Hide and seek

Charing Cross Library, although in a brilliant location, has never been the easiest library to find. Many customers have said they used to walk past for years without realising there was a library here, and this is not helped by our relatively narrow entrance.

Charing Cross Library under scaffolding, September 2014

For the next 3 months it will be even more difficult to spot us as we are completely obscured by scaffolding from top to bottom while repairs to the roof are taking place.

We will be open as usual! Don’t be put off by our appearance, come in and look around, like a tardis we are much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Charing Cross Library interior, 2014


A Formidable Victorian Woman

What links a former Marylebone resident, a housing association, the National Trust, and a Marylebone slum which ironically included a street named Paradise Place?

Image of Octavia Hill

The answer is the social reformer Octavia Hill.

In 1864, John Ruskin, at Octavia’s persuasion, purchased three houses in Paradise Place. He gave them to Octavia Hill to manage. The aim was to make “lives noble, homes happy and family life good” in this, one of London’s notorious slums, known as ‘Little Hell’. Nearby in Freshwater Place (now Homer Street Marylebone) further housing was purchased two years later for a second social housing project. She described the slum conditions of one of the Freshwater Place houses:

“The plaster was dropping from the walls, on one staircase a pail was placed to catch the rain that fell through the roof. All the staircases were perfectly dark; the banisters were gone, having been used as firewood by the tenants.”

The water supply for these houses was stored in a leaking dirty water butt, the result being that there was often no water. These conditions must have been typical for many of the London subdivided tenements in which several families and also single workers resided.

Paradise Place is now known as Garbutt Place

Paradise Place is now known as Garbutt Place.

Paradise Place is now known as Garbutt Place and runs north from Moxon Street (formally Paradise Street). The houses purchased by Ruskin survive on the east side of this street and are marked by an English Heritage blue plaque. Earlier this year one of these 3 bedroom houses was on the rental market for £3,012 pcm, a far cry from the 19th century weekly rent of a few shillings.

From these beginnings her ‘housing empire’ grew rapidly, so that by 1877 she stated

“I have 3,500 tenants and £30,000 or £40,000 worth of money under my continuous charge”.

This quote gives an indication of her character. Olivia Hill was personally involved in all aspects of the project and expected all her rent collectors and administrative staff to be as meticulous in their work as she was. The money from rents was used not only to maintain the dwellings but also provide an income of 5% for the financial backers of the schemes. If it appears that these projects were set up solely for generating profits, this was not so. Octavia Hill was keen to educate the tenants in budget management and provided other facilities such as laundries so meeting halls. Paradise Place was close to a school set up by Octavia Hill several years earlier.

Octavia Hill's blue plaque in Garbutt Place

To find out more about this formidable Victorian woman, take a look at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number). The dictionary also includes an entry for her early supporter John Ruskin. For more details of her life and work, you can visit the City of Westminster Archives Centre. As a major and influential Westminster resident the centre holds several biographies and also a number of her original letters.

Octavia Hill died in 1912. One hundred years later a memorial plaque was unveiled in the nave of Westminster Cathedral acknowledging her role as a social reformer and founder of the National Trust.


Passport to Pimlico

Stockholm librarians visiting Pimlico Library, September 2014

Erik Dardel, Eva Ohgren and Rose-Marie Nilsson from Stockholm public libraries.

Pimlico Library recently hosted a visit from a group of Swedish librarians from Stockholm Public Library, representing one of the 20 inner Stockholm public libraries, who have been all over the country visiting libraries in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. They are now making their way around London, including a visit to the British Library. They needed a typical public library in London to complete their picture of what the capital has to offer and chose Pimlico Library for its central location and diverse community setting.

The librarians were particularly interested in the work that libraries do with children, schools and families and how this operates on a local level, so Aitor and I spoke to them about the Bookstart scheme, the Summer Reading Challenge, class visits and Homework Clubs, among other things. We were keen to compare our practices with what they do at a local level in Stockholm and we saw many parallels, as well as some new and interesting ideas. As an example, every child born in the Swedish capital gets to join their local library through their heath visitor’s involvement.

It was a very focused visit and it was helpful to refocus and see our job from a detached point of view. Even better, Pimlico Library staff have an open invitation to visit Stockholm library!



