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


Marylebone Library does its bit

Original 'Library in the Park' cupboard from 1942It’s 1942. The impact of the Second World War is being felt at home, and money is short. The Ministry of Labour calls on councils to provide “attractions and amenities in London parks, with a view to persuading the public to spend their holidays at home”.

Marylebone Library’s contribution to the war effort was the “Library in the Park” – Regent’s Park, that is. Every afternoon from July to September Mrs Russell Miller walked across from her home in Grove End Road, and sat in the park issuing books from a cupboard to anyone who could produce a National Identity Card.

Marylebone Library in Regent's Park, 1942. Image property of Westminster City Archives

In 2015, Marylebone Library is back outdoors to recreate the Library in the Park, this time in Paddington Street Gardens (South). Library staff, suitably dressed for 1942, will dispense books from the original cupboard – yes, it survives to this day! We will also talk to passers-by, explaining today’s library services, and joining them up on the spot. The event will take place this Friday 17 July, from 12.00 noon to 4.00pm, and Saturday 18 July, from 11.00am to 3.00pm.

Marylebone Library in Regent's Park, 1942. Image property of Westminster City Archives

We will have photos of the original set-up (courtesy of Westminster City Archives), and a plentiful supply of patriotic bunting! Keep Calm and Carry On – straight round to Paddington Street Gardens.


All the fun of the Fayre!

Marylebone Liubrary stall at the Summer Fayre 2015I missed last year’s Marylebone Summer Fayre, so I’d forgotten how much fun it is.

The Howard de Walden Estate – which owns most of Marylebone – closes the High Street and several of the side streets (in cahoots with the Council, of course), installs a music stage in Paddington Street Gardens, and populates the whole area with stalls selling an astonishing range of food and drink, a tempting array of jewellery and craftwork, and us! Marylebone Library has had a stall for several years now, and as outreach it’s hard to beat.

We joined people up, we made sure that existing members knew about all our services, and we flogged some withdrawn DVDs and CDs (which flew off the table).

Marylebone Liubrary stall at the Summer Fayre 2015

Were we downhearted when it rained hard? Well, yes, we were rather! But we stiffened our upper lips and carried on, and it didn’t last long. Soon the crowds were back on the streets, and the party carried on right through the afternoon.

I think a good time was had by all. It was by me.


Adventures on the Internet

ICT training in Westminster LibrariesThe thing about our public computer training sessions is that they are attended by the public. Real people, people from outside libraries, who have real lives and urgent things they need to do on computers. This is very good.

For example, I do a session on shopping online – “get the bargains and stay safe”. I prepare a plan of attack, based on my own experience, feedback from previous sessions, together with some essential stuff about safety on the Internet.

I’m not at all bad at this preparation, but after a few minutes of interaction with the people who turn up to the course, things start to fizz. Your average punter doesn’t want to know about online commerce in any theoretical fashion – he/she wants actual fashion, specific goods and the best possible service. It’s all very well me using Amazon as an example, although it’s a very useful example. If someone has heard that Etsy is the go-to place for retro dresses, that’s what we talk about.

I’m not going to give you a lot of coy stuff about not being an expert on retro dresses, because that’s not the point. I can probably help the frock-hunter to search out what they’re looking for, and I can use any selling website to demonstrate how you can protect yourself against unnecessary risk.

I always have a Powerpoint slideshow of screen grabs in reserve, in case we run out of genuine requests and questions. I don’t often have to use it.

“Adventures on the Internet”, a series of six public training sessions starts at Mayfair Library on Tuesday 25 November, at 11.00am. And if you miss any of those, we will be doing them all again at Church Street Library in March and April!

Adventures on the Internet - public training sessions


What are you reading?

“What are you reading?”
This is the question I asked my colleagues last week and being library workers  they couldn’t wait to share their answers with you! Here’s the first eleven answers – a broad selection of themes and genres, as you might expect – and all available to borrow from Westminster Libraries of course (click on the links or the covers to find out where they’re in stock):

The Betrayal of Trust by Susan HillThe Betrayal of Trust, by Susan Hill
I’ve just finished this, the latest in her Simon Serrailler series. I’ve come to this series quite late (it was recommended by two friends). I find them absolutely gripping on two fronts: following the crime case (with twists and turns) on one hand, and on the other the storyline of Serrailler’s relationship with his family and friends (emotional twists and turns). Great stuff, can’t wait for the next instalment.


The mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda HawksleyThe Mystery of Princess Louise, by Lucinda Hawksley
Fascinating biography of Queen Victoria’s rebellious fourth daughter, full of pleasingly scurrilous speculation about why the royal archives contain so few of her papers.
Could she have had an illegitimate child?

Moon over Soho, by David AaronovitchMoon over Soho,
by Ben Aaronovitch
It’s very interesting, often darkly humorous and sometimes a bit scary – and set in the West End.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe eponymous thief is a delightfully gutsy little girl, struggling with the realities of growing up in Nazi Germany, sustained by books including “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” (note to self – must read that one next). Death makes a very agreeable narrator, and while I fear impending tragedy, the jokes keep coming.

