Category Archives: Charing Cross Library

Forty years of change

Open doors at Westminster Music Library

Westminster Libraries is changing. Readers will be pleased to know that no libraries are closing and opening hours are not being slashed as has happened in some other parts of London and elsewhere in the country. But from April you may see fewer and different staff in your local library as a number of staff are leaving, retiring or switching libraries. Of course libraries need to change and evolve, just like any other organisation, if they are to remain relevant to people’s changing needs and to embrace technological changes.

As one of those staff who is retiring after some 40 years, I invite you to look back at some of the key changes in Westminster Libraries over that period.

Church Street Library 1969

When I started in the 1970s there were no computers in libraries. Most libraries issued books using the Browne system. Books had a pocket holding a card which gave the book’s number and author/title details. Readers were given a number of pocket tickets with their name and address details. They tendered one of these for each book borrowed and the book’s card was placed in the pocket ticket and then filed in a rack before (or behind) a date due marker. On returning a book, the racks would be searched for the matching card and the ticket returned. Returns and renewals could only be done at the library where the books were borrowed. Readers with overdue books would receive posted reminders.

St. Marylebone library book label and pocket

However in Westminster, the libraries were so busy, especially at lunchtimes, that the Browne system was too slow to cope. Instead readers were given plastic tokens which they handed over for all but the most expensive books. There was no record of who had out what books, so no overdue letters could be sent, but once a year each reader was written to and they had to produce all their tokens or pay a forfeit. This system was to last until a computerised management system was introduced from 1984.

City of Westminster tokens

The library catalogue was a large set of drawers in which were inserted 5 inch by 3 inch cards for each book – one filed by author, and one by title or class number. The catalogue would only show books at that library, and would not show whether the book was in stock or on loan. When new books were added or old books withdrawn the cards had to be manually filed or removed. By the 1970s new technology saw the introduction of a system-wide catalogue on microform, but it still could not show whether the books were in the library or on loan. This again had to wait for computer technology.

New books were selected from ‘approval collection’s or by visiting suppliers’ showrooms. Once supplied they all had to be catalogued, processed and jacketed so it might take weeks before they reached the shelves. Non-fiction books had their class numbers embossed on the spine in gold leaf.

Gramophone records at Charing Cross Library, circa 1950s

As well as books, readers could borrow gramophone records, although there were strict rules about their care. The records themselves were not on the shelves. Instead there were display racks of the cards from which borrowers made their choice and then exchanged the card for the recording – supplied in a carrying case.

Reference libraries had shelves upon shelves of atlases, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias and so on, often out of date even before being published. Some directories even came in loose-leaf binders so that update replacement pages could be supplied.

Periodicals room in Marylebone Library, 1940

There were no public computers, no Internet, no wi-fi , no DVDs… since none of these had yet been invented.

Computer technology has completely transformed all of this, as it has life and work elsewhere. Readers can issue and return their loans (at any of our libraries) through self-issue terminals without queuing at the counter. They can renew online at any time and keep a historical record of what they have borrowed. The catalogue can be searched online and reservations placed from home. E-mail notification lets you know when items are due back or reservations are available. New stock will appear on the catalogue when ordered in advance of publication and will be received, ready for loan, within days of publication.

Computers at Pimlico Library - gradually getting sorted

Those groaning shelves of reference books have mostly gone now, replaced by public computers to use and study space with free wi-fi access. But don’t think that there is any less information available. Far from it. With the 24/7 library your library card gives you access to a wealth of information for free on our subscription databases. Business information, the arts, family history and worldwide newspapers are among the resources available – much of it accessible from anywhere online and – as the name suggests – available 24/7, not just when the library is open.  E-books, e-audiobooks and e-magazines are also available online.

The library service has not just changed as a result of technology though. The present City of Westminster had only been formed in 1965 under the Local Government Act 1963. It was a merger of the City of Westminster and the Boroughs of St  Marylebone and Paddington each of which had had their own library service. So there was some duplication of services which have been rationalised since.

