Tag Archives: maxing out your library service

Get your free e-books here!

Westminster Libraries e-books on a smartphoneWe’re delighted to announce the arrival of Westminster Libraries’ new e-book service! You can now download e-books for free onto your computer, smartphone, e-book reader or tablet.

Over 1600 titles are currently available with more being added every week.

Titles include How to Bake by Paul Hollywood, Booker Prize shortlisted A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Icons of England by Bill Bryson, Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child and other titles by best selling crime writers.

We also have Lonely Planet travel guides, self help titles (covering job hunting, starting a business and health and wellbeing), cookery books and much much more!

The collection is available at any time of the day or night.  To start borrowing e-books today visit www.westminster.gov.uk/ebooks/ and follow the instructions. You’ll need your library card number and pin/password (the same ones you use to renew your books online). If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join. If you are a member but don’t have a password for your card, please contact your library to get one.

It’s really that simple!



You spent *how much* on a book?

This much?

  • Loads of free books... if you join the libraryThe Cambridge Guide to the Theatre – £39.90 on Amazon
  • A Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Economists – £175 on Amazon
  • Encyclopedia of World Trade from Ancient Times to the Present – £354.71 on Amazon
  • Debrett’s People of Today 2012 – not available on Amazon (2008 edition £76.50)
  • Reader’s Guide to British History – £285 on Amazon
  • Encyclopedia of Women’s Autobiography – £133 on Amazon
  • Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary – £29.91 on Amazon
  • Encyclopedia of Postmodernism – £155 on Amazon
  • Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science – £1330 on Amazon
  • The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women – 1 penny on Amazon (secondhand, plus £2.80 delivery charge)

I put the last one in for balance (honest!). These are ten reference books, chosen “blind” (I had no prior knowledge of the prices), and the Amazon-quoted prices as of today, 30 July. They are all rather specialised, but that’s the point.

When you want a book with in-depth coverage of a subject, where will you turn? I use Amazon a lot. But at these prices, for these kinds of titles, I think I might turn back to where I found them in the first place – Credo Reference, one of Westminster Libraries’ exclusive ‘Online Resources’, which are free to use for library members.

By the way, there are 600 reference books on Credo Reference, 200+ on Oxford Reference Online, and 120+ on Gale Virtual Reference Library, all available free for members via our 24/7 Library. Not having to venture out into the melée that is the first weekday of the Olympics might be another big plus!

For other ways to max out your library service, see our previous posts on the subject. And if you do happen to have £2579.03 rattling around, my holiday fund is a bit low at the moment!


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


I love Google. And Google loves me!

I love Google. I hate Google.

Use Libraries and Learn StuffI love it for its efficiency, and for its constant striving to be relevant to my way of life on the web. I am still open-mouthed with admiration for its dominance of Web searching, shrugging off all pretenders to its throne for so many years.

But I hate it for its lazy friends. I mean all those press and telly people who want to convince us that a Google search is all you need to find everything useful, and all the punters who believe them. A huge part of the blame belongs to Google as a company; for understandable corporate reasons, they have posed as a one-stop Web tool, but this is a message for prospective shareholders. Ordinary Web users need to be reminded that other resources are available and often necessary, and this is something Google has not properly addressed.

So, given my admiration for the positive aspects of Google, I was amazed and quite ridiculously pleased to read one of Google’s own boffins (Daniel M Russell) – an expert in search, no less – praising the services he gets from his local library, principally the electronic reference resources which Google cannot find because they are subscription-based and only available to library members.

Westminster’s reference services are at Marylebone Information Service and Westminster Reference Library. They are the holders of most of our special collections, alongside Westminster Music Library and the Archives Centre, and between them offer vast numbers of resources that are either not online or not available via Google. And of course you can use your library membership card to get at oodles of the not-on-Google stuff from the comfort of your own home, via the 24/7 Library.

Mr Russell also likes to use his library to save money. Lots of money. I’ve talked about this before though, so won’t repeat myself here.

Oh, and (I feel I shouldn’t mention this, but I will) he likes reference librarians too, who are “both incredibly well-informed about the infoverse AND incredibly happy to tell you everything they know in order to make you a better researcher”; who are “genuine saints who want nothing more than to teach you how to do the search on your own and make you self-sufficient”.

Now obviously, as a reference librarian, I am prevented by modesty from agreeing with the description “saint”. And I’m not going to be stupid enough to make any claims about my success rate in helping people to do their searching efficiently and enjoyably. But that’s what I strive for. Every day.

Read Mr Russell. Then get round to the library. You know it makes sense!


