Category Archives: Online

“The new world: true terror-ridden peace”

This headline from Dorothy Thompson’s article in The Observer of 12 August 1945 (log in with your library card number for access) was, I felt, very apt for what had just occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – not only for Japan but in a wider context. This week 70 years ago marked the end of one era of warfare and the beginning of a new, possibly more frightening time.

Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) - images courtesy of Wikipedia

Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) – images courtesy of Wikipedia

Were the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, destroying them completely in seconds, a ‘necessary evil’ to bring a war that had cost millions of lives to an end? Or were they one of many horrific crimes committed during the course of that war? Worse; something which could be used again?

As the newspaper pointed out, the bombs were not easy to create. Perhaps we were safe? But when some of the most powerful members of the Allies’ camp so firmly disapproved of each other, could there be the chance of another war on the way soon after? And with weapons like this just what could that mean?

Hiroshima aftermath - image courtesy of Wikipedia

Hiroshima aftermath – image courtesy of Wikipedia

Did the headline get it completely right? Read this story and many more through the days, months and years that were to come as the world learnt more about what had happened in the Second World War and began living with the underlying fear of the Cold War. Access to several online historical newspaper archives is a fascinating way to view history through the eyes of people actually there at the time. Westminster subscribes to several including the Times Digital Archive, the Guardian and Observer, the Mirror (see UK Press Online) and many more: Newspaper archives.


Oxford Language Dictionaries

Oxford Dictionaries

Oxford Language Dictionaries was always a useful resource. It was able to translate words from a variety of different languages into another variety of different languages. Recently this resource has been combined with other Oxford University Press online dictionaries to form Oxford Dictionaries online. You can now access the following all in one place:

  • Translating, grammar and pronunciation tools for English, German, Chinese, French, Spanish, Russian and Italian.
  • The ability to search for phrases/proverbs – and translate your phrases so you can find their foreign language equivalents (or vice versa)
  • Find rhyming words – great if you want to write a poem or tell a silly joke!

Many of the old favourites have remained in the new format including being able to listen to words pronounced correctly. Perhaps the best advantage of the new system is the ability to use it on your smartphone.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Have a go yourself:

A couple of notes before getting started:

  • If you’re used to the old version, the new format may take some getting used to. Don’t give up. It really is very good!
  • TIP! When on your phone, choose the three lines in your top-right corner to show a menu with all the languages you can access. On a computer you will have more options but this position for the language menu is still important.
  • When logging in from your phone you may need to scroll down quite a way to find the library card number box (no need for a username and password, just the card number).
  • TIP! Clicking on the logo will take you back to the main home page if you’re feeling a bit lost!


Yes? Or No?

1975 referendum paper

We don’t yet know exactly when the referendum on whether the Britain should remain in the EU will be, or indeed what question we will actually be asked, but I’m guessing it will be pretty similar to the one asked on this day in 1975  when the British electorate voted in the first all-UK referendum.

Back then, of course, the EU (or Common Market as it was usually called) was a very different beast. It only had nine members (remember those 50p pieces with the nine hands, one of them slightly smaller to represent the Queen?) and Britain had only joined two years earlier (twelve years after it applied). The tenth member – Greece – didn’t join until 1981,  and the single market was seventeen years away.

The result of the 1975 referendum was pretty overwhelming – 67.2% of the electorate was in favour of staying in the Common Market (the only regions against were the Shetland Islands and Western Isles). The Yes campaign was supported by the most of the  press, including the Daily Express which reminded its readers of VE Day, only thirty years before:

“The lesson of that war, as of the previous one, was the impossibility of opting out of events across the Channel”

while the Daily Mirror’s front page simply urged the public to

‘Vote Yes for Europe’.

The Times suggested that

‘If there has been any disappointment in the referendum debate, it is that it has concentrated too much on what Europe can do for us and too little on what we can do for Europe’

while the Guardian asked

‘Do we want to go into the twenty first century as a small and separate nation or as part of a greater Western Europe?’

I think we can be fairly confident that there won’t be such unanimity next time.

You can find out what the press said about the 1975 referendum by checking out our online newspaper resources. And for hardcore politics geeks, the government’s Yes campaign manifesto is available online.

