Category Archives: Online

Hold the front page

Edwin Evans, painted by Princess Mary Eristoff in 1916One of Westminster Music Library’s lesser-known – but, in my opinion, most fascinating – collections is the vast archive of newspaper cuttings which occupies an entire wall of the library’s basement store.

The collection is the handiwork of music critic Edwin Evans, and, alongside his many thousands of music scores and books, it formed the basis of Westminster Music Library (or, as it was then known, Central Music Library) shortly after his death in 1945.

While we refer to the collection as our “newspaper cuttings”, the archive in fact contains much more, and it is no small task to attempt to describe the contents of these hundreds of boxes. There are weighty concert programmes, and beautifully-designed promotional posters advertising many a long-forgotten soloist’s recital at one of London’s finest venues: Wigmore Hall, perhaps, or Cadogan Hall.

There are also, of course, the newspaper cuttings, gathered primarily between the years of 1920 and 1940, and these certainly do make up the bulk of the collection. We have cuttings from the ‘household names’ of the British press, such as the Times, Guardian and Daily Mail, alongside international publications like the New York Times. Regional papers, too, are represented, with the Sheffield Telegraph and Glasgow Herald making not infrequent appearances. It was common practice then for even these local papers to send journalists down to London for all the major events in the music world, for the benefit of their readership who presumably needed to know if it was worth their time and money making the trip to see Covent Garden’s newest production. Finally, we have thousands of cuttings from newspapers which have sadly not survived into the 21st century. The Pall Mall Gazette (an ancestor of today’s Evening Standard), Morning Post and Daily Chronicle will be unfamiliar to many, but are preserved in great quantity in our newspaper cuttings collection.

Sample from Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collection

The articles saved from these newspapers vary in subject, but can be broadly divided into: Concert reviews, Concert announcements, Book reviews, Academic writings, and Obituaries. There are many exceptions to this rule, however, and the only real way to get a sense of what’s contained is to spend an hour or two rummaging. The time is well spent, though: one marvels at the care taken by one man to collect and then individually ‘process’ these thousands of items. Each cutting would be mounted on a piece of blotting paper, with the provenance (the name of the paper and the date of publication) lightly pencilled above, and only then would it be filed away under its relevant category.

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collection

Mr Evans’ filing system was a simple one (he was an avid collector, but never a librarian!), but is generally fit for purpose. The vast majority of folders simply have a name written on them, and the folder will contain all the relevant cuttings for that person. For most enquiries, this is perfectly adequate: someone wishing to research Puccini’s Madame Butterfly could simply turn to the ‘Puccini’ folder and begin browsing. The difficulty lies in more specific enquiries. A researcher wanting to read press opinions on the Royal Opera House’s 1922 production of Madame Butterfly would draw a blank hunting through the ‘Puccini’ folder; likewise, ‘Royal Opera House’ would yield no results. Only with the knowledge that a Miss Maggie Teyte sang the title role in this production would the researcher find what they were looking for. Turn to the ‘Maggie Teyte’ folder, and there are no fewer than seven independent reviews of the opening night of this particular production.

Difficulties in locating relevant material in part contribute to our desire to digitise the entire collection. Our vision is for a fully searchable online archive, whereby users could locate relevant cuttings by simply searching for key words; so, in the example above, not only would ‘Maggie Teyte’ bring up the required information, but so would ‘Puccini’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Royal Opera House’, ‘Covent Garden’… and the list goes on! The advantages of this system are endless, and it is our hope that a digitised collection will allow much easier access to our incredibly valuable archive of information. The collection is staggering in size and detail, and to make it more easily searchable and accessible to users would be an achievement of endless potential for researchers and musicians.

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collection

The ambitiousness of this project must not be underestimated. We cannot tell exactly how many items are contained in this collection, but a simple calculation would suggest:

95 boxes of approximately 460 items each = roughly 43,700 items

The sheer size of this collection is staggering, especially given that this represents only twenty years of press. Evans ceased collecting around 1940, and my theory is that the outbreak of World War II and its subsequent paper rationing had much to do with his decision to stop. Not only did the volume of papers being published fall dramatically, but hoarding of paper would not have been viewed favourably in light of the war effort. The prospect of how large this collection would be had it been continued after the War is tantalising, but it was not to be – Evans died in 1945, just two months short of VE Day.

