Tag Archives: librarians

My favourite things

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was that there was so much to tell – as the very first post said: “It’s about the life of the Libraries & Archives”. There are so very many facets to a public library service; I wanted to help bring more of what we can offer into the light.

After eighteen years in Westminster Libraries (a brief interlude in comparison to the tenure of Malcolm and many others, of course), I’ve rounded up a selection of wonderful things and, with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, persuaded my library-fan children to spare you my singing voice.  As I move on to pastures new, one of the things I will miss the most is editing this blog (I look forward to being a reader from now on). It’s been a privilege.

So long, farewell…

[Ali]

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:

Shhh! (sorry)

It’s time for what has become a National Libraries Day tradition: taking a look at some libraries and librarians in popular culture.

National Libraries Day 2014In 2012, for the very first #NLD, we got very excited about Nancy Pearl, Batgirl and Casanova. In 2013 we explored some of the odder reaches of real life and in 2014 we had some great quotes about libraries. Last year, in 2o15 we ranged from Katherine Hepburn to Noah Wyle… have we now covered everything? Nope!

If any readers have been watching BBC4 recently, and since you’re all highly intelligent types you probably have, you may have had the misfortune to come upon repeats of the 1980s sitcom Sorry! in which Ronnie Corbett plays a middle-aged librarian still living with his domineering mother and henpecked father.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing. I doubt anyone has been inspired to enter a career in library work because of this (though it was inexplicably popular at the time).

Fortunately there are plenty of better role models for aspiring librarians – let’s look at few cinematic information workers, going back to the era of silent cinema…

According to The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999, the first film to feature a librarian was A Wife on Trial based on a best-selling romance novel The Rose Garden Husband. The heroine Phyllis, played by Mignon Anderson (yep, it’s her real name) is a hardworking but impoverished children’s librarian who dreams of her own garden and who is offered a marriage of convenience with wheelchair-bound Allan Harrington, who has a house and a rose garden. A reviewer for Motion Picture World wrote that it was

“alive with sentiment of an appealing sort and has a touch of what the sarcastic dramatic critics call ‘sugary sweetness’. But it gets it over extremely well and will please the average audience immensely.”

The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel, The Wishing Ring Man, with Dorothy Hagan as Phyllis, now a mother of two.

Our next cinematic librarian appears in The Blot, a 1921 film film directed by one of the few female directors in silent films, Lois Weber, who made more than 100 films though only about 20 survive. The Blot, filmed at  the University of Los Angeles, is about a genteelly impoverished professor whose librarian daughter (played by Claire Windsor)  is courted (well, pestered) by one of his obnoxious wealthy students who hangs around her workplace – though the ending leaves it ambiguous as to whether she is won over by his charms.

The Blot, 1921

A more famous film librarian came along in 1932 when Carole Lombard, later the highest paid female star in Hollywood, appeared in No Man of her Own, alongside her future husband Clark Gable. Gable plays a gambler hiding out in a small town who finds his way to the library and follows Lombard to the reserve stock in order to get a better look at her legs. Photoplay magazine wrote that

No man of her own, 1932 “Carole, with lines as scintillant as her persons and clothes, turn in delicious love-making episodes that more than redeem the story, a rubber-stamp affair about a card-sharper who reforms for love”

Sadly the film only has one scene in the library but I guess it’s one recruitment angle that might appeal – the suggestion that your next reader might be the biggest star in Hollywood!

Lombard died tragically in a plane crash in 1942 at the age of only 33 and Gable, heart-broken, joined the American airforce and flew five combat missions.

Adventure, 1946

His first film after the war saw him romancing another librarian, this time played by English actress Greer Garson, then best known for  his Oscar winner role as the upper class British housewife Mrs Miniver, The film was Adventure, famously advertised with the tagline “Gable’s Back and Garson’s Got Him”. Gable plays a rough sailor who is wooed by Garson’s stereotypical strait-laced librarian (though at least she doesn’t have a bun or glasses).

