Tag Archives: borrowing

It was a library, Jim, but not as we know it

Browne system issue tray. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Happy National Libraries Day!

Ask any person on the street “What is a library?” and they will probably say something like “A public building with books you can borrow”. That is indeed the case, but a modern day library offers much, much more, and a library card is the key. How? It’s all down to the development of computers and especially the Internet and World Wide Web in the 80s and 90s.

St. Marylebone library book label and pocket

Just a generation ago, things were very different. With no computers, 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 get posted reminders.

City of Westminster catalogue card

The library catalogue was a large set of drawers in which were inserted 5in x 3in 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 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 When new books were added or old books withdrawn, the cards had to be manually filed or removed.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 microfilm or microfiche. But it would still not show whether the books were in the library or on loan.

City of Westminster tokens

With fewer alternatives available, reading was a far more popular activity, and the library was so busy, especially at lunchtimes, that in 1952 Westminster dispensed with the Browne system. 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 renewal letter

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.

City of Westminster Gramophone library rules

Reference libraries had shelves upon shelves of atlases, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias etc, often out of date even before being published. Some directories even came in loose-leaf binders so that update replacement pages could be supplied. [I remember it well. Ed.]

Westminster Libraries still lend books, but now you can browse the catalogue of all the branches from home or while out and about on your phone, check the availability of books and reserve them online. Not just for Westminster but also Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries too. You can renew items online and return them to any library in the three boroughs.

Westminster Libraries catalogue, February 2015

We no longer have gramophone records (or the cassettes which followed them) but we do lend CDs, DVDs and Talking Books on CD. You can even get something to read or listen to without visiting a library building at all, as we have e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks too.

E-books from Westminster Libraries

When you visit ‘in-library’ there is more on offer than just what we lend. There may be reading clubs or writing groups, author talks, computing or English classes, careers advice sessions, and a range of health promotions. There may be children’s homework clubs and holiday reading clubs and craft events. It varies from library to library, but the website will have all the details – and if you follow us on Twitter – or just keep an eye on the right hand column of this blog – you’ll get updates on all our special events as well!

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014

Those groaning shelves of reference books are much reduced now, replaced by public computers to use and study space with free wi-fi access. But don’t go thinking that there is any less information available – far from it! With the 24/7 library your library card gives you access to a staggering wealth of information for free on our subscription databases. Business information, the arts, family history and worldwide newspapers are amongst the resources available – much of it accessible from anywhere that you can get online and, as it says, available 24/7 – not just when the library is open.

Marketline - one of our many online resources

People have predicted the end of libraries in our present digital, connected world. Well they may have changed in ways unimaginable a generation ago but they are still a thriving, valued part of the community. Who knows what changes another generation will bring? I expect and hope there will still be something people call a ‘library’. But will it contain books? – well perhaps the trend is already starting…

Charing Cross Library 1948

[Malcolm, who has seen and embraced it all in his 40+ years at Westminster]


Doing the business at Westminster Reference Library

Ever wanted to borrow business books from Westminster Reference Library? Well, now you can!

Launch of the business ending collection at Westminster Reference Library, September 2013Another milestone in the history of Westminster’s Business Information Point (BIP) project: We started with a single BIP in 2008 at Westminster Reference Library, which later grew and expanded to include three more libraries, the so-called ‘MiniBIPs’, located at Paddington, Pimlico and Church Street libraries. All four sites offer excellent support for established businesses and would-be entrepreneurs, including business books and journals, online business databases and events with networking opportunities.

The idea for the Business Lending Collection was sparked by our customers who regularly requested to borrow our excellent business books. As a long-established reference library this was not our normal practice, but we thought “Why not?” The ongoing BIP project gave us an opportunity to establish a small business lending collection. Since this was a new terrain for us, we took inspiration from the excellent lending collections held at the other BIP libraries.

The launch party was well attended and everyone was delighted with the new service which was thought to be long-awaited and necessary.

Launch of the business ending collection at Westminster Reference Library, September 2013We celebrated the launch of this new Business Lending Collection with guest author Barbara Anderson who signed copies of her book ‘Manage On Nil Every Year: How to make sure every pound you spend makes sense!‘ – one of the books now available for loan.