We are in very early stages of the digitising process, and my task for the next few months is that of data gathering. To be sure that our collection has sufficiently relevant and interesting cuttings, I have been compiling a list of every “subject” – that is, every folder title which Edwin Evans used to store cuttings referring to the same person. These folders contain a minimum of one cutting each (my all-time favourite horn player, Aubrey Brain, has just one cutting in his folder), although most contain around ten, and some, like the folder for ‘the Bach Choir’, contain upwards of a hundred individual items. With these subjects I have also been recording basic pieces of information: whether the subject is a Performer, Composer, or ‘Other’ (these can be anything from festivals to librettists); the subject’s gender; if a Performer, the subject’s instrument; and, significantly, if the subject has their own entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

There is a long way to go in this data gathering process, but readers may perhaps be interested in some statistics gathered so far:

  • A significant majority (66%) of subjects are Performers. Of these Performers,
  • 34% are singers
  • 31% are pianists
  • 19% are string players
  • 8% are conductors
  • 6% are ensembles
  • Just 5% are wind players of any sort!
  • Composers represent 29% of subjects, while “Others” come in at just 5%.
  • 62% of all entries are Male, 31% Female (the remaining 7% accounts for non-individuals such as ensembles and festivals)
  • 40% of all subjects are featured in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collectionTo a researcher in music, this last point is an exciting prospect. It indicates that 60% of the subjects included in our collection are in all likelihood under-represented in terms of source material for research. Greater accessibility of our cuttings through digitising would therefore be a massive, and certainly unique, contribution to the further study of these individuals.

Our project is in its very early stages, but we are excited to be investigating this fascinating resource. All our press cuttings are available for reference to our library customers, so don’t wait until they’re available digitally – please visit Westminster Music Library and we’ll be happy to give you access to this amazing collection.


Into the next millennium

Books & the City - 1000th post

We can scarce believe it, but this is the 1000th post on Books & the City! The original aim was to shed light on ‘the life of the Libraries & Archives service, what’s happening, occasionally a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes. And a certain amount of random library-ness too’, in (we thought) one or two posts a week… This would have meant post number 1000 would have taken between ten and twenty years to arrive. The aim remains the same, but of course there has been a LOT more to write about than we foresaw, and it’s taken just 5 years and 3 months to get to this point.

Door(s) to the Marylebone Information Service reserve stackSo to celebrate, we thought we’d look back at some of the most popular, interesting or strange posts since 1 July 2010.

There have been posts about books, and posts about history. Posts about national projects and individual experiences. We’ve helped you use online resources and save money, we’ve introduced new services, reviewed hundreds of events from author visits to concerts and shown you some of the hidden places in our libraries.

What do the statistics tell us about what you want to see? You like a chance to get involved (Little Big Stories (A Mail Art Call)), you lap up pictures of works in progress (The rebirth of Maida Vale Library), and you love the idea of getting married in a library (Wedding ceremonies at Mayfair library).

Testing the technology and finding homes for the books, not very long before reopening... eek!The Marylebone Room - One of the two beautiful marriage & civil partnership rooms at Mayfair LibraryA piece in the 'Little Big Stories' mail art exhibition at Pimlico Library.

But most of all you want to read about the history of the wonderful City of Westminster, whether it’s in the form of a post from the Archives Centre (most popular subjects: Charles Dickens, swimming baths, Nathaniel Bryceson), a re-enactment to mark an event (Marylebone Library in the Park) or an exploration of a minute detail of library architecture (An ‘uplifting’ relic of Charing Cross past).

Hungerford Stairs, near the site of a blacking factory where Dickens worked as a boy. Image property of Westminster City Archives.Marylebone Library in the Park 2015 - Francis, Anabel, SabinaRelic of the London Hydraulic Power Company, to be found in Charing Cross Library

Posts about children’s activities are always popular too, and while they barely scratch the surface of the huge number of events that go on every week (especially during the Summer Reading Challenges), these stories do fulfil the stated aim of shedding light on ‘what’s happening in libraries’. Pictures of Lego rockets, vast papier maché penguins and duffle-coat clad dignitaries are among many that have caught the imagination.

Lego rocket and enthusiasts at Maida Vale LibraryPapier Mache Penguin in progress - St John's Wood Library, February 2013Paddington Bear visits Paddington Library, November 2014. Photos courtesy of Gavin Conlon Photography Ltd.

And what of this editor’s favourites? Well, being able to boast not one but TWO posts entitled, quite legitimately, ‘Polar Bear in the Library‘ has always pleased me, and I confess to a puerile giggle at having the chance to publish a post with the heading ‘Explosive bowels‘. But my favourite post of all was the one that seemed to say all that needed to be said about the modern public library service, the pride and ownership you the customers feel and how very wrong people can be about libraries (but also how gracious they can be in admitting their mistakes): ‘Frankly, my dear, we *do* give a …‘.

