for Women section included a paragraph on librarianship which she had underlined as follows. ‘In librarianship the prospects are improving: salaries commencing at £50 – £80, usually reach an average of £200. One may train at University Coll., London for the diploma of the Library Assoc. Course 3-5 years, age of entry 18. Matric useful.’ Perhaps not the most enticing prospect compared to some of the other options, but it was one she went right to the top of.

I was never fortunate enough to work in Miss Paulin’s (as she tended to be known) county service because she retired in 1976. However I met her at a number of events over the years. She was a tall, spare and elegant woman, highly intelligent, quietly amusing, but not fearsome and who wore her authority and success very lightly. As with all good managers she chose her senior staff well and I was very lucky to work with some of those in my first Hertfordshire Libraries posts. At that time, the early 1980s, Hertfordshire was regarded as one of the places in England to work as a librarian, especially on the children’s services side and I suspect much of that was due to Miss Paulin’s lingering influence.

As one description, originally in Spanish, says of her:
‘With great energy and clarity in her proposals she developed all aspects of the County Library service. She enhanced the work with schools, created more library services for children and introduced a service in rural and suburban libraries. She also created professional library services for doctors and general hospitals and organised an extensive programme of technical libraries and information services in cooperation with university libraries and created networks of cooperation with libraries of all types’. All this happened in Hertfordshire, a county that until she took over had not been regarded as being in the front rank of English public library provision.

In addition to her Hertfordshire career she is known for the Paulin Report which was produced while she was President of the Library Association. Again virtually unknown outside library circles, this had a major impact on how library staff trained and qualified and meant she was in great demand outside the county. She helped set up the School of Library Studies in Queen’s University in Belfast, becoming coordinator of this and other schools of librarianship. She also lectured abroad in Sweden which led to her visiting libraries in the USSR, Romania and East Germany long before the Berlin Wall came down. She was also heavily involved with the International Federation of Library Associations.

Lorna Paulin was a Quaker, joining the group in Hertford because she liked the building (although the Grammar School Head Teacher she respected had been a Quaker as well). To hear her voice (at least in written form) talking about Hertford, her experiences of the county’s libraries and local government from another age (the story of the County Architect’s wife’s hat made me laugh) go to www.hertfordmuseum.org/oralhistory/view-transcript.php?id=83.

Click the link for Information on the: Herts Hidden Heroines Project 
This page was added on 05/12/2016.

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