Tag Archives: libraries

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]

Advertisements

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:

Love, War and Public Libraries for World Book Night

World Book Night 201623 April, as well as being Shakespeare’s (Smyth’s, Cervantes’, Neames’ and Hartnell’s) anniversary, is of course World Book Night.

Westminster libraries joined in the fun, with free copies of several of the WBN titles being given out at six libraries.

Paddington Library‘s World Book Night event tied in nicely with the Shakespearean theme, as author Barrie Stacey‘s background is the theatre. Barrie gave a humorous account of his life in the theatre world, including the many famous people he met and got to know over more than fifty years. He also talked about his latest book Love in the Afternoon, which is an entertaining and original novel about love, a failed marriage followed by a late flowering of romance.

The audience were really taken by Barrie’s interesting and varied real life and were delighted to buy signed copies of his novel having met the author, as well as receiving free copies of Elizabeth Buchan’s novel I can’t begin to tell you, set in Denmark  during the second World War.

In wartime: stories from Ukraine, by Tim JudahThe situation in Ukraine is one which is really not well known in the west, which is why Tim Judah’s talk on his book In Wartime at Victoria Library was so enlightening. It was great to get the information direct from someone who was actually on the ground as the civil strife developed and his insider knowledge really came through.

The talk was punctuated by images taken from the ground and Tim offered some excellent insights into what life is like for people in Ukraine. The talk led into quite a lively political discussion and it was great to have so many people with such a clear interest in the current strife participating. We felt especially privileged to have Tim with us for World Book Night when we realised his next appointment was in Kiev!

Tim Judah tweet 23 April 2016

There was one last World Book Night gift to come… We were delighted to receive free copies of Bailey’s Prize winning author Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories, along with a letter passing on her thanks for the “brilliant work of librarians across the UK”. Thanks for your support, Ali! You can find a copy of Public Library in every library – borrow or reserve a copy now.

Public Library and other stories, by Ali Smith

[Laurence and Nick]

“And the Award goes to…”

Ruth Walters with the Westminster Music Library IAML Excellence Award certificate 2016On Saturday 2 April, in a swish hotel on the outskirts of Manchester, during this year’s International Association of Music Libraries (IAML) annual conference, we paused while the red carpet was laid out and the assembled delegates were transformed with sparkly frocks, frightening ‘up dos’ and slick tuxedos… well maybe not quite that sparkly, but The BAFTAs, The Oscars, The Grammys, none of them can hold a candle to The IAML Excellence in Music Libraries Awards.

A host of IAML delegates were assembled to celebrate the fantastic achievements of colleagues representing music libraries of all shapes and sizes across the UK and Ireland; no matter what their sector or type.

Some aspire to greatness, and others achieve it. In the music library world there are some folks who just keep getting better and better at providing all manner of services for their customers, whether they are tiny tots, learned professors, or all manner of people, young and old, in-between. Some have forged successful partnerships, devised innovative events programmes or organised fascinating exhibitions, others have achieved new levels of co-operation with schools and universities or are recognised for their special collections or outreach programmes. One thing’s for sure, all these award winning libraries are impressive, and demonstrate the dedication and passion of library staff determined to provide their customers with the best music library service they can.

The other thing about the IAML “Biennale” is it gives everyone an opportunity to adopt and adapt some of the work that the Award winners are so skilled at doing. We all know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and following someone’s good work and good practice is surely the most flattering pat on the back of all.

The nominations for this year’s Awards were judged by a panel of experts from both the music and library worlds, chaired by Jan Smaczny, Professor Emeritus of Music, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Professor Jan Smaczny, Chair of the IAML (UK & IRL) awards panelMusic libraries play a key role in supporting the study, performance and enjoyment of music and underpin the vibrant diverse musical life and heritage in the UK and Ireland and, as Professor Smaczny has said,

“the very musical infrastructure of the United Kingdom and Ireland depends fundamentally on the work of music librarians”.

And who are we to argue with the good Prof?

And finally, I must ‘blow the trumpet’ for Westminster Music Library, as we were indeed honoured with our fourth Excellence Award, which I was both delighted and proud to accept on behalf of my wonderful team.  Here’s why we were selected:

The service was particularly commended for its proactive working in seeking out new projects and partnerships, which engage with both users and potential users. The expert staffing levels and training offered to both staff and the public were also commended, as was the excellent stock and publicising of the service.  The panel felt that the library is a ‘national resource’ and a benchmark for ‘excellence’.