The  film was a commercial and critical flop and rightly so as Gable, frankly, behaves appallingly in the scene where he approaches Garson in the reference library, behaving disruptively and trying to smoke. Obviously, in a romantic comedy, we know what’s going to happen, but please don’t try this seduction technique In Real Life.

Another Oscar winner played a heroic small-town town librarian in 1956’s Storm Center. Bette Davis plays the widowed Alicia,  sacked after refusing to withdraw a book called The Communist Dream from the library and the chain of events this sets off ends with a child burning the building down. Fortunately this causes the residents to have a change of heart and a new library is buiit and Alicia reinstated.  Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote that

“they have got from Bette Davis a fearless and forceful performance as the middle-aged widowed librarian who stands by her principles. Miss Davis makes the prim but stalwart lady human and credible.”

A less heroic librarian was played by Sylvia Sidney in the Technicolour crime drama Violent Saturday. Sidney plays that rare thing in fiction (and in real life!) a larcenous librarian who steals a unattended purse after receiving a letter from her bank telling her that her overdraft is being withdrawn. When she tries to pay the stolen money into the bank she is caught up in an armed robbery on the ‘violent Saturday’ of the title. Sadly, as the New York Times  pointed out, Sidney doesn’t get the screen time she deserves:

‘Lost and forgotten in the scramble of the writers and directors to include all of these people in the happenings is Sylvia Sidney, who plays the lady librarian. She is fortunately given a fast brush. The last expression we see on her baffled visage as much as says, “What the heck is going on?”‘

Something wicked this way comes, 1983

Nearly as rare as criminal librarians in cinema are male ones, but one heroic gentleman librarian is Charles Halloway, the middle-aged librarian played by Jason Robards Jr who saves the day in 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name. Halloway uses his librarianly skills to research and defeat  the mysterious carnival owner Mr Dark who has a tattoo of every person he has tricked into servitude. The film was the first major Hollywood feature to use computer generated animation but Halloway needed no such trickery  to defeat Mr Dark – just the wisdom and research skills that all reference librarians possess.

Party Girl, 1995And to finish off, possibly the most popular cinematic library worker with actual librarians is the one played by Parker Posey in Party Girl. Like most real librarians, she has a lively social life and when she’s arrested at an illegal rave, her godmother bails her out and then offers her a job as a library clerk to pay off the fine. She soon discovers the joys of the Dewey Decimal System and abandons her wild ways for study and helping her friends in their careers using her new-found library science skills. For a generation of librarians, it’s like looking in a mirror!

So remember, when you visit a library on National Libraries Day, that you never know what the person behind the counter might have been up to…

[Nicky]

Libraries in fiction

I was prompted to these thoughts having recently re-watched Ghostbusters which, as you may remember, starts inside the magnificent New York Public Library with the ghostly terrorisation of a librarian by levitating books and flying catalogue cards. In the future remake of this film I wonder how the film makers will get round the inconvenient fact in the intervening years catalogue cards have gone the way of the dodo in most libraries…

In this example the library was simply a location for the plot. Another example is Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Here the library is used as an example of locked room murder mystery so popular in early crime fiction. Other authors such as Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) and Dorothy L Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey) used college libraries as part of the Oxford setting of their novels.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter

Libraries however have played a more significant role in some relatively recent crime novels. Sue Grafton’s detective series is set in the 1980s, in other words pre personal computers / the internet and such library resources as Newsbank. Therefore in several novels in this series, the investigator Kinsey Millhone visits her local library to consult old newspapers issues on microfilm.

More recently I have enjoyed reading Donna Leon’s novel By its Cover, set in an Venetian academic library. This novel starts with the discovery of a theft of an early printed book from the collection and leads to a murder. As a librarian I was cheering Commissario Guido Brunetti on in his efforts to solve these crimes.

