Margaret Strain obituary

Other lives: Dedicated librarian who inspired young and old with her love of books

My mother, Margaret Strain, who has died aged 84, was a librarian who inspired young and old with her love of books, her thirst for knowledge and her stories of voyages around the world.

Born in Finchley, north London, she was the daughter of Harold Preece, a cashier for Barclays Bank, and Winifred (nee Parry), a secretary. She attended Copthall County grammar school, in Barnet, and after the war, as a teenager, she took part in an Anglo-German reconciliation penpal scheme. Margaret’s penpal, Karin Scharfstadt, became a lifelong friend, and gave her a lasting love for German life and culture.

After school, Margaret worked briefly at the National Institute of Medical Research, Mill Hill. Although she maintained an interest in science, her greater love was for music, arts and literature. After a year she became an assistant at Hendon public library, where she worked with Eileen Colwell, the pioneer of children’s libraries. She gained a librarian’s qualification at Ealing technical college, then worked at Finchley library, and the Tate library in Lambeth.

In 1965 she moved to Dortmund, Germany, where she worked initially as an au pair in order to learn the language, before gaining a librarian post at Berlin technical university.

The following year she decided to explore opportunities in the US. She worked at Wilsons Publishers in New York for two years before returning to Britain in 1968 to study at Keele University, graduating with a BA in English literature and psychology in 1973. As a student, she took part in a Commonwealth expedition travelling overland to India. In later life, she intrigued many with her stories of travelling through Afghanistan and Iran.

While at Keele she had met John Strain, a fellow student, and they married in 1972. He joined the Royal Navy and they moved to Portsmouth. In 1979, once her two children were at school, Margaret became a voluntary adult literacy teacher. She returned to the library service in 1983, and became head of three branch libraries. She became a schools librarian in 1988 and was head of school libraries for east Hampshire by 1990.

With a passionate belief that books and art have the power to improve lives, she travelled across the county in her library bus, arranging for authors and illustrators to deliver talks to children.

An exponent of education for life, Margaret was determined to become a better artist and took classes in pottery, painting and framing. She learned Russian in her 60s, following her participation in a library exchange to St Petersburg.

At 65, she became the librarian of Kingston prison in Portsmouth, supporting new adult readers.

Frustrated that she had to fully retire at 70, she took an MA in children’s literature at Roehampton University, with a dissertation on how books help children grieve.

Margaret is survived by John, their two children, Justin and me, and four grandchildren.

Helen Honour

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gigi Crompton obituary
Other lives: Botanist and author of the Cambridgeshire Flora Records Since 1538

Kirsty Findlay

17, Feb, 2020 @4:03 PM

Article image
Elizabeth Wallis obituary
Other lives: Founder member of the Society of Indexers

Neil Wallis

30, May, 2018 @3:29 PM

Article image
Pamela Erskine obituary
Other lives: Children’s librarian who as a union rep fought for equal pay and against budget cuts

Jonathan Erskine

09, Oct, 2020 @10:33 AM

Article image
Carry Franklin obituary
Other lives: Artist and teacher, and the founder of Little Free Libraries in Leeds

Dave Bache

04, Aug, 2019 @3:25 PM

Article image
Peter Lewis obituary
Other lives: Librarian at the forefront of technological change in the British Library

Tim Lewis

11, May, 2018 @4:56 PM

Article image
Bruce Leigh obituary
Other lives: Bookseller and writer who became a dedicated Buddhist in Brighton

Fiona Mullen

15, Jul, 2018 @4:22 PM

Article image
Len Barron obituary
Other lives: Inspirational part of the Hillingdon Library community in west London who was also a prolific poet

Lara Marshall

18, Jan, 2021 @11:25 AM

Article image
Grace Hallworth obituary
Other lives: Children’s librarian and storyteller who was part of an ancient tradition that stretches from the Caribbean to Connemara

Annemarie Young

21, Sep, 2021 @3:52 PM

Article image
Douglas Matthews obituary
Other lives: Librarian with a global reputation as a master of indexing

Barbara Abbs

17, Nov, 2020 @6:18 PM

Article image
Sava Peić obituary
Other lives: Serbian curator who helped to develop the British Library’s Balkan collections

Mary Raine

01, Mar, 2020 @1:09 PM