Beloved Creggan librarian hangs up his books after 47 years

Popular and well-known librarian, John Campbell, Principal Librarian at Creggan Library is set to retire after 47 years serving the community.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 11:16 am
RETIRING.... John Campbell pictured at the Creggan Library.

After dedicating his entire life creating a hub within the heart of Creggan, serving generations of kids, John will officially retire on 21 June.

Born and raised on Iniscarn Road, John considers it a blessing that he has been able to serve the Creggan community for almost five decades at the library, inspiring a life-long love of reading in many a child as well as creating a joyful experience for all who entered its doors. However, his association with the library began purely by chance when he was employed as a temporary security guard for the old library in the early 70s.

“I always liked books, so following my stint as a security guard, when a job came up for the housebound service at Brooke Park/ Creggan library, I jumped at the chance. That’s when I began driving the mobile library two days a week around Creggan and people loved it.”

John with schoolchildren at Creggan library.

John laughs, recalling that if anyone should miss the mobile service they would come knocking at his family home to return their books. “People were really good like that.”

The mid-70s saw this ‘no ordinary mobile library’ and John have their 15 seconds of fame alongside quiz-master Paddy ’Fuzzy’ Doherty on BBC current affairs programme, Nationwide which highlighted the vibrant pub quiz scene in Derry.

A treasure trove for quizzers in a pre-Google world, the undeniable success of the service led to the decision to establish a branch library in 1980 on the site of the Old Library Trust. The portacabin would become known at the ‘Hut of Hope’ standing unscathed in the middle of a warzone as the Troubles raged on its doorstep.

“It was just a safe-haven for the wanes, somewhere to go at a time where there were so few facilities in Creggan,” John comments. “There was nothing else for them but the library stood untouched. It was neutral territory and always has been.”

The mobile library John used to drive.

This old prefab building played host to some of Derry’s biggest names over the years; John Hume, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Anderson and Brian Friel to name but a few- all of whom, recognised the invaluable nature of this modest library and the staff therein. In 1997 the service moved to its permanent site, finally receiving a new purpose-built library at Central Drive.

And while John speaks of frequent occasions whereby children and staff were forced to lay on the ground as gunshots rang out outside, he asserts that the memories within the library walls were mostly happy ones.

He remembers movie days, football pundits, helping kids with homework and teaching a cohort of Creggan’s youth to play chess. Not forgetting of course, library resident and beloved pet, Peter the Parrot. “I’ll even miss the phone calls from parents asking me to send the wanes home for dinner,” he laughs.

The Principal Librarian humbly plays down his role throughout the years and indeed his accolades, including multiple prestigious awards for his service within the community.

Trisha Ward, Libraries NI Director of Library Services said of John: “He has served the local community tirelessly and has seen years of positive changes in both the library and the local Creggan area.

“John’s dedication to the library and his involvement in the local community will be sorely missed. I wish John the very best for his retirement and a new phase in his life and on behalf of Libraries NI, I want to thank him for his years of committed service.”

For many, he will forever be known as the man instrumental in bringing the library to Creggan and fighting for it remain open. John was a friendly face who nurtured a thirst for knowledge in thousands of children, who provided light and joy during the darkest days. He helped established not just a library but rather a symbol of hope in the heart of Creggan.

Not short of well-wishers upon his retirement, one library goer remarked that the library should be renamed ‘John’s Library’ given his unwavering dedication after 47 years of service.

John pictured alongside Julie Harkin and Deirdre McCarron.

The admiration from his colleagues is palpable too and I suspect they will even miss his cheeky humour and penchant for terrible jokes. While John regrets that he will not be able to say his goodbyes properly due to Covid restrictions, he hopes to have an opportunity to do so in the near future.

For now though, the Creggan librarian is looking forward to a well-earned retirement as he embarks on his next chapter.