Marianne Sweet talks to David Vaisey

When David Vaisey talks about books he comes alive. You can sense in his voice that very passion he first felt nearly six decades ago at the Bodleian Library. He was completing a year-long course in archiving after finishing his degree and was helping someone who was researching probate inventories of the 16th and 17th centuries. “I was jobbed in to transcribe some of the documents. I got terribly excited sitting in the library late at night transcribing this 16th and 17th century handwriting and thinking who had handled these documents before me.”

David’s love of learning, of history and of books unlocked opportunities for an Oxford education; it also led to his meeting his wife and the beginning of a friendship with celebrated author Alan Bennett that continues to this day.

How apt that a new prize dedicated to the nurturing of Gloucestershire’s libraries is named in honour of a Gloucestershire man who dedicated his life to libraries and archiving the information they hold in safekeeping.

A scholarship from Gloucestershire County Council and the Rendcomb Foundation led to David attending Rendcomb College as a boarder. An Oxford exhibition a BA and subsequent MA in Modern History at Exeter College followed. When he first met Alan Bennett, “He was two years ahead of me and we did the same subject, the reign of Richard II. He helped me with the work as he’s cleverer than I,” says David.

The David Vaisey Prize was the brainchild of Gloucestershire-based Jonathan Taylor CBE, a friend of both David and Alan. Like those two men, Jonathan’s life has been steeped in books. Until 2015 Jonathan was Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation and is now President of the Foundation.

All these men believe passionately in libraries. David says he is touched to have the prize named in his honour and argues that libraries continue to have a role in 21st century society. “Technology has changed libraries and more information is available online but gathering information is very different from reading a book and being intrigued and moved by it,” he says.

“Information and knowledge are very different things. During my last year at university, I realised that history is all about discovering evidence, questioning it and forming your own opinion about it rather than just taking someone else’s opinion for granted.” Moreover, “Libraries are about knowledge. To have a book in your hand or an original document in front of you is so exciting. It fires you up.”