Some of the other key changes that have happened to the library service in the last 40 years include:

1974 Pimlico Library opens in Rampayne Street. opposite the tube station. The station itself had opened in 1972, a year after the Victoria Line had been extended to Brixton.

1984 Charing Cross Library starts its specialised service to the Chinese community with the appointment of a Chinese librarian.

1987 Paddington Library basement opened up as part of the public area, allowing the integration of all the reference stock and the reading room which had previously been housed in two separate buildings.

1987  Charing Cross Library is the first Westminster library to lend videos.

1995 Westminster City Archives building opened by HRH Duke of Gloucester on 2 March 1995, bringing together the archives & local studies collections from old City of Westminster, St Marylebone and Paddington boroughs for the first time.

1997 Great Smith Street Library replaced by St James’s Library in Victoria Street, next to City Hall.

1998 The Open Learning Centre at Queen’s Park opened on 1st June 1998. It became the Learning Centre in September 2009.

2000  The Government launches The People’s Network programme to link every public library in the UK to the Internet. Public access computers were installed and staff trained through the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL).

2007  Marylebone Library moved into the Council House next door.

2008 St John’s Wood Library expanded, with the basement being opened up to public use.

2010 New enlarged Church Street Library opens, with a teenage zone and learning centre. The library had operated from a former butchers shop nearby for 2 years while the building work took place, financed by £1.1m lottery money.

2010 New Pimlico Library opens in Lupus Street, joint with Pimlico Academy and Adult Education Centre. This replaced the original Pimlico Library.

2011 St James’s Library closed and a new ‘Express Library‘ opens in the vestibule of the Archives Centre.

2012 Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries come under a common Triborough management arrangement.

2013 New single library management system for Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries with a combined catalogue, offering access to all three boroughs stock to all members.

2013 Marylebone Library moved to temporary premises in Beaumont Street after the Town Hall was sold to the London Business School.

Of course it hasn’t all been expansion. Over the years we have also had to reduce, rationalise or say goodbye to some areas of service. Sheet Music has been concentrated at Westminster Music Library, where staff have the specialist knowledge to serve the music community. The closure of the medical library at Marylebone was seen as a casualty at the time, although digital access to medical information is now available through the 24/7 Library.  A mobile library was introduced and operated for a few years but was not replaced when due for renewal.

There have also been proposals and ideas that never got off the ground. Among these were plans in the early 1980s to close Maida Vale and Queens Park libraries and replace them with a single library in Harrow Road at the former Paddington Town Hall. Another proposal was to move Paddington Library to a floor above the Whiteleys shopping centre in Queensway.

Library book borrowing may be in decline nationally, but our users come to the library for far more than books. They may come to study, to use the computers for a variety of purposes – social media, on-line purchases, job-hunting etc. They may come for reading or writing groups, author talks, computing or English classes, careers advice sessions, and a range of health promotions. In some libraries they can now collect goods ordered online at Amazon lockers. There may be children’s under 5s sessions, homework clubs, holiday reading clubs and craft events. Libraries provide work experience training for secondary school children. Adults can feed back into the community by volunteering in our libraries.

People have predicted the end of libraries in our present digital, connected world. Well they may have changed in ways unimaginable even a generation ago but they are still a thriving, valued part of the community. Who knows what changes another generation will bring, but I expect there will still be something people call a ‘library’. It may even still contain books – the death of the printed word has been predicted but it seems to be still going strong at present. And there to help them will be someone they will refer to as a ‘librarian’ whatever their official job title may be, or indeed whether they are employed staff or a volunteer.

[Malcolm]


Read more about library history in some of Malcolm’s previous contributions to the blog:

Ali Smith in Charing Cross Library

More than fifty people braved a cold wet Monday evening to come to prize-winning author Ali Smith‘s inspiring talk in praise of public libraries.

Author Ali Smith at Charing Cross Library, February 2017

Public Library and other stories by Ali SmithThe audience was enthralled for the whole 45 minutes of Ali’s talk in Charing Cross Library. She gave a fiercely intelligent, passionate and valuable insight into the role libraries play and why we need them so much, as well as how she came to gather the material for her book Public Library and other stories.

