Comic Club update – Breaking in to Comics and more

Breaking into comics event 2015At ‘Breaking in to Comics Vol.2: The Art of Self Publishing’ we were treated to a panel of industry experts including author Ilya Hilyer and illustrators Tom Pearce, Shango Edunjobi and David L Bannister.

Building on our previous installment of Breaking into Comics, this episode featured an open discussion with our panel lead by Ilya, with Q&As and a visual presentation.

In this sellout event with over 50 attendees, discussions ranged from how to get started and what materials to use to questions around copyright and the law. Please keep an eye out for the next installment this summer!

Breaking into comics event 2015

Gosh! is a comic speciality store in the heart of London Soho and the supplier of all Westminster Libraries’ Graphic Novels. In our recent visit, our aim was to select new titles to supplement our already healthy collection of graphic novels in addition to meeting our counterparts in the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham. All three boroughs will be working closer together to deliver a comprehensive collection of graphic novels and related events.

Breaking into comics event 2015

After a fantastic month of shop visits and special guest panels we’ll be taking time at the next meeting to catch a breath and look back at some of the classic and iconic western titles from the golden age of comics.

The Golden Age of Comic Books describes an era of American comic books, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. During this time, modern comic books were first published and rapidly increased in popularity. The superhero archetype was created, and many famous characters debuted, including Superman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel.

We now have a display shelf within Marylebone Library‘s graphic novel collection dedicated to our discussion topics, and currently featuring some recommended reading for this meeting.

The Golden Age of Comics: Classic superheroes and superheroines takes place on 4 March, 6.30pm at Marylebone Library – see you there.


Forgotten authors of the First World War

The 39 Steps by John BuchanDuring the past year we have been focusing on books about the First World War. The centenary of the war’s commencement has seen a surge in authors writing about the war and its aftermath and we have highlighted many of these in our WW1 reading lists. There has also been a renewed interest in some of the contemporary authors who were influenced by the conflict. One of these, John Buchan, has been consistently popular, with his eve-of war thriller The Thirty-nine Steps having had a number of film adaptations as well as spawning a current West End musical.

However, there are other authors, once household names, but now largely forgotten. Their tomes gather dust in library stores like old soldiers awaiting a recall to arms…

A Sub and a Submarine, by Percy F WestermanTake for instance Percy F Westerman (1876-1959). He wrote his first book for boys in 1908, giving up an Admiralty appointment to write full-time in 1911. During World War 1 he was initially employed on coastal duties by the Royal Navy, but in 1918 he was commissioned by the Royal Flying Corps as an instructor of navigation. In the 1930s he was voted the most popular author of books for boys. Most of his books were adventures with a military or naval theme. He continued writing until his death, publishing at least 174 titles. Amongst these are With Beatty off Jutland and A Sub and a Submarine.

Biggles in France, by Captain W E JohnsA similar author was Captain WE Johns (1893-1968). William Earle Johns first enlisted in the Territorial Army in 1913. He was sent overseas in 1915, serving at Gallipoli, and later in Egypt and Greece. In September 1917 he was commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps. He was shot down in Germany in September 1918 while on a mission to bomb Mannheim and remained a prisoner of war until the end of hostilities. He continued an RAF career until 1931. He started writing in 1922, creating his most famous character, the ace pilot ‘Biggles’ in 1932, who was then to feature in some 100+ stories until the author’s death in 1968.
The Biggles books were the staple diet of boys’ reading material in the 1950s. The ‘Captain’ was self-awarded – his final RAF rank was Flying Officer (equivalent to an Army Lieutenant).

Sir Henry John Newbolt (1862-1938) graduated from Oxford and at first practised law before becoming a poet, historian and novelist. At the start of the War, Newbolt along with over 20 other leading British writers was brought into the War Propaganda Bureau which had been formed to promote Britain’s interests and maintain public opinion. He later became Controller of Telecommunications at the Foreign Office, being knighted in 1915. His written works include The Naval History of the Great War and Submarine and Anti-Submarine (1919) He is probably best remembered now for his cricketing poem Vitai Lampada which includes the line: “Play up! Play up! And play the game!