Improve your English

Advanced Grammar in Use, by Martin Hewings - the most borrowed book from Westminster Libraries in 2011You may have seen the reports in the press about Westminster’s most borrowed book last year. Was it another Jacqueline Wilson? A book looking forward to Olympics? Or perhaps good old Catherine Cookson?

No, it was Advanced Grammar in Use, by Martin Hewings!

While it may not be as widely known as Harry Potter, as exciting as the Milennium Trilogy, or indeed as entertaining as the Wimpy Kid books, the popularity of this title, and others like it, highlights something important about libraries. They are places for both leisure and learning, for both adults and children, and for everyone who needs them, regardless of where they come from. They’re about helping you to achieve what you want in your life, whether it’s escape into romance, learning to crochet or getting by in today’s Britain.

'Learn English' display at St John's Wood LibraryYou’ll find collections, and often courses, to help you with your English in all Westminster Libraries – the picture on the right shows a current display at St John’s Wood Library.

The display highlights the free online Nexus course available to library members, Penguin Readers which are adapted for learners (some with audio CDs for listening practice), grammar books, dictionaries and access to the Life in the UK Practice Test.


The day we took 60 books out of the library

One person’s experience of borrowing her full quota of books from the library…

Join the library and borrow LOADS of books!“Last February, I took my family to our local library for Save Libraries Day. It wasn’t under threat, but I wanted to do something – anything – to make a blip in the issues figures, the membership figures and the visitor figures and show my support for its future.

We were already library users, but my partner was not a member – if he wanted anything I would take it out on my ticket. And I would never take out more than two or three books at a time, because I couldn’t possibly read more in the three week loan period. The same applied to the kids (I’ve got two).

But 5 February 2011 was different. I’d posted on Twitter, sent emails and spoken to friends, encouraging them to at least visit on that day, to join up and yes – to borrow their full quota of books. Off we trotted to the library, determined not to leave until we’d *really* used it!

First the non-member joined up and got his first library card in years. It felt good. Then we began to scour the shelves – but instead of being choosy, we picked up whatever took our fancy. And it was a revelation! We looked at sections of the library we’d never explored before, and found things we’d no idea they had. We chose recipe books to look through properly at home, books of history and politics that we might – or might not – have a chance to read in full, and travel books on places we *might* want to visit. No certainties here – we were allowing ourselves to taste and experiment in a way that for some reason we had not before – and all in the name of taking out all the books we could. We hadn’t expected it to be so enjoyable!

The children chose stories by authors they’d never tried before, old favourites and multiple books about subjects they were covering at school. And we lugged our haul over to the self-issue machines with a feeling of glee and anticipation. What did we have to lose? It was all free!

Yes, it was a LOT to carry home. Yes, we’d only *really* done it as a gesture – but it turned out to be much more than that. We had a great time, the library had a new member, and when we got home it was a huge treat to go through all our spoils and spend some time surrounded by loads of new books.

No – we  didn’t end up reading them all. But we read ones we might not have even brought home otherwise. And no, we didn’t end up with huge fines as 60 books went overdue! Because it got us back into the habit. After a week, we took back the ones we were less keen on (and borrowed an equivalent number). And after another week, the same. And we’re still using our local library so much more – and so differently – due to that one day’s activity.

So I would urge you to try it on National Libraries Day this weekend – set yourself free, take a sturdy bag with you, sign up for email / text reminders and challenge yourself to borrow more than you think you could possibly need – it might just transform your life!”National Libraries Day - 4 February 2012


The return of Dido (and Aeneas)

Music stavePaddington Library staff are used to receiving and dealing with overdue items of varying degrees of ‘lateness’ but it came as a bit of a surprise when we received in the post a Novello’s original Octavo Edition of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas which was clearly borrowed from the library before computerisation  (c. 1985).

Inside the front cover an extract from the then rules and regulation states in unequivocal terms…

‘Every book borrowed shall be returned within FOURTEEN DAYS, in default the Borrower or his Guarantor shall pay a fine of one half-penny per day…’

 It goes on to say, rather uncomfortably:

‘In cases where infectious or contagious disease has broken out in the Borrower’s house after books have been borrowed, the books must NOT be returned to the Library, but be delivered by hand to the Medical officer of Health at the Town hall, Paddington Green.’


