Interview: Karen Roberts

GL: You now live locally to the Library. Did you know anything about it before you decided you wanted to volunteer here?

KR: I knew that the library was here but knew very little about its history.

Can you give us a brief insight into what you do on a day-to-day basis? What are the challenges and the rewards? 

I’m reading the hand-written letters of William Gladstone and converting them into an Excel spreadsheet format. The main challenge is deciphering the handwriting at times, but once you have the feel of the content of the letters, they are fairly easy to follow. The reward is that we can transcribe these letters which form part of history, so that they will be available to future generations who will use digital technology even more than now. 

Are you particularly proud of something you have done or achieved through the project?

For me, it’s the fact that I have adapted to the task and am now able to deal with the letters easily and methodically. 

Have you become more interested in local history or Gladstone through the work you’re doing now?

Certainly, I am far more interested in Gladstone since starting at the Library. I had no idea he was such a prolific writer and am amazed at his ability to write every day (sometimes even twice a day) to his 'beloved C' [his wife, Catherine]. 

What has been your ‘calling’ for the majority of your life before now? Has this helped you with the project in any way?

My main areas within my working life have been office-based - dealing with administration, office management, typing, and transcribing an inordinate amount of sometimes illegible handwriting, which has been enormously helpful to me in this role. 

Do you do any other volunteering work?

I volunteer once a week at the Royal British Legion in Wrexham as an administration assistant for the Case Manager North Wales. 

Why do you think libraries are important? Why do you think the Digital Gladstone project is important?

Even in this technological age libraries still have their place. Apart from the historical book, often libraries hold copies of ancient documents and books, which can’t be replaced by technology. Having said that, by transcribing these letters of William Gladstone, the digital availability will be here for many years to come, possibly lasting longer than the original documents. 

Having lived all over the world – where was your favourite place? Where have you not managed to visit yet?

Apart from the Far East, I think Southern Germany, if just for the total contrast between the two areas. One enormously overcrowded and the other so full of open spaces and clean fresh air, (well it was when we were last there). Amongst a great deal of the world I haven’t been to yet, is the West Coast of America including Hawaii and Pearl Harbour. 

Would you encourage other people to volunteer at the Library?

Yes, I would encourage others to volunteer. It’s been an amazing experience so far - as I said earlier, an eye opener in the amount of written work Gladstone was able to accomplish.

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