Submarine and anti-submarine, by Sir Henry John Newbolt

Bernard Newman (1897-1968) was a great nephew of the author George Eliot. He initially served in the trenches in World War 1, lying about his age to enlist, but because of his fluency in French his French liaison officer used him to go undercover in Paris. Accompanied by a female French agent they investigated loose talk by Allied soldiers about troop movements. He developed an interest in espionage on which he became an authority, writing fictional and non-fiction books on this subject. He was to write more than 100 books in total raging from politics to travel, mystery novels, science fiction and children’s books. The Cavalry Went Through (1930) is a novel about the Dardanelles campaign

The War in the Air, by H G WellsHG Wells can hardly be described as a forgotten author! His novels The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine are still widely read and seen as classic works of early Science Fiction. However, there are some other works which are less well-known and largely unread now. During the early 20th century he wrote a number of ‘fantasies of possibility’ based on his futurological writings. Most of these prophesied a future world war and include The War in the Air (1908). This was written only five years after the Wright Brothers pioneer heavier-than-air powered manned flight, and a year before Louis Bleriot made the first cross-channel flight. However, such was the rate of technical development that aerial warfare became a reality in World War 1.
The British Government actually established the Royal Flying Corps (the forerunner of the Royal Air Force) in 1912. He also wrote The World Set Free (1914) which foretold of an atomic bomb. A short story The Land Ironclads (1903) was acknowledged by Winston Churchill as originating the idea of the tank. In 1914 he wrote The War that will End War which set out his case for supporting the allies. A novel Mr Britling Sees it Through (1916) was an account of war on the Home Front.

In 1918 he was recruited by Lord Northcliffe’s Ministry of Propaganda to work on a statement of war aims, which included the setting up of the League of Nations. After the end of hostilities, Wells viewed the war as an inevitable result of the rivalries between nation states, fuelled by a nationalistic teaching of history. He envisaged a new kind of history textbook, and assembling a team of specialist advisors wrote his ‘Plain History of Life and Mankiind’ – The Outline of History (1920) which became an international best-seller.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was an American author, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 (the first woman to win this award), and nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature on three occasions.  She is probably best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Age of Innocence and for Ethan Frome. But another of her works was A Son at the Front (1923)

Many of the books listed above have long been out of print, but some can be found in the stock of Westminster Libraries (click on the links in the text), whilst those not in stock might be obtainable through the interlending service.

More information about the authors featured here, including complete lists of their works, can be found in Contemporary Authors, and in some cases through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in to both with your library card number).

A selection of novels set in the prelude to, during and in the aftermath of the Great War, plus a selection of non-fiction works about the war and its aftermath can be found on our ‘book lists’ page:

First world War reading list - screen shot


A busy half term at Queen’s Park Library

Mardi Gras Masks at Queen's Park Library, February 2015

A busy half-term week at Queen’s Park Library drew to a close on Friday with a very creative Wild & Wonderful Windows workshop, delivered by Westminster Adult Education Service. On each day during the holidays a different children’s activity was on offer, including craft events to celebrate Shrove Tuesday and welcome the Chinese New Year. Tuesday’s Mardi Gras Masks proved particularly popular, with lots of children ranging in age from three to eleven making colourful carnival masks.

Mardi Gras Masks at Queen's Park Library, February 2015

As a more relaxing alternative a screening of The Boxtrolls was very well attended, while older children and teenagers enjoyed The Maze Runner. There’s a lot of demand for similar events aimed at an 11+ audience and we’re already planning future film screenings, showing titles suggested by the audience themselves. The next teen film club event will be on Saturday 7 March, after closing hours, and there’ll be plenty of free popcorn provided. Advance booking is recommended, so for film title information or to reserve a place just contact Queen’s Park Library.


Reading Well in Westminster

Reading Well logoFollowing the Reading Agency launch of the Reading Well Books on Prescription Dementia Collection on Monday 26 January, libraries across the three boroughs gave community and health partners, as well as members of the public, the chance to find out about our Reading Well initiatives, with collection launches at five libraries, starting with Pimlico Library on 30 January.

The Carers’ Network, BME Forum, Migrants Resource Centre, Breathe Easy Support group, and other community and health partners came to Pimlico library for tea and scones to hear about Reading Well in libraries.

Diane Sherlock at the Pimlico Library launch of Reading Well Books on Prescription - Dementia Collection

Diane Sherlock at the Pimlico Library launch of Reading Well Books on Prescription – Dementia Collection

They also listened to a poetry reading by Diane Sherlock, author of ‘Come into the Garden’ – a collection of poems written when caring for her mother who was living with vascular dementia after a stroke. Copies of ‘Come into the Garden’ are available in all libraries in the three boroughs and are being used in our ‘read aloud’ bibliotherapy groups.

Remembering Together artefacts at Paddington LibraryKathryn Gilfoy, from Westminster Arts, brought the display of artefacts created by artists and individuals living with Dementia – as shown in our recent ‘Remembering Together’ post.

There followed launches at North Kensington and Brompton libraries (read more on the RBKC Libraries blog) and at Hammersmith and Fulham libraries (read more on LBHF Libraries). Five different launches in different libraries in the three boroughs, only made possible by joint working with library staff and health and community partners.

Very warm thanks to Sara, Ronnie and Luigi at Pimlico and all colleagues!  Thanks to Diane Sherlock and Nell Dunn who donated their time and to Kathryn and Freya from Westminster Arts. Thanks to the Stroke Association who donate their time and resources to help prevent vascular dementia by preventing stroke.