G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton By its Cover by Donna Leon Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

One fictional library together with its orangutan librarian loom large in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It would be a very foolish thief or murderer to enter this library to commit a crime. If The Librarian did not apprehend the felon the chances are that the magical books would. This is the library whose contents were chained to protect the user from harm rather than to protect the books from theft. In fact there was one library book theft in Pratchett’s novel Guards! Guards! A book on summoning dragons was successful stolen to order as part of a plot to overthrow the city ruler. Not that it did the conspirators much good, as the summoned dragon quickly incinerated them.

A hero to many library staff, Discworld’s The Librarian is a member of a small elite group of senior librarians who have the knowledge and ability to travel through L-space, an extradimentional space that connects all libraries and other large accumulations of books; a skill that alas has not passed onto this member of staff. I can’t speak for my colleagues.

[Francis]

“Bless ‘em all! The long and the short and the tall!”

All ages singing together at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015So says the popular World War II song; and judging by the enthusiastic response, the long, short, tall, old and young were indeed feeling blessed by Westminster Music Library’s World War II sing-along.
Our event was part of the BBC’s inaugural National Music Day“a nationwide celebration of everything we love about music, with the aim of bringing people together from different generations and communities through their love of music.”

 On Friday 5 June we filled the  Library to the brim, uniting members of local community group Open Age along with troops of children from St Barnabas CE primary school for a morning of singing, celebrating the finest of the Second World War’s musical legacy.

While the struggles of wartime were very hard for soldier and civilian alike, our selection of songs served to communicate the positive qualities brought to light through the conflict: hope, in We’ll meet again; love of country, in There’ll always be an England; and bravery, in The white cliffs of Dover. Comradeship, too, of soldiers all-too-wary of their Sergeants and Corporals, is wonderfully represented in our ironic opening number, Bless ‘em all, whose composer, Fred Godfrey, assuredly informs us, “… furthermore, it wasn’t ‘Bless.’”

BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015

For our guests from Open Age, these songs were gateways into memories of growing up post-war, and for some, even during wartime. “Very nostalgic,” commented one visitor, although another justly observed, “I think it could get emotional for some people here.” Indeed, nostalgia can often rose-tint our recollections; for some the hardships of wartime are still very real memories.

For those of us young enough to have no such memories, the musical legacy of this time is a unique look into the past, and certainly our year six pupils from St Barnabas valued these as such – “A week ago these songs were completely unknown to the class,” commented their teacher.

Ruth leading the singing at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015We were grateful to the children for their hard work in rehearsing the songs to sing with us, and thrilled to hear that they’d even given a ‘preview’ performance to the rest of the school in their morning assembly before coming here.

Their earnest singing boosted our ranks, and was especially appreciated during the final number – Roll out the barrel – when it became apparent to many of us in the audience that we couldn’t encourage our vocal chords to hit the high notes!

One person who has no such singing woes, though, is Ruth Walters, who masterfully led us through the entire programme, accompanied by Anthony on piano. As well as being full-time staff, they are accomplished and experienced musicians, along with the three other members of the Music Library team: Miriam, Andrew and Jon. The high standard of performance is often commented on at events such as this one and we are grateful to our staff for using their musical talents so effectively.

Some of the Westminster Music Library team

We were also joined by Sam, a reporter working for Westminster Council, whose interviews and photo-calls really excited the children. A group photo taken at the end of the school children and staff serves as a lovely reminder of an exciting morning.

Children and WML staff at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong event, June 2015

After refreshments and much chatting, our guests left us, and we set to work opening up the Library to the public for another day. We enjoyed having people of all ages and backgrounds for our sing-along, and, in the words of Vera Lynn, here’s hoping “we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

[Jon]

Behind the notes

IAML UK & Ireland logoIn April I attended the Annual Study Weekend of the UK and Ireland branch of The International Association of Music Libraries (IAML). This was a fantastic opportunity to meet other library staff working in specialist music libraries both in the public and academic sectors and to gain a greater understanding of Music Librarianship in the UK.