After the talk, she signed copies of her books that people had brought with them. A fantastic evening.

Author Ali Smith at Charing Cross Library, February 2017

[Helen]

Calling all comic fans!

Free Comic Book Day 2016Save the date –
Saturday 7 May is
Free Comic Book Day

Across North America and around the world, comic shops will be giving away free comics. And Westminster Libraries are taking part, courtesy of the lovely folks at Forbidden Planet who are providing the comics.

You can collect yours from your local library (see list of participating libraries below). One title per customer, while stocks last – which won’t be long!

There is a Doctor Who title, a Superhero Girls title and selected libraries will also have Suicide Squad (suitable for teens and over only).

Doctor Who for Free Comic Book day 2016 DC Superhero Girls for Free Comic Book day 2016 Suicide Squad for Free Comic Book day 2016

“Free Comic Book Day is the perfect occasion for newcomers to comics as well as those who have been reading them for years to celebrate comics and discover new titles that debut on the first Saturday in May”
– Free Comic Book Day spokesperson Dan Manser

Why not check out the graphic novel collection while you are there and see what else your library has to offer?

[Rachel]


Participating libraries in Westminster:

Year of the Monkey

Happy New Year!

Charing Cross Library held a Chinese New Year celebration last Friday, 5 February. Over 130 people enjoyed fantastic magic shows, singing, dancing, networking and drinks. This year we worked together with Henan Associations, who brought us some interesting Henan local folk cultural elements.

Chris Lloyd, Community Development Manager, presented a welcome speech. The Chinese Embassy Minister Counsellor (Economic & Commercial) Jin Xu and counsellor Li Hui attended the party and kindly wished all our customers a Happy New Year. The longest-serving Premier Minister of St Kitts and Nevis Denzil Douglas also attended the celebration and gave warm wishes of good relationships among British, Caribbean countries and China.

This weekend the biggest celebrations of Chinese New Year outside Asia will take place in London: find out more.

Mussolini’s Folly in Charing Cross

The idea of learning about the hall which was once the headquarters of the Italian Fascist party obviously intrigued a lot of people, as nearly 100 came to the opening of the exhibition Mussolini’s Folly – Farce & tragedy in Little Italy at Charing Cross Library last week.

'Mussolini’s Folly – Farce & tragedy in Little Italy' exhibition at Charing Cross Library , November 2015

‘Mussolini’s Folly – Farce & tragedy in Little Italy’ exhibition at Charing Cross Library , November 2015

Alfio Bernabei, author, historian and journalist curated the exhibition and talked us through the relevance of the library building to the Italians from 1937-1940 – “an 11,000-square-foot Palace befitting the rightful pride of Italians of the Fascist Era“; and the rise of the Fascist movement and its importance in London.

Alfio Bernabeis with Italian Consul Giulia Romani, Charing Cross Library, November 2015Our other two speakers were the Italian Consul for London, Giulia Romani, who talked about the need for vigilance in present times, and Simone Rossi, the UK secretary of Anpi-London who spoke passionately about the National Association of Italian Partisans.

The exhibition runs until 14 December and there are images of the library as the former headquarters – with a statue of Julius Cesar; the special music evenings with the tenor Beniamino Gigli and a boys violin concert (Mussolini’s favourite instrument). It also includes fascinating images, reports and newspaper cuttings including one about Sylvia Pankhurst supporting the anti-fascist movement.

Photograph showing fascist motto 'Believe Obey Fight' above the balcony upon which it was once written - Charing Cross Library, November 2015

Photograph showing fascist motto ‘Believe Obey Fight’ above the balcony upon which it was once written – Charing Cross Library, November 2015

One of the fascist mottos, ‘Believe Obey Fight’ used to run around the balcony of the building– it might be nice to get a library motto up there – perhaps ‘Question Read Learn’? Any ideas?

Do come and see the exhibition, it is a great success and we hope to continue to build further links with our local Italian community.