Libraries are doing their bit for Dementia.  If you would like to join the Dementia Alliance, contact


Volunteer story

One of our volunteers at Westminster Reference Library‘s Business Information Point tells us about how and why he is volunteering and what he has gained from the experience:

Naseem, the latest BIP volunteer at Westminster Reference Library“Hello, my name is Naseem and I’m 18 years old. I attended a business breakfast at Westminster City Hall where I met Eveleen (who works at Westminster Reference Library) who told me about the Business Information Points.

At present I am studying a BTEC Business Level 3 qualification at City of Westminster College and am planning to go to university in September to do Business Management. I have an aspiration of one day becoming a project manager.

“I was interested in doing volunteer work at the library and am now working at Westminster Reference Library every Friday. I began last November and so far I am familiarising myself with various aspects of the library and the Business Information Point. I joined the library and have already borrowed some of the business books from the lending collection and learnt about the way the books are classified using Dewey Decimal Classification.

My duties begin each week with shelf tidying which includes putting the books in order and tidying the business magazines. I then use and explore the various online business databases available from the library. This is a good way of getting to know the BIP and collections. I will be using the business databases for my college assignments now and in future when I am in university.

Through my volunteer work I have already learnt new things and have developed my initiative & skills through carrying out a range of different tasks within the library. While I will soon go on work placement organised by my college, I hope to be able to continue my volunteer work at the library.”


Westminster BiPs logoYou can find out more about volunteering in Westminster Libraries and about the Business Information Points.

The BIPs run a full programme of events – visit Eventbrite for details.

Storytime in the library…

Siigistardust at Mayfair Library for National Storytelling Week

Siggistardust told some lovely stories at Mayfair Library as part of National Storytelling week last week. We heard about pirates and grandmas, witches and cats – a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon.

During this week the children from St Georges Hanover Square School have been entertained in their class visits to the library by customers and friends reading to them rather than the usual staff.

This event was very kindly supported and sponsored by the Friends of Mayfair Library.


“Dost thou have a washroom?”

On National Libraries Day it is time once again to take a look at some of our favourite fictional (and real)  library staff.

The British Film Institute are currently holding a season celebrating the work of four times Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn herself played a reference librarian threatened with redundancy by Spencer Tracy’s new computer in Desk Set. Obviously the computer loses but the film has always been a favourite with reference librarians, dazzled by Hepburn’s virtuoso display of learning, though shocked by her failure to check her sources as she recites Hiawatha and names Santa’s reindeer…

Joan BlondellOne of Hepburn’s fellow library workers is played by Joan Blondell,  an accomplished comedienne whose career stretched from the Busby Berkeley musicals of the early 30s to Grease. Blondell was herself a former library worker.

According to her biographer Matthew Kennedy:

“Joan secured a job in a circulating library at Broadway and Eighty Ninth for eight dollars a week. Her shift was typically 8am to 1pm then again from 4pm to 11pm, which was perfect for attending mid-day auditions. Her boss, kindly Esther Wright, recalled that Joan ‘was a good clerk on account of she would not let boys have dates with her unless they joined [Esther’s] circulating library. One night there were seventeen boys lined up to join.’ Joan wrote their numbers on the wall near the telephone behind the circulation desk, which eventually looked like a directory of Manhattan’s available young men.”

As part of the Hepburn season, the BFI are showcasing one of her greatest films, The Philadelphia Story. In a famous scene, reporter Macaulay Connors, played by James Stewart visits a Quaker archives and the following exchange takes place

Librarian: What is thy wish?
Macaulay Connor: I’m looking for some local b – what’d you say?
Librarian: What is thy wish?
Macaulay Connor: Um, local biography or history.
Librarian: If thee will consult with my colleague in there.
Macaulay Connor: Mm-hm. Dost thou have a washroom?
Macaulay Connor: Thank thee.

Hepburn wasn’t the only grande dame of Hollywood to play a librarian. In Storm Center, Bette Davis plays a widowed librarian who fights against her local council’s attempts to ban a book supportive of Communism. A brave film that was the first to openly take on the McCarthy witch-hunts, it deserves to be better known as, sadly, libraries are still faced with pressure to ban books.

Check out the Movie Librarians site for more celluloid information workers. And for more on the careers of Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis  and Joan Blondell, why not have a look at this marvellous archive of Hollywood fan magazines?

One noted television reference worker is Flynn Carsen, the eponymous Librarian, played by Noah Wyle in a  series of television movies and more recently a spin-off series about a whole team of Librarians solving ancient mysteries and generally being awesome (though it has to be said that the script is a little cagey about their exact qualifications). While you’re watching The Librarians rescue the crown of King Arthur or turn into Prince Charming just remember – you never know what the staff of your local library are capable of!