Frank Skinner at Church Street Library

We look forward to the next thousand posts and hope you’ll join us for the journey. Now, shall we watch some fireworks?

Making the most of the ODNB

Oxford dictionary of National BiographyWarning! Searching the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) can be addictive. As the saying goes,“all human life is here”.

Most people use this dictionary to search for a specific individual. However you may not be aware that using the advanced search options selecting other search criteria will create lists of names of the great and the good and also, it must be said, the not-so-good. It is this searching capability that makes the online version so much more powerful than the paper volumes.

To use the advanced search facility, click on one of the “More Search Options” displayed beneath the main search box.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Curiosity led me to check how many people with Westminster borough connections are listed. The answer is currently 3980. However this figure is misleading as a casual check of a few entries revealed than the connection was often limited either to their unfortunate death in one of the borough’s hospitals, attendance at one of the borough’s schools or the fact they were politicians so had the obvious Westminster connection.

I reduced this huge number of entries firstly by selecting Marylebone for the location and further whittling down the number of entries by selecting the “Law and Crime” category. Amongst the list of lawyers and judges I found Henry Fauntleroy, a banker employed in the bank Marsh, Sibbald & Co. of Berners Street, Marylebone, He began a criminal career by fraudulently appropriating trust moneys and securities deposited by customers in the Berners Street bank and by forging powers of attorney, he was able to sell consols, annuities, navy loans and other government stock to support the credit of the bank and personal gain. The fraud totalling £36,000 was discovered in 1824, the current value equivalent of £36 million. Despite appeals, Henry Fauntleroy was publicly hanged in front of an estimated crowd of 100,000 outside Newgate Gaol.

You may wonder why he is included. The DNB does not only include the great and the good. To quote the website “the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century”. Henry Fauntleroy’s significance in British history is that his fraud led to major banking reforms with the passing of the 1826 Banking Act.

Finally it is also worth investigating the ‘Themes’ tab to display the large number of collective biographies brought together under such topics as climbers of Everest, British monarchs, First World War poets and significant military and political leaders involved in that conflict. Other lists include founder members of institutions and significant groups in British history.


(For other examples of how to dig deep into the resources of the ODNB, see this post from 2012.)

Guide to whoville*

Who's Who 2015What links Carlos Acosta, Gillian Anderson, Damon Albarn and Bianca Jagger?

The answer unfortunately is not that they have all been seen popping into Marylebone Library on the way to dine at the Chiltern Firehouse. In fact they are four of the 869 new entries to be found in the 2015 edition of Who’s Who, having been selected and invited by the publishers to compile their entry for the directory.

Who’s Who can be consulted in the familiar red printed volumes at Westminster Reference Library or Marylebone Information Service. Alternatively make use of your library membership to access it from the 24/7 Library: Who’s Who

This online resource incorporates the entries from Who Was Who to produce a biographical record of over 133,000 individuals starting from the 1897 edition. The Who Was Who entry is simply taken from the individual’s last Who’s Who entry.

Individuals are not confined to residents within the British Isles. Heads of states are included and it was rather a shock to discover the Adolf Hitler entry which included his Bavarian and Berlin addresses should you have wished to send him a letter in 1940.

Unlike the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the entries are purely factual… or more accurately facts that the individual concerned has supplied, such as education, honours, memberships, publications details, hobbies etc. The last category I suspect are sometimes fanciful joke entries.
With the onus upon the individual to supply details there is nothing to stop them from omitting specific details such as the name of their first spouse or perhaps the embarrassing fact that at some point in their life they had served a prison sentence, naming no names Mr Fry. Not surprisingly, Sir Anthony Blunt, the former Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and Soviet agent did not include that in his CV. His entry and that of the vanished Lord Lucan must be rare examples in which the editors have amended the entries. In the case of Blunt there is reference of his knighthood being cancelled and annulled following his exposure as a Russian spy.

Despite this caveat, Who’s Who is a useful resource to check up on details of a person’s life and achievements. In addition, should you wish to contact an individual the entry usually includes a contact address, even if it usually that of their agent, employer or publisher. You might get a reply as I did. Having found from Who’s Who (pre internet days) his agent’s details, I wrote to the author Terry Pratchett. To my surprise he replied within a month discussing the points I had made in my letter.


* Apologies to Dr Seuss fans for the perhaps unexpected subject of this post. We hope you find it useful anyway :-)

“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.