Category Archives: Marylebone 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 When new books were added or old books withdrawn the cards had to be manually filed or removed.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:

A Blue Plaque for a Marylebone Punk Rocker

Marylebone is not lacking in blue plaques recording the former residences of the great – and not-so-great – local residents. Several examples have been the subject of previous blog posts. The official plaques were erected formally first by the London County Council / Greater London Council and are currently administered by English Heritage.

Blue plaque for Joe Strummer

English Heritage’s selection criteria include a minimum time frame of 22 years between the subject’s death and an erection of a commemorative plaque. December 2016 saw an unofficial blue plaque erected to Joe Strummer of influential punk band The Clash. Strummer died in 2002 and thus fails the formal selection criteria. Nonetheless, a ceremony was held at the Seymour Housing Co-op building (33 Daventry Street NW1, between Lisson Grove and Edgware Road). In nearby Bell Street, Malcolm McLaren and two of the Sex Pistols were also residents in this period. This is the second public commemoration to Joe Strummer in the area. The pedestrian subway linking the two halves of Edgware Road, bisected by Harrow Road, is named the Joe Strummer Subway. Fittingly above this junction and subway soars the elevated Westway, an major inspiration for the band.

Joe Strummer's entry in the ODNBJoe Strummer has also made it into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card). Other resources one can use for research into his life and the band’s significance in music history are the several newspaper and magazine archives which can also be accessed free online with a Westminster Libraries membership. Those readers who were around in the late 1970s will remember the moral panic that bands such as The Clash and the Sex Pistols generated and this is reflected in many newspaper articles. I found an interesting slant upon the punk rock phenomenon in an Economist article entitled More money than music in nihilism, (June 11, 1977, page 22).

Away from these contemporary reports Westminster Libraries hold a number of books relating to The Clash and the punk rock phenomenon:

Punk rock so what?by Roger SabinRedemption song: the definitive biography of Joe Strummer by Chris SalewiczJoe Strummer and the legend of the Clash by Kris Needs

[Francis]

Today we say goodbye

Today I write to remember and celebrate a treasured Westminster Libraries colleague, David Oldman, who died earlier this year while walking in southern Spain.

David Oldman

Customers at Marylebone Library will doubtless have their own memories of David, and many of you wrote in the Book of Condolence that has been held there. Users of Westminster Reference Library, especially the former customers of IfB (Information for Business), will remember David’s expert information seeking as well as his incisive sense of humour. Many others across the whole City of Westminster will have met him during his tireless sharing of skills and promotion of the library service on the 24/7 Library Roadshow, his Adventures on the Internet IT training sessions, as well as the exhibitions and talks he gave on the subjects of photography and his beloved walks. His enthusiastic stints on library stalls at various community events were symbolic of his constant championing of the customer point of view. And of course David wrote and illustrated many funny and erudite posts here on Books & the City (click to read them all), setting the tone for the blog in its early days (as well as providing the header image and our social media avatars) and always managing to spark an interest in what were often – on the surface at least – quite dry topics.

But it is as a colleague and friend that we remember him today. Many of us are attending his funeral and still others will be there in spirit. We have written, shared pictures and anecdotes and held his family in our thoughts. One staff member wrote:

“He was a colourful, playful one-of-a-kind maverick whose joie de vivre and sardonic turn of phrase could always be relied upon to call a spade a spade…  We feel his absence now especially in these times of change.”

Goodbye, David, and thanks. You are missed beyond words.

David Oldman

[Ali]

Westminster Music Library – a fresher approach

Despite September’s impressive attempts to imitate our August heat wave, summer is finally over. Autumn has rolled in and schools and universities have resumed business as usual.

Autumn from the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, at Westminster Music LibraryHere at Westminster Music Library, however, we do not resent the end of summer. The beginning of the school year brings with it thousands of students, and many of them musicians. Did you know that there are five specialist music conservatoires in London alone? Even conservatively estimating an intake of 100 per college per year, that’s 500 new music students in the Greater London area each year – all of whom could benefit from our wonderful collection at Westminster Music Library.