“Really interesting”

“Great to hear about our local history, I had no idea about the background of the library”

“Perfect talk – interesting, at just the right level and not too long”

Continuing the theme of ‘Italians in London’, Alfio Bernabeis’ 1987 Channel 4 documentary Dangerous Characters was shown in the library this week, with Alfio present. It tells the story of how a thriving Italian community in London was led astray politically and ends with the tragedy of the sinking of the SS Arandora Star in 1940.

Alfio Bernabeis at Charing Cross Library, November 2015

Alfio Bernabeis at Charing Cross Library, November 2015

[Katrina]

Record Breaking Fun

Record Breakers 2015 Boo Hiccup event at Maida Vale LibrarySince our last update, over 2,000 children have joined this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, ‘Record Breakers’. Children borrow books from the library, come back and tell us a bit about them and receive stickers and rewards for their books. Have you joined in yet? There are still 3 weeks to go so lots of time to get reading!

Here is a round-up of some of this week’s Summer Reading Challenge events in our libraries:

We had the amazing ‘Boo Hiccup’ and his magical comedy show at Maida Vale library (above). He was great – the children and grown-ups had lots of fun!

Mask-making from the Wallace Collection at St John’s Wood library
Mask-making inspired by the mythical creatures from the Wallace Collection at St John’s Wood library (above).

Mayfair library had a visit from Debutots: here is Isobel in action telling her stories, and the children having fun with bubbles.

Isobel at debutots session telling her stories and the children having fun with bubbles
If you like dancing, you’d love the events by Diddidance – below, Kerry is doing a dance with children at Charing Cross library, complete with pom poms!

Diddidance: Kerry doing a dance with children at Charing Cross library

Back at Maida Vale library, there was the “Wacky Vehicle” event. Children were tasked with making a vehicle of some sort with a large collection of recyclable materials. It’s amazing what you can do with toilet rolls, Pringle boxes and old bottles! Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular vehicle proved to be the rocket: there appear to be a lot of budding record-breaking astronauts at Maida Vale. Here are some cosmic photos of the results (including a bus!)

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Check out the events yet to come to see what’s on at your local library!

Fab Times at Charing Cross and St John’s Wood

It was back to the 1960s at Charing Cross Library last Friday when we recalled the days of Beatlemania with Aaron Krerowicz, America’s only full-time professional Beatles scholar.

Books and music by and about the BeatlesUsing a mixture of slide show, music clips and audio interview extracts from the band, he described the Beatles career from start to break-up. He showed how they developed, both musically and lyrically, and demonstrated the influence of other musicians, notably Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan. Paul McCartney claimed:

“If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles”.

Aaron also described the innovations that the Beatles themselves pioneered, some of which could only be achieved on a studio recording..

It was considered a matter of personal preference which was the best of the Beatles albums, although it was generally agreed that Abbey Road had the best contributions from the pen of George Harrison.

The enduring appeal of the Beatles is undoubted – only next door the Garrick Theatre has been staging Let it Be, a tribute to the Beatles, while earlier this week the Metro had a feature about a Soho restaurant that was displaying a collection of previously unseen photos of the band on tour in the USA.

The audience, some 40-50 strong, were predominantly (like myself) people who had lived through the Beatles era. Many were quite knowledgeable about the group themselves and Aaron gained some new facts himself during the Q & A session. The discussion could probably have gone on for several hours, but sadly we had to draw matters to a close and prepare the library for opening the following day, with a reminder to the audience that, if they wanted more, Aaron would be giving another different talk at St. John’s Wood Library the next day, before returning to the States.

A ‘fab’ time was had by all:

‘Great informed presentation, fantastic’

‘Lively and well documented presentation’

‘Wonderful music lesson!’

[Malcolm]

St John’s Wood Library also enjoyed welcoming Aaron Krerowicz on Saturday 18 July for his presentation ‘The Beatles’ Alter Ego, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

Aaron Krerowicz at St john's Wood Library, July 2015

As St John’s Wood Library is a stone’s throw away from Abbey Road, it was a delight to have such an expert here to tell us about the production, collaboration and inspiration behind the iconic album.

Aaron Krerowicz’s books will shortly be available to borrow from St John’s Wood Library.

[Amy]