There have been plenty of other referendums in the UK, though only two in which Londoners could vote [for those shaking their heads and muttering “referenda”, here’s The Telegraph on the subject]. In 1998 we were asked whether we wanted an elected assembly and a mayor (34% of us voted and of those 72% said yes) and in 2011 the whole country was asked if we wanted to change to electoral system to something called Alternative Vote. The turn-out was only 42% and the answer was an overwhelming ‘No’, though cynics suggested that was because nobody understood the question!

The dream shall never die, by Alex SalmondOf course, the referendum that comes to mind most readily both for its high turnout and broad-ranging impact in very recent times happened only a few months ago and not so very far from home. You can read more about it in Alex Salmond’s The dream shall never die, or for a wider range of views take a look at our newspaper archives.

And if you’re struggling to work up enthusiasm for the prospect, be grateful you don’t live in Switzerland where they had no fewer than 12 referendums just last year.


Mother of parliaments

It may have escaped the attention of the less eagle-eyed of you, but there’s just been a General Election. While plenty of constituencies  did change hands, Westminster residents seemed pretty happy with their MPs  (Mark Field  and Karen Buck), both of whom increased their majorities.

If you aren’t sure who your MP is, go to Write to Them for a list of all your representatives including Councillors, London Assembly members and MEPs and even Parish Councillors if you happen to live in Ambridge

Currently Parliament is in the period known as prorogation, which is the name given to the period between the end of a session of Parliament and the State Opening of Parliament that begins the next session. Usually there are only a few days between the two events but the current session of parliament was ‘prorogued’ on 26 March to give time for the election.

The next event in the life of parliament is the State Opening, this Wednesday 27 May. Even if you’re not politically-minded, it’s a splendid piece of pageantry involving the official known as Black Rod having the door to the House of Commons shut in his face to symbolise MPs’ independence. Well, maybe it’s weird rather than splendid but it’s a bit of light relief before the serious business of the Queen’s Speech.

Preparing for State Opening: checking the cellars  The Yeomen of the Guard pick up their lamps in preparation for checking the cellars of the Palace of Westminster, a tradition carried out before every State Opening of Parliament since the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot.

You can find films of the Queen setting off the open Parliament as far back as 1952 on the British Pathe newreel site. In fact, she’s only missed two years – 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward respectively.

Queen Victoria at the opening of Parliament, 1866

The State Opening was originally designed to give the monarch a chance for a roll-call of the lords and other representatives and the ceremony has existed since at least the 14th century. Not all monarchs have been as assiduous in attending as the present Queen, with Queen Victoria bothering to show up only 7 times between 1865 and 1901. Those interested in such things can check back through the Times Digital Archive. The language used in the past was somewhat different and I doubt that will be hearing this sort thing this year:

“The difference which exists in several important particulars between the commercial laws of Scotland and those of other parts of the United Kingdom  has occasioned inconvenience to a large portion of my subjects engaged in trade. Measures will be proposed to you for  remedying this evil”
Feb 1st 1856

For more parliamentary matters, check out the Government section of the Westminster Libraries Gateway to websites. You’ll find links to Hansard which records parliamentary debates, and while I wouldn’t recommend it as bedtime reading (though it would be a good soporific), there are occasional gems to be found. In 1993, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Michael Portillo described Harriet Harman’s appointment as his Shadow as “like appointing Joan Collins to buy costumes for an impoverished amateur dramatic club” while veteran Labout MP Dennis Skinner is famous for his humorous injections during the State opening itself.

And if all this has whetted your appetite for more parliamentary ceremonial, you will be able to watch the whole event on BBC Parliament. It may even inspire you to arrange a visit to the House of Commons, or even get involved in politics yourself.


We have some Issues, Online

Skin Deep: debating body image - Issues seriesInformation overload may be a fact of life when the simplest of internet searches produce several million – often unreliable – results. Combined with the fact that most issues are complex, it is not surprising that people become overwhelmed.

Help is at hand for Westminster Libraries members who can access the brilliant resource ISSUES Online from home or consult printed versions of the series which are held in the Marylebone Library reference collection.

The Issues series includes publications which look into a wide variety of social issues which affect the modern world. While being absolutely ideal for school projects, anyone of any age who is trying to get a grasp of the subject matter covered should take a look at these slim and accessible volumes.

War and Conflict - Issues series Equality and Gender Roles - Issues series Citizenship in the UK - Issues series

As well as being able to browse through the resource to find the item you are interested in, you can also perform a keyword search. Furthermore, as you are reading you will find links to useful organisations, complete assignments to increase your understanding of a particular subject, and a glossary to help clarify what particular terms mean.