We are proud to have one of the finest public music collections in the country, and are keen to share it with as many musicians as possible. But how does one reach all of these newly-settled musicians? This is where we are immensely thankful for Freshers’ Fairs. Conservatoires’ Student Unions do a fantastic job arranging these each year for new students to discover what services they could benefit from during their time in London. I was fortunate enough to get to two of these Fairs this year, and meet hundreds of students in the process.

View from the Westminster Music Library stall at the Royal Academy of Music’s Freshers' Fair 2016

I first attended Royal Academy of Music’s Fair, in their very grand concert hall. Over an intense two hours, students flooded in. The amount of foot traffic was amazing and our stall was always surrounded. Fortunately, I was sharing a table with my colleague Barry, who was representing RAM’s local public library, Marylebone Library and Information Service. Between us we were able to keep up with the interest in our stall! A large number of students signed up for memberships after learning about our wide selection of stock and generous loan allowances. Being music students, many were particularly interested in our rehearsal space with piano. Here I also met our friends from Barbican Music Library, with whom I would be sharing a table at our next Fair. By the end of the Fair Barry and I were exhausted but satisfied with the interest shown.

Barry from Marylebone Library at the Royal Academy of Music’s Freshers' Fair 2016

After a few days I was out on the road again, carrying with me our same sheet music samples, fliers, membership forms, and, most importantly, free chocolates to entice hungry students. I was slightly concerned that my poor little folding bicycle would collapse under the strain on the way to Guildhall School of Music and Drama! Guildhall’s Fair was in their downstairs Theatre, a huge underground space. The size of the space allowed many more stallholders to be present, and I particularly enjoyed seeing my friends from Paxman Musical Instruments Ltd., who sold me my own instrument many years ago. Other stallholders ranged from the local police force to the Royal British Legion, and even a stall selling second-hand bicycles to new students. (Fortunately my bike had survived the journey and I didn’t need to replace it!). The Guildhall Fair was spread over five hours, and the stream of students was thinned out compared to RAM’s. Over the afternoon I was able to engage many interested musicians in conversations about their musical needs and how we can help them at the Library. Once again we had a great success, handing out many shiny new membership cards. Jacky, representing Barbican Music Library, was a wonderful table partner. The students could hardly believe it when they discovered that there were two specialist music libraries in London!

 Jacky from Barbican Music Library at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Freshers' Fair 2016

We are thankful to these two conservatoires for hosting us, and look forward to meeting more students in years to come.

If you’re a student new to London, whether or not we visited your institution we’d love to see you – come in and find out what we have to offer!

[Jon]

The digital revolution in our lives

ICT training in Westminster LibrariesWhile helping to plan the forthcoming ‘Computers in the Fall’ IT training for beginners, I began to think about the huge changes the digital revolution has brought about. A great place to start when looking into this topic is Issues Online. We’ve written about this great series before on Books & the City and I went straight to check recent additions to its contents. This can be done by going to Issues Online (log in with your library card number) and selecting a topic: in this case, The Internet. Among recent additions to this resource were surveys and statistics of digital usage.

The first link I checked was a snapshot of key digital statistics (January 2016) which revealed that from a total UK population of 64.91 million there are 59.47 million active internet users. Social media and mobile phone/tablet/pad active accounts statistics were also compiled. ‘Active accounts’ recognises the fact that many people have more than one device and use several social media platforms and therefore does not refer to individuals. The survey found 33 million active mobile phone users and 38 million active social media users.

These figures whilst impressive do not provide much detail. Some idea of how people use the internet can be found in a second survey from YouGov which asked the question ‘Which is the most important consumer invention?’

Issues Online - The Internet of Things Not surprisingly, examples from the digital revolution ranked highly. In first place at 55% was the invention of the smartphone (62% of 18-24 year olds put smartphones first). Age differences are reflected in the methods of digital communication that appear in the survey results. For instance, there was a large age discrepancy in the ranking of Facebook in the survey. It was ranked second by the under 40s but only fifth for older people surveyed. Older people were more likely to use Skype as a means of communication.

