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Doris Jones, longstanding Society assistant librarian, celebrates 100th birthday

Doris Jones, a former assistant librarian at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, who spent 45 years with the Society, celebrates her 100th birthday on 8 December 2017.

Doris Jones, a former assistant librarian at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)

Courtesy of Doris Jones

Doris Jones, who celebrates her 100th birthday on 8 December 2017, spent almost 50 years working in the RPS library. This photograph was taken on Doris’s 99th birthday, by her friend Ling

Jones joined the Society in June 1934 at age 16, following an interview which included a handwriting test. Despite feeling “a bit overawed” on her first day, she quickly settled in to become an indispensable member of the library team. She officially retired in 1979, but stayed on a part-time basis for several years after to catalogue the library’s collection of historical material. Writing to The Pharmaceutical Journal following Jones’s retirement, David Massam, former secretary of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, recalled that her “phenomenal memory of the library stock, coupled with her knowledge of the content of the books, has made her name virtually synonymous with the library”.

Until 1949, the Society hosted a school of pharmacy, and Jones recalls that the library was a hive of activity for the teaching staff and students. TD Whittet, writing in The Pharmaceutical Journal in 1979, described how Jones supported “countless” pharmacists and pharmacy students during her career, responding with thoroughness and enthusiasm to “even the most vague and abstruse inquiries”.

The outbreak of war in 1939 led to an expansion of Jones’s duties: together with her colleagues, she oversaw the evacuation of the library contents to safer locations around the country, while a skeleton staff of Jones herself, Agnes Lothian, the librarian and curator from 1940 to 1968, and another colleague, recalled only as Ethel, remained in London. Jones volunteered to be part of the Society’s firewatch rotation, often remaining in the building overnight — an experience that was sometimes “pretty grim”, she says. The building survived the war largely intact, save for shrapnel damage to the large library windows. However, Jones recalls, the local rat population took advantage of the building’s survival by moving en masse into the basement.

On one occasion, when Jones was walking through Holborn, she looked up to see two fighter planes directly overhead. “The warden was shouting at us to go down into the shelters,” Jones said, but added that she preferred to take her chances. “I never went into the shelters — I had a fear of them. I just couldn’t go in”.

Despite her experiences of war, Jones remained stoic. “We had ups and downs — and I never knew if the tube would be running in the morning — but we put up with them. We were better off than so many”.

When the Society moved to Lambeth in 1977, Jones and her colleagues were responsible for re-locating the entire library collection to the new site. “That was an ordeal!” she says, adding — with some understatement — that it was “quite a big job”. Later that year Jones was selected to meet the Queen Mother, who performed the official opening of the new site. Jones has fond memories of the meeting, and recalls that the Queen Mother was familiar with some of the library’s herbals after the royal guest pointed out that she had seen some of the same books in the Royal Library.

Jones’ affection for the Society is as strong as ever. “I would like to thank the Society for giving me the opportunity, as a 16-year old, to join the library staff,” she told The Pharmaceutical Journal. “I had a very happy time there.” Asked for the secret to her longevity, she credits it to, in the main, “good genes!”, adding that she has always looked after herself and avoided too much reliance on other people.

Pamela North, a former colleague of Jones, recalled that “Doris had such a calm methodical manner, and from her vast knowledge of the contents of the library I learnt so much and had so much respect for her.” North interviewed Jones as part of the library’s oral histories project.

“I persuaded her to record her experiences of working for her whole career for the Society and it is particularly fascinating to learn of life during the war at Bloomsbury Square,” she said.

“So many pharmacists, myself included, will be delighted to read that she has reached her 100th birthday. I send congratulations and love and hope that she has a wonderful celebration. It has been a great privilege to know and work with you, Doris.”

Paul Bennett, chief executive of the RPS, said: “It is with great pleasure that I and the executive team at the Society heard of Doris’s forthcoming 100th birthday. What a milestone for anyone to achieve but particularly pleasing when it is one of our own!

“Doris was a highly regarded employee of the Society and as librarian provided a much-valued service throughout her long career, just as today’s library team do for our current members. The library is a valuable asset of the Society and the team of people employed here, both now and in days gone by, focuses on our members’ needs every day just as they did when Doris worked with us.

“We all wish Doris a very happy birthday and many more of them!”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20204060

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