Thank you IAML, we are absolutely thrilled, and it is nice to wear a frock occasionally…

[Ruth]

IAML Study Weekend 2016  IAML Excellence Award certificate 2016

Ruth didn’t mention the whole story above – we’re very pleased and proud to say that she also won a personal acheivement award:

“The judging panel recognised that Ruth continues to bring energy, enthusiasm, creativity and professionalism to both Westminster Music Library and more widely to IAML (UK & Irl).  Under her management WML – one of the UK’s leading public music libraries – continues to take on new challenges in creative partnership working, event organising, and delivering an excellent music library service to its members.  So much of what Ruth – and WML – does is Excellent and a benchmark for others to be inspired by and follow.  One recent project of note is a partnership with the Armed Forces in which Ruth secured funding from the Ministry of Defence to set up a choir ‘Joint Force Singers’ with Westminster’s Armed Forces.  Ruth’s ongoing events programmes, community partnerships and fundraising have raised the profile of a specialist music service in the community, introducing new customers – children and adults – to the world of music.”
– from the IAML blog

Congratulations to Ruth and team once more!

“It’s a lovely job – I’ve been so lucky”

Jennifer, library assistant at Maida Vale LibraryMeet Westminster Council’s longest serving staff member:
Jennifer is a Library Assistant at Maida Vale Library and has worked for the council for 46 years.

Having grown up in Weston-super-Mare, Jennifer was working in Bristol Libraries until a friend got a job with Westminster City Council in 1970. Inspired to write “on the off chance” that there might be library work available, she was offered an interview in Marylebone and then a job, returning to Bristol to work out her notice. That done, she moved to London and started work at Mayfair Library the very next day.

While the change from Bristol to London took some getting used to, Jennifer found being in the centre of the capital with all its opportunities really exciting and has never looked back. She soon moved from Mayfair Library to Maida Vale Library and there she has stayed.

Maida Vale Library“Maida Vale Library is so full of character, it used to be a Methodist Church and has appeared on television in Minder, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and lots more”.

Of course, working life was quite different 46 years ago. One of the main changes that Jennifer has noticed is a more egalitarian environment:

“I remember how formal it was. There was no calling anyone by their first name,  we were all Miss, Mrs or Mr and then our surname”.

And libraries themselves have changed and grown.

“The job has changed significantly from when I first started. Back then it was just books. Now we are a one-stop shop, social centre, we offer pension advice, English classes, toddler groups and we are the only council department where anyone can come and see us.”

Books by Ruth Rendell in Westminster LibrariesOf course there are still books too, and Ruth Rendell, who visited Jennifer’s former workplace of Mayfair in 2013 and lived locally until her death in 2015, is a particular favourite.

“She describes her characters so well and the places she sets her books are ones I know.”

When talking to Jennifer her enthusiasm for her work and workplace is palpable. It’s great to know that the library service can inspire such dedication that we have the longest serving employee in the whole of the council.

“Do I enjoy it? Well I would have to, to stay this long! I love the work, the people, and the environment. I love seeing my regulars and having a chat whilst building relationships within the community.”

Thanks Jennifer.

[Ali]

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]

Takeover Day at St John’s Wood Library

On Friday 20 November the City of Westminster Archives Centre, Maida Vale Library and St John’s Wood Library participated in the Kids in Museums‘ national initiative ‘Takeover Day’. This initiative aims to give young people the opportunity to participate in a work environment, assisting staff and volunteers in their work and contributing to the life of an organisation.

This is the first of three posts today about #takeoverday – how did it go at St John’s Wood Library?

Six children from George Eliot Primary and Barrow Hill Junior Schools took over running the library for the day. Councillor Judith Warner joined us early on and had a long conversation with all the children. They tried a whole range of tasks and seem to have really enjoyed themselves. At the end of their day they were presented with certificates and tokens of appreciation.

“Today I learnt that books are not boring and are very exciting and fun. I would recommend to go to the library two times a week. After this experience, I want to be librarian.”

“I have enjoyed today I have had a lot of fun. I thought libraries were boring but I don’t think they are boring now.”

“Today I have learnt a lot. I have had a great experience. Being a librarian is an amusing job. My favourite part was when I scanned the books.”

“I learnt that they organise books with numbers.”

“This event is really fun and to take part is really cool. It gives you ideas of what you do when you are older.”

Takeover Day 2015We’d like to say thank you to all the children, and we hope to see you again soon!

[Ivana]