Walk the lines, by Mark MasonWalk the Lines, by Mark Mason
Mark has had a fascination with maps since childhood and in this book he recounts his walks above ground of all the Tube lines. Over several months he visits all of the stations – some several times!
A fascinating mix of facts and figures relating to the areas he walks through, people or things he witnesses along the way, as well as information about the lines themselves.
Brilliant for those “I didn’t know that !” moments – and for anyone planning to do a pub quiz!

Love in the time of cholera, by Gabriel Garcia MarquezLove in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I’m re-reading this with our book club. Quite a delightful read, the recently-deceased Marquez being a master story teller.

Let's explore diabetes with owls, by David SedarisLet’s explore diabetes with owls, by David Sedaris
One of the funniest books I’ve read recently, this is a collection of essays from the seemingly bottomless pit of David Sedaris’ quirky personal stories. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but if pressed, Understanding understanding owls stands out. David Sedaris is a writer who can weave a story and just riff on everyone and everything. I highly, highly, as highly as anyone can recommend this book, for someone, anyone who needs a good laugh.

Thinking, fast and slow, by Daniel KahnemanThinking Fast and Slow,
by Daniel Kahneman

A bit like reading a Malcolm Gladwell book but slightly heavier going.  So far interesting but not enthralling…


My dear, I wanted to tell you, by Louisa YoungMy Dear, I wanted to tell you, by Louisa Young
It has a great storyline and several interesting characters. It is set in World War One in the trenches of France and in London. The author did a lot of research, particularly about facial reconstruction which was pioneered at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup during WW1.

419, by Will Ferguson419, by Will Ferguson
Read it on the tube – missed my stop; at dinner – how rude;  and until it was finished last night very late.
It’s a great thriller – edge of your seat stuff and so interesting: 419 scams in Nigeria, the tragic consequence in Canada and the nailbiting conclusion in Nigeria. The chapters in Africa are stunningly written – you can smell the gasoline and feel the heat. Highly recommended!


The days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead MaupinThe Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin
I have followed the Tales of the City series since 1987 and am sad that this really is the last episode. At last, Anna Madrigal’s real secret is revealed – and she becomes the toast of Burning Man! Warm, witty and a satisfying end to a much-loved saga.

More glimpses into the reading lives of Westminster library staff to follow soon.

There was no parachute jumping

Marylebone Library, Beaumont StreetThere was no parachute jumping. Or Greek wrestling. Apart from that, Marylebone Library’s recent Open Day included pretty nearly every activity you could think of.

A book sale – well, that you might expect. And face painting is ever-popular. But finger knitting, a honey challenge, gardening without a garden, and urban beekeeping? Suddenly it starts to look interesting.

Marylebone Library Open Day November 2013And so it proved. They poured through the doors, occupied all the chairs and most of the space, and showed every sign of enjoying themselves. There were old friends, of course – regular library users – but also new faces, including people living and working close to our new location, coming to check us out.

Was there anything else? Oh yes! Internet training, a motivational talk, booking your holiday online, and henna body art.

Enough? Well, not quite. There was also a book quiz, bike MOTs, and cake (including one kindly donated by Paul Patisserie).

You can’t go wrong with cake.


Dreaming of Esther Rantzen

That is a very naughty headline.

Vegetables on display at Marylebone Library for World Food DayThe vegetables on the table were there to mark World Food Day, and there was really nothing comical about them. It’s just that an ignoramus of a certain age (me) couldn’t help being reminded of That’s Life, the TV show compered for 20 years by Esther Rantzen, which juggled serious journalism with nobbly veg and odd odes.

Checking if smoking is affecting your health, at Marylebone LibraryThe main emphasis of Marylebone Library’s health event (Thursday 17 October) was on smoking awareness. A chap from Central London Community Healthcare invited people to blow into his device. Not to catch out the early drinkers, you understand – this device would indicate whether your breathing was being affected by smoking, including passive smoking. If your smoking was of the active rather than passive variety, there was help on offer to quit.

No vegetables were injured during this event – unless you count the fact that they were divvied out afterwards, to appear later on the plates of several grateful recipients.


We’re open! [Marylebone Library on the move… pt9]

Anabel, the Marylebone Library manager, opens the doors for the first time (August 2013)There were still a few artisans going about their artisanning (sorry), and some of the technology was lagging a little behind, but we opened on time, welcomed back some ‘old faces’, and – excitingly – some new users. People saw the sign outside and thought, “Oh, a library – that’s great!” In they came in with no idea that they were pioneers, and soon every space was being used.

It wasn’t quite as dramatic as when they opened Primark on Oxford Street (the doors got bent in the crush for that one!), but it was pleasing to see the new library with users in it.

Computer users on the Marylebone Library opening day (August 2013)    All the periodicals are in place. Opening day fo Marylebone Library, August 2013

Opening day of the new Marylebone Library, August 2013As I walked home, I had three conversations with regulars from the old library:

“Are you open yet?” …
“Are the computers working?” …
“Did you still get the newspapers while you were shut?”

Yes, yes and yes, in that order.