If you feel that you are being left behind in the digital revolution, there is hope. Take a look at the topics we’re covering in the ‘Computers in the Fall’ training at Marylebone Library – from mouse skills for beginners to how to shop safely online. Choose your topic or topics and just turn up – there is no need to book in advance.

[Francis]

The Big Friendly Read

To celebrate 100 years of one of the world’s favourite storytellers, Roald Dahl, libraries are running The Big Friendly Read this summer holidays.

Rachel from Tiny Tunes entertaining the under fives at Marylebone libraryThe Summer Reading Challenge 2016 will feature some of Roald Dahl’s best-loved characters and the amazing artwork of his principal illustrator, Sir Quentin Blake. It will encourage reading on a BFG scale!
Aimed at primary school aged children, the Big Friendly Read is happening at libraries across Westminster all summer.

To take part in the Challenge, all children need to do is sign up at their nearest library. It’s free! They’ll receive a special collector’s folder and as they borrow and read at least six library books over the summer, they can collect six special cards to complete it. The cards all feature original Quentin Blake illustrations and explore some of most popular themes in Roald Dahl’s books such as invention, mischief and friendship. Plus there are other rewards to collect along the way.


Big Friendly Read - the Summer Reading Challenge 2016


There’s a whole programme of events and activities planned in Westminster libraries for families over the summer to celebrate the Summer Reading Challenge. Have a look at what’s on at your local library.

Here are a few pictures of what’s been going on this week:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[Rachel]

Unexpected garden discovery in Marylebone

On a recent lunchtime wander around the neighbourhood, I was astonished to see this example of guerrilla gardening in the heart of Marylebone’s Harley Street medical district.

'Guerilla gardening' in Marylebone  'Guerilla gardening' in Marylebone

For those not familiar with the term, ‘guerrilla gardening’ describes the unofficial planting of seeds and plants to improve the urban environment. Typical sites include neglected planters and flower beds beside housing estates and other buildings, abandoned wasteland sites and bulb planting on grassed road verges and roundabouts.  So in an area which is generously planted with street trees and displays of bedding plants, it is surprising to find this example of a much wilder and frankly ‘untidy’ gardening.

On guerilla gardening by Richard ReynoldsFor the background to this movement and to see examples of guerrilla gardening, take a look at the following guide written by one of the London pioneers of this movement:
On guerrilla gardening: a handbook for gardening without boundaries
– Richard Reynolds

'Guerilla gardening' in MaryleboneAs the Weymouth Street example proves, one does not need a large ‘canvas’ to create a guerrilla garden. The sunflower and tomato plants have been planted around a tree in a space only 1m x 0.5m. Frankly I am astonished that they are flourishing in such an inhospitable situation! Rather embarrassingly, the exuberant tomato plant puts my own plants to shame. Apart from the hostile growing conditions next to the road, I am surprised this planting has survived the attention of human hands, whether by vandalism or ‘tidying’.

Nearby in Fulham, residents of Fabian Road are actively planting up the bare soil around pavement trees with the backing of the council, whose website currently features this short YouTube video of interviews with the gardeners:

Meanwhile, searching the library catalogue for ‘guerilla gardening’ unexpectedly turned up a novel: Guerrillas in our midst, by Claire Peate.

If unofficial gardening to brighten up the urban landscape doesn’t appeal, why not individually plant up window boxes, pots etc. or join together with neighbours in a community project? The Royal Horticultural Society has initiated the Greening Grey Britain campaign, one of several RHS campaigns which includes the Britain in Bloom and the School Gardening initiatives set up to improve the urban environment. The RHS website  gives advice and support; you can also search for volunteering opportunities. Remember that your library service stocks a number of books relating to urban and container gardening. The following titles are three examples which can be borrowed to assist you greening the urban landscape with ornamental and edible plants.

Growing up the wall by Sue Fisher Container gardening by Andrew Mikolajski The urban gardener by Matt James

One local initiative is found at Westminster’s Church Street Library , the site of a flourishing community garden. Information about and images of this project can be found in the recent post: A green oasis and a lot of fun.

[Francis]