The music score was found ‘in a recent gift’ handed in to the Royal Academy of Music, who kindly posted it back to Paddington Library after its lengthy sojourn.


World Book Day 2011

World Book Day 2011It’s World Book Day!
A day for celebrating books, and of course that also means celebrating libraries.

So – how can you celebrate books today?

  • Read one!
    You can borrow up to 20 books at a time from Westminster Libraries, so come in and grab some. You could challenge yourself to read something from a section of the library you’ve never used before, or indulge yourself with an old favourite. With 20 books to choose from, you could even do both! The book group reviews, staff recommendations and other book-related posts on this blog might help you to find something new.
  • Try a new library!
    Westminster is a city library service, which means that you’ll never have to travel miles to find one. You may know and love your local library, but it’s worth exploring the others to see what they can offer too – especially if you have a specialist interest – your library card can be used in any or all branches.
  • Join a group!
    We have lots of book groups, meeting on different days and at different times – find one that suits you. Or if you belong to another book group (or want to start one), we can help you by lending out multiple copies of the same title from our Book Group Store.
  • Bring the kids!
    There are storytimes, bounce and rhyme and children’s reading groups in most libraries – take your pick. They’re free to attend, kids love them, and you can take loads of books out at the same time. Your children can join the library at any age (mine were about 5 weeks old!). You can also find reviews of children’s books and loads of information about children’s authors on our Webtastic Books & Reading page.
  • Learn about books and literature!
    As well as the many books and periodicals we have in our libraries (from vast tomes full of literary criticism to daily newspapers with book sections), you can also find an enormous amount online through the 24/7 Library, not only the section of Oxford Reference Online specifically about literature and the very useful Contemporary Authors site, but also access to a vast archive of book reviews within newspapers.
  • Test yourself!
    Try this quiz from the people at the Oxford English Dictionary, created especially for World Book Day.

Well that’s quite enough exclamation marks for one day. I’d just like to give a quick shout out to the Westminster secondary school pupils who will be receiving one of a thousand free copies of The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce as part of Our Read – hope you enjoy it.

Happy World Book Day! (OK, just one more).

Hang about, save cash

[The first in an occasional series on saving money by maxing out your library service from our resident bargain hunter, aka David]

Hang about, save cashHanging around the library can save you money. Our libraries are usually warm and dry, so that’s a saving (not at this time of year, admittedly). But that’s just the start.

First, books. Stop yawning – I don’t mean old, crumbly books covered with dust, I’m talking about new books, the ones that get reviewed in the Sunday papers, win prizes, and get optioned for Hollywood.

The library has got them and they’re free to borrow. OK, cleverclogs, you’ve found a book that won the Gruntfuttock Prize for novels about Luxembourg by writers under six, and it’s not on the shelves. Reserve it. It’ll cost you pence to reserve, and the library will get it… soon… free.

Still not convinced? Well, as they say across the pond, do the math.  Say you read three books a month, at six quid a time on Amazon, that’s – go on, you can do it. £18 a month saved.

Let’s up the ante. Say you read three books a week. Now we’re really talking money. £72 saved in February (February, 28 days, exactly four weeks – geddit?), and even more in every other month. And as you can borrow up to 20 (yes, twenty) books at any one time, if you’re a fast reader you’re clocking up hundreds of pounds in savings.

But aren’t the fines horrendous if you don’t take all these money-saving books back in time? Yes, they are, but only a chump pays fines. If you’ve not finished the book, renew it. Online. And while you’re there you can see what you fancy for your next free read.

Forgetful, are you? Bit of luck you came to the library, then. We have a cunning plan to help you. Emails. You ask for email alerts, and they arrive in the nick of time, so you can renew your books in person, online, or send the butler round (all sorts catered for). Email a bit primitive for you? We’ll do texts instead.

This is just the beginning. We’ve got oodles of ways to save you money if you hang around the library – and just as many ways to save even if you don’t hang around. If you want to make the most of these savings, join now. If we haven’t yet convinced you, stick with it – Part 2 is in a few days.

Many thanks to Serendipity Smalls for her blog on the same idea, and permission to be inspired by it!