Category Archives: St John’s Wood 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 When new books were added or old books withdrawn the cards had to be manually filed or removed.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:

From Summertime in Venice to Autumn in St John’s Wood

A musical lunch was held at St John’s Wood Library on Silver Sunday for members of the Home Library Service, along with other local residents.

Barrie spins the discs at the HLS Musical Lunch at St John's Wood Library for Silver Sunday 2016

From vinyl to digital: our resident vinyl expert and HLS staff member Barrie played vocalists from the past, from the well known Frank Sinatra to the lesser known Jerry Vale (“Summertime in Venice”). We then experimented with listening to music via the internet on our libraries’ tablets.


Silver Sunday“Fascinating old records and played like a professional DJ”

“Many thanks, it has made a great difference to my life, coming out to an event”

“Thank you for your imaginative organisation”


HLS Musical Lunch at St John's Wood Library for Silver Sunday 2016

[Elaine]

This week in The Big Friendly Read

The heatwave seems to have left us (for the time being at least) – but don’t worry, even if the weather is rubbish we have lots to entertain younger customers in our libraries!


Big Friendly Read - the Summer Reading Challenge 2016


They can join in the Summer Reading Challenge, the theme of which is Roald Dahl this year. Check out the official website – it’s got suggestions for what to read next, games to play and competitions.

As well as the Challenge, we have organised a (writing) shed full of events in libraries, all free! Why not check out what’s on at your local library over the holiday?

Here is a taste of what’s been going on this week:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[Rachel]

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties!

Children at four Westminster libraries have been partying in Wonderland, thanks to volunteer Maureen Pepper and Made in Libraries. In this blog post, Maureen tells us how it all came about.

“I have been a volunteer at Queens Park Library for a long time. Last year I was talking to a group of children at the library and was surprised to discover that none of them had read Alice in Wonderland. One had tried but had found the original text too hard. I thought if the book could be introduced to children via games, riddles and puzzles it would be very appealing and many would read it. I devised the first performance for Queens Park Library in November 2015 and worked with Bebie Waller of Actingworks and some of her staff to perform it.”

“Once we had done the show in Queens Park Library, it seemed a shame to pack away all the props etc and I heard about the possibility of support from Made In Libraries and the Westminster Wards budget for a further three performances at St John’s Wood, Church Street and Pimlico libraries. The performances (or perhaps the word workshop would be more appropriate) took place in May 2016.”

“I was particularly delighted with the reaction from some of the very young boys who took part at all three libraries. They were enchanted and engaged in a way that the Disney film could not touch. I was thrilled that children at St John’s Wood Library and Pimlico Library left clutching a copy of the book which they had borrowed with their own library card. Three mothers at Church Street were so delighted with the event that they insisted on helping us to wash the china cups and saucers afterwards! At St John’s wood, elderly members of the public were watching the tea party with delight through the window from the pavement and one came into the library to say how thrilled she was to see young children being introduced to a book that she had loved as a child.”

“All the performances attracted a diverse range of children – EAL speakers from Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, China, Malaysia and Japan, children with special needs, boys and girls. Everyone got involved in every activity, and the parents seemed to enjoy the performance as much as the children!”

[Maureen]

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:

They know more than we think they do…

Books about Dewey the library catA recent free event at St John’s Wood Library covered all things feline. Jenny Stephany delivered a talk and activity session on Cat Care.

Through a hands-on presentation and craft activity, Jenny guided cat lovers on how to offer excellent care and protection to their feline friends.

Approximately ten minutes after the event had begun, a solitary cat walked into the library. He was a gorgeous tabby cat, with friendly manners and a collar. Duty Supervisor Stuart thought the cat was arriving on cue for the presenter and he made a mental note to ask Jenny how she managed to train him to walk into the library, at the right time, on his own. The cat went straight into the Children’s Library where Jenny was just starting to talk about the importance of collars and microchips, jumped on the crafts table to be acknowledged and received a grand welcome from the audience. A perfect way to bring the talk to life!

Cat Care Essentials by Francesca Riccomini Cat Care by Carly Bacon DK Complete Cat Care

But it turned out that the cat was not Jenny’s and she had not arranged this most fitting visit. He happily jumped into Stuart’s arms and was brought into the library office where his collar – with name plate and microchip company phone numbers – was investigated. After a few rounds of phone calls, the cat was reunited with the owner. A happy ending and a great illustration of the points made in Jenny’s talk.

This was the last cat care event scheduled at the moment, but keep an eye on our Forthcoming events page for future dates.

[Ivana]

St John’s Wood round up

Hanukkah fun at St John's Wood Library, December 2015There’s just been so much going on in St John’s Wood Library recently! And there’s much more to come.

Here’s a round up of a few highlights from recent weeks:

For Interfaith Week 2015, we hosted Sh. Kazi Luthfur Rahman, Imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre, who gave a talk about the Quran. While discussing links to the previous revelations – Torah, Psalms and Gospels – the Imam also discussed some of the important teachings, as well as the history and origins of the Quran. There was an involved discussion, with the general consensus being that the library should organise more events regarding different religions and cultures.

'Time to Listen' poetry installation at St John's Wood Library, December 2015

Then, as part of a ‘tour’ of libraries, we welcomed Toni Stuart and her poetry installation Here to Listen. Toni describes herself as “a poet, performer, spoken word educator, festival curator from Cape Town, South Africa, currently in London, UK”. She stayed with St John’s Wood Library for two full days in early December, before moving on to do the same at Victoria Library and Westminster Reference Library later in the month. In silence, she listened to those who sat with her and told her their stories and what was on their mind. She then wrote poems about it. She describes her approach on her blog: Here to Listen, and you can read the poems written at St John’s Wood Library.

December was also the month for Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations, including arts and craft and face painting hosted by Imagethirst, who have been coming to St John’s Wood Library for several years, offering to do portrait photos of children for free. They sometimes host the whole party, sometimes they bring frames to decorate. This time they did some fabulous face paiting. Children (and parents, carers, this librarian and our volunteer Vivienne Levan) also made hanukkiot (hanukkia is the eight candled menora).

Christmas at St John's Wood Library 2015The Christmas parties were also a joy, with happy children receiving books as gifts, enjoying healthy snacks and having lots of fun, thanks to staff and volunteers alike.

The Monthly Meet Up continued with a visit from the Timeline Brass Ensemble performing some classic sounds of the season. This young and enthusiastic band made some heads turn on the street (yes, they were powerful!) so people came in from outside to enjoy the music. Others peeked through the windows and waved. It was a burst of lovely music that shook us up in a good way.

A lovely bit of continuity through the generations has led to our regular Storytime on Tuesday afternoons. For about 30 minutes – or as we prefer to measure it, several stories – Gavin Asher reads and acts for children.

Storytime with Gavin at St John's Wood LibraryIt is a treat and he is gaining a following. An avid reader, Gavin has been a very regular library member for a long time. His son Gino is now a teenager, but he basically grew up in the library. Gavin loved reading to Gino so much that he missed doing it and decided to share his joy of reading with other children and adults.
Join us next Tuesday!

And there’s much more to come – visit our Events page for details. We hope to see you at Tim Judah’s talk about Ukraine this evening!

[Ivana]