To sum up why this is an invaluable resource:

  • Save time
    Why spend hours trawling the web when ISSUES Online provides articles, statistics, videos, e-books and links, right at your fingertips?
  • Critical thinking
    The articles and statistics you’ll find on ISSUES Online are from a variety of different sources: newspapers, charity groups, Government reports, blogs, magazines, etc. This wide range can help you to be aware of the origin of the text you’re reading, and think about why someone might have written it. Is an opinion being expressed? Do you agree with the writer? Is there potential bias to the ‘facts’ or statistics offered?
  • Further Research
    At the end of each article you will find its source, and a web address that you can visit to carry out further research.

Social Media - Issues seriesIntrigued?
PSHE homework assignment looming?
Use your library card number to log in to ISSUES Online free, right now, or pop into Marylebone Library and browse.


Three minutes, forty six point three two seconds

Westminster Mile 2014Thirty years ago, in July 1985, a world record was broken when Steve Cram ran a mile in 3 minutes, 46.32 seconds. Since 1913 when the International Association of Athletics Federations first recognised the men’s world mile record, it has been held by no fewer than six Britons including Roger Bannister, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, but Steve Cram is the last… so far. Read about his memories of setting the record, which held for eight years before being smashed by Noureddine Morceli. The current holder is the Moroccan Hicham El Guerrou.

Many of us will have had New Year’s resolutions to get fit but if, like most of us, you’ve gone back to the sofa, here’s your chance to try again. It’s not too late to enter the Bupa Westminster Mile which takes place on Sunday 24 May. The one-mile running event is the most famous mile in the world, starting on The Mall and finishing outside Buckingham Palace plus free entertainment and activities in Green Park throughout the day. You have plenty of time to train – don’t worry, you won’t be expected to do it in under four minutes! There is also a women-only race as part of This Girl Can, Sport England’s nationwide campaign to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability.

Westminster Libraries have plenty of books to help you – for example Running by Owen Barder and Running: the only book you’ll ever need by Art Liberman. Check out too the popular Couch to 5K programme, which aims to get even the least fit of us running 3 miles in only a few weeks. Best of all, running doesn’t have to cost much – as long as you have a comfortable pair of trainers, you don’t need to buy any special kit. Why not just get out there and give it a go?

Running by Owen Barder   Running, by Art Liberman   What I talk about when I talk about running, by Haruki Murakami   Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

Have a look too at our collection of online magazineswhich includes Health and Fitness and Men’s Fitness. Or for a more philosophical approach, Haruki Murukami’s What I Talk About When I Talk about Running aims to explain his passion for marathons, triathlons and all things athletic while Adharanand Finn wrote a fascinating account of his attempt to find out the secrets of the Kenyan domination of middle and long distance running in Running with the Kenyans (SPOILER: they work really, really hard).

There may not be a British mile-record holder any more, but Paula Radcliffe’s   world marathon record (2:17:18) has stood since 2002 when she set it at the Chicago marathon. In fact Paula has set the three fastest times in history – the fourth place goes to Kenyan Mary Keitany who is more than three minutes slower (about a kilometre in marathon running) than her. Paula will be competing in this year’s Virgin London Marathon this weekend, running it for possibly the last time, along with approximately 40,000 other runners including some of the best in the world. It’s always a great sight – check out where you can get the best view to cheer on friends, relatives or just random strangers.

The BUPA Westminster MileAnd if it inspires you to enter the Westminster Mile, all the better!


Your Library – Anywhere

With the Easter holidays just around the corner, we thought now might be a good time to remind you about the handy ‘Library Anywhere’ mobile app. With Library Anywhere, you can easily search for, renew and reserve items on the go. You can also scan a book barcode anywhere – for instance in shops, at friends’ houses – and immediately find out whether the book is in stock at your local  library.

Library Anywhere logo

Library Anywhere – free from the App Store and Google Play – gives you access to your account information, the library catalogue and opening times, and much more.

iPhone and Android users

  • Download the ‘Library Anywhere’ app free from the App Store or Google Play.
  • iPhone users also have the option to download the ‘WCCLibraries’ app free from the App Store.

Blackberry and other smartphone users

  • You can also use the app interface in a ‘universal version’ by going to The Barcode Scan feature is not available in this version.