We love to boogie

All aboard!
Westminster Music Library played host to The Strings Club as they “took to the road”, giving local children across Westminster a free taste of their award-winning music workshops. The fun packed instrumental workshop we were about to enjoy proved to be the perfect way for our young musicians to while away a rainy afternoon in London, and also gave their hard pressed parents a bit of a break from puzzling over just what to do next as the school holidays drew to a close.

The Strings Club at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

So what is it all about? Since 2012, The Strings Club have been running holiday camps and term-time classes to inspire children as young as four to develop their music skills, make new friends, and most importantly to have fun while they’re doing it.  Our session, led by workshop leaders Daniel and Georgina, kicked off with some warm up musical activities and games, then each participant was invited try their hand at playing the guitar or the violin.

The Strings Club at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

After a brief discussion and try-out session, everyone chose which instrument they’d prefer and disappeared off to various library nooks and crannies to rehearse. Some of our young musicians had something of a head start, as we already had some potential Paganinis and Segovias in our midst, so not allowed to get off lightly, they were encouraged to entertain us with some splendid solos.

The Strings Club at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

But this was only the warm-up act, the ensemble performance of a five bar blues from our budding entertainers was excellent considering they’d only had a couple of hours practice, and a masterful rendition of boogie-woogie by tutors Daniel and Georgina really showed what can be achieved with a little application.

Let’s hope The Strings Club passes through here again soon as they seemed to go down rather well…

“Well organised and fast paced enough for small kids.”
“It was a fantastic opportunity for my son, very inspirational, thank you.”
“We really enjoyed ourselves, loved all the instruments.”
“Absolutely brilliant, would like to see more of these organised, we’ll definitely come back.”
“This was a fantastic family event – educational, fun, informative and very, very enjoyable.”


40 years – and it has just flown by!

Rebecca celebrates 40 years at Westminster LibrariesThis week our colleague Rebecca celebrated working at Westminster Libraries for 40 years. She started in her teens at Marylebone Library as a library assistant and is now the Duty Supervisor at Charing Cross Library. She has had some strange job titles along the way, including ‘Senior non paraprofessional’ many years ago (no one can quite remember it correctly and it didn’t last long).

Rebecca has worked through many changes in libraries from the card catalogue filing system to computers, from lending records to lending ebooks.

When asked to recall incidents from over the years Rebecca reflected on being trapped in the library during a bomb alert; a customer in underpants who refused to understand why he was not suitably dressed to remain and a customer who set up and ran a business in the corner, unbeknown to staff (not so easy in the days before online working).

Colleagues who celebrated with her enjoyed a fabulous ‘mini me’ cake of the lady herself, and customers said of Rebecca:

“She is the nicest person you could ever meet”
“Calm and unflappable”
“Infinitely patient”
“An island of calm in the madness”
“Simply the best”
“Knowledgeable and experienced”

Tributes to a very valued colleague and member of staff.


A victorious evening

Another sultry night in Westminster Music Library and this time we were playing host to the Victory Wind Quintet, a group of professional musicians who have been working together for over ten years, primarily within the Guards Bands. The players have busy careers combining solo work, chamber music and freelancing. Lucky for us they had time to pay us a visit, and even luckier that what they had in mind for repertoire chimed beautifully with our First World War music and composers project – Behind the Lines – although this concert was set to embrace music from both World Wars (I can feel another project coming on…).

Victory Wind Quintet at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

Tuning up complete, our audience settled and suitably refreshed with a cooling drink, The “Victory” marched off with renditions of some First World War music, some of which was already familiar to us in Westminster Music Library, including George Butterworth’s The banks of green willow. Described by its composer as an “Idyll”, and written in 1913, he based The Banks of Green Willow on two folk song melodies. Butterworth was a lieutenant in the Durham Light infantry and was killed on 5 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.

Our First World War selection ended with a wonderful arrangement of It’s a long way to Tipperary by John Whitfield, but then it was fast forward to World War Two and an arrangement of the famous song A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Written in 1939 by Manning Sherwin in the then small French fishing village of Le lavandou shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, it became one of the best selling and most popular songs of the era.