Held at the Aston University Conference Centre in Birmingham the weekend was centred around a number of talks and interactive sessions held by staff from institutions such as the British Library, Trinity College of Music and Drama and The Royal College of Organists. Participants were also lucky enough to hear a well delivered presentation from our very own Ruth Walters on Westminster Music Library’s ever growing public events schedule, including details of our successful Behind The Lines project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And we were given an extensive tour of the music department in the futuristic new Library of Birmingham.

Inside the new Library of Birmingham. Photograph by Margaret Jones.

Other highlights included a panel discussion concerning the ever present issues surrounding music copyright and use of material in libraries, an overview of the new ‘Hive’ library in Worcester where academic and public services are combined and a talk concerning the rise of Heavy Metal Music Studies as an academic research area!

The Hive library in Worcester. Photograph by Janet Mackinnon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The weekend ended with a presentation on the subject of Music Therapy delivered by a member of the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT). This was an opportunity for us to explore the possibilities of cross-sector collaborative work between public libraries and outside groups from a public health perspective and Westminster Music Library are looking forward to hosting members of the BAMT at the library during the upcoming Music Therapy Week (22-28 June) for a free public workshop and presentation – keep an eye on our events page for details.

[Anthony]

 

 

“Dost thou have a washroom?”

On National Libraries Day it is time once again to take a look at some of our favourite fictional (and real)  library staff.

The British Film Institute are currently holding a season celebrating the work of four times Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn herself played a reference librarian threatened with redundancy by Spencer Tracy’s new computer in Desk Set. Obviously the computer loses but the film has always been a favourite with reference librarians, dazzled by Hepburn’s virtuoso display of learning, though shocked by her failure to check her sources as she recites Hiawatha and names Santa’s reindeer…

Joan BlondellOne of Hepburn’s fellow library workers is played by Joan Blondell,  an accomplished comedienne whose career stretched from the Busby Berkeley musicals of the early 30s to Grease. Blondell was herself a former library worker.

According to her biographer Matthew Kennedy:

“Joan secured a job in a circulating library at Broadway and Eighty Ninth for eight dollars a week. Her shift was typically 8am to 1pm then again from 4pm to 11pm, which was perfect for attending mid-day auditions. Her boss, kindly Esther Wright, recalled that Joan ‘was a good clerk on account of she would not let boys have dates with her unless they joined [Esther’s] circulating library. One night there were seventeen boys lined up to join.’ Joan wrote their numbers on the wall near the telephone behind the circulation desk, which eventually looked like a directory of Manhattan’s available young men.”

As part of the Hepburn season, the BFI are showcasing one of her greatest films, The Philadelphia Story. In a famous scene, reporter Macaulay Connors, played by James Stewart visits a Quaker archives and the following exchange takes place

Librarian: What is thy wish?
Macaulay Connor: I’m looking for some local b – what’d you say?
Librarian: What is thy wish?
Macaulay Connor: Um, local biography or history.
Librarian: If thee will consult with my colleague in there.
Macaulay Connor: Mm-hm. Dost thou have a washroom?
Macaulay Connor: Thank thee.

Hepburn wasn’t the only grande dame of Hollywood to play a librarian. In Storm Center, Bette Davis plays a widowed librarian who fights against her local council’s attempts to ban a book supportive of Communism. A brave film that was the first to openly take on the McCarthy witch-hunts, it deserves to be better known as, sadly, libraries are still faced with pressure to ban books.

Check out the Movie Librarians site for more celluloid information workers. And for more on the careers of Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis  and Joan Blondell, why not have a look at this marvellous archive of Hollywood fan magazines?

One noted television reference worker is Flynn Carsen, the eponymous Librarian, played by Noah Wyle in a  series of television movies and more recently a spin-off series about a whole team of Librarians solving ancient mysteries and generally being awesome (though it has to be said that the script is a little cagey about their exact qualifications). While you’re watching The Librarians rescue the crown of King Arthur or turn into Prince Charming just remember – you never know what the staff of your local library are capable of!

[Nicky]