No recital of war-inspired music would be complete without some marching songs and we were treated to a rousing medley, but not wishing to monopolise the show with the army (our musicians variously play with The Coldstream Guards Band, the Band of the Irish Guards, the Band of the Welsh and Scots Guards), we turned our attention to the air with Aces High, a march  written by Ron Goodwin for the 1969 film “The Battle of Britain”, and a grand finale comprising a selection of sea songs. According to Nick (our horn player) the Navy hasn’t written much in the way of songs since the eighteenth century, but that hasn’t stopped them re-working some old favourites with often slightly more risqué lyrics… however our quintet had plenty of mariner-themed tunes up their talented sleeves and with a sailor’s hornpipe taken at a dazzling tempo, all too soon it was time for anchors away as The “Victory” set sail.

Victory Wind Quintet at Westminster Music Library, August 2014

All five musicians gave a faultless and captivating performance, and I hope they’ll hold good to their promise and march our way again soon.


Health information in libraries – how it’s grown!

Kate Gielgud, Libraries’ Health Information Officer, looks back at the last five years and on to the next:

It is five years to the day since I started working for Westminster Libraries – on 7 September 2009.  I started my library career at Queen’s Park Library in the north of the borough. This thriving community library has just done well in a customer satisfaction survey.  Queen’s Park Library has always been known for its pleasant and helpful staff and the number and variety of its events.

Queen's Park Library staff at a community event

Queen’s Park Library manager Hugh Thomas and Bengali outreach coordinator Mahbuba Khan at a promotional event.

I left Queen’s Park in 2011 to go on secondment to my present post of Health Information Officer.

During the past few years the amount of health information events and book groups in Westminster have increased and since the Triborough arrangement began we now have more health promotion events taking place in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Libraries too. Libraries are helping the public get the best start in life for their children, choose healthy lifestyle options as adults, and age well.  We do all this in partnership with over fifty NHS, community and voluntary organisations.

As all libraries have been busy helping our younger readers between the ages of 4 – 11 read their six books and get their stickers and prizes as part of the annual Summer Reading Challenge, we have been giving some thought to Early Years health information.

Making tooth brushing fun, with Dinosaur Douglas

Making tooth brushing fun, with Dinosaur Douglas

The ‘A- maze- ing Bouncing Boost Quest’ took place at Queen’s Park children’s library in August, with activities from Mytimeactive Boost programmes, delivered by Magda and Ben from the Oral and Dental Health Team. The terrible tale of ‘Dinosaur Douglas and the beastly bugs‘ was read by Lacey from Queen’s Park Library: a story of a dinosaur who not only didn’t eat his pasta and broccoli but gorged on sweets and chocolate and then didn’t brush his teeth – of course the beastly bugs went to work and he had toothache and then had to have FILLINGS. A cautionary tale indeed.

Tooth brushing fun!This was supported by the green plush Douglas himself, complete with a splendid set of teeth and a toothbrush. The children responded well to the story and to the activities. They took home the free fruit they pulled out of a bag with their eyes closed, guessing what it was! We also gave out information on the importance of Vitamin D for healthy teeth and bones and of course diet and physical activity.

Change4Life has teamed up with Disney to help kids get active and having fun. Families can sign up to be part of the 10 Minute Shake Up and receive:

  • Disney themes wall chart and stickers
  • Activity cards
  • Online activities inspired by everyone’s favourite Disney characters
  • Games, special offers and new ideas from other Change4Life partners.

There are increasing challenges in the face of a rapidly changing world and we have a role to play in helping those supported by some of our community partner organisations to get online – not only to find health information, book GP appointments, and self refer – but also to search for jobs, accommodation and free learning opportunities. New initiatives to help library staff learn new skills also help us help our customers, widening participation.

The main health information websites are:

  • Ebola virusNHS Choices
    This is the Ebola virus from NHS Choices Health News – just one of the thousands of options on the site. Happy browsing.
  • Live Well
    On a more positive note, this is the link to the healthy lifestyle pages.
  • Patient.co.uk
    There are two parts to this site one for patients and one for doctors.  According to a local pharmacist:
    ‘GPs like this site as it is easy to read but very thorough.  It gives you an article telling you everything about the condition, it gives you links to other helpful websites and any related news articles and videos of doctors talking about the condition and posts from sufferers of the condition. It gives you links to support groups (for example http://www.patient.co.uk/health/media/videos/cancer-treatment-what-happens-during-chemotherapy)

Accessing health information online helps the NHS preserve time and resources and empowers us!