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).

Free at the library – the reckoning

Using libraries saves you moneySince July I have been writing about what’s free in libraries. It wasn’t an original idea – I got it from an American blog (and no, of course I didn’t pay for it – though I did get permission).
Having worked my way through the library free-o-sphere, I thought it might be a neat idea to sum up the many ways I’ve found to milk Westminster Libraries for all they’ve got.

  1. With a breathtaking statement of the b* obvious, I started with books. Good books, new books, books you’ve heard of, free-to-borrow books. Paying fines would spoil the whole thing, of course, but free alerts make that unlikely. I did suggest splashing out a few pence to reserve books you don’t find on the shelves, but not if it causes your freeloader’s heart too much pain.
  2. From books I progressed to book groups. Westminster has several of these, and of course you can borrow the chosen book free (they always have a decent supply). But even if your book group is not in a Westminster library, one library member can borrow a stash of the same title from a long list.
  3. Free stuff in bed came next – nothing dirty, just all the free things Westminster Libraries can do for their members from a distance, notably by providing a long list of web-based Exclusive Resources, for which they pay a subscription so that you can get informed and have fun for free.
  4. From the bedroom (or lounge or office…), I moved back into the library for those free electronic resources which you can only get on library premises (sometimes every Westminster library, sometimes one or more). These are worth the trip if you need high-quality information on subjects like business, the law, and family history.
  5. For children, the freebies come thick and fast. Apart from the books – a huge expense for parents, but free to borrow from the library – there are special events and regular sessions for all ages from babies to university hopefuls.
  6. I was distracted from the path of freeness by the range of DVDs and CDs they have in Westminster Libraries, my excuse being that the cost is so little and the range so impressive that anyone would be seduced. And don’t forget that browsing – the favourite activity for many non-spenders – is free and available for longer hours than at many shops.
  7. Then things got a bit erudite, with quotes from Shakespeare introducing a post about opportunities for the hard-of-spending to study at or through Westminster Libraries. Computer use and training, computer-based courses, dedicated learning centres – all these are on offer, and the only thing I could find which costs a bit is printing from library computers.
  8. I paused for questions, then told you where to go. No disrespect intended: the direction I pointed you in was towards the reference libraries in Westminster, where they love, nay – adore with a kind of fundamental ache of pleasure – difficult questions. Don’t believe me? Try them.
  9. In case it was all getting just too exciting, I reached for the soothing free music. Not dodgy rip-off CDs – everything is legally cost-free. Music via the Internet, some of it paid for by Westminster Libraries but free to you, was first on my list.
  10. Then I moved on to Westminster Music Library, suggesting that you did the same. Books on music, magazines, scores, songs, expertise (lots of that) – all free, not forgetting the free-to-play electronic piano.
  11. Turning to family history (not mine – too murky), I described all the goodies at Westminster Archives Centre, and the two electronic resources for ancestor-hunters available in any Westminster library.
  12. and 13. Having shared with you my adventures in the world of electronic news databases, with some suitably rabbit-out-of-a-hat examples, I trawled through the amazing range of newspapers and magazines (print versions) available to borrow or rest your eyes under (no sleeping, remember – it’s against the rules!).

I don’t know about you, but I was surprised just what’s out there. I knew there was a good story to tell, but the range, the scope, the weightiness and the fun were a revelation to this hard-bitten professional. And as the days grow colder, I’m starting to appreciate the free heat, too…


The freedom of the press, part 2

Newspapers & magazines in Westminster Libraries & ArchivesIn my last missive, I took my fellow freeloaders on a grand tour of online newspapers, all free through Westminster Libraries. I rashly promised a follow-up on news and mags in print, and the gorgon who edits this blog always holds me to my promises. But she’s right to insist – there’s a good (free) story to tell.

I used to buy a few magazines every month, and it took me a long time to spot a common pattern: some months I read a mag from cover to cover, sometimes hardly anything really appealed. Which made an annual subscription a really expensive option. As you know, I hate expensive options (or any option that costs anything, come to that), so when I was leafing through the mags for loan in my nearest library, I got fixated on exactly how much I could save by borrowing rather than buying. It’s eye-watering.

Let’s suppose I’ve got catholic tastes in reading. What’s on the shelves? Four Four Two, for a bit of footie gossip – £4.20. Total Film, for the movie latest – £3.99. Management Today, for serious business types – £4.70. Bliss, all life’s complications (if you’re below a certain age and female) – £2.50. Starting to get the picture? That’s four magazines, costing over 15 quid. I added it up twice, in case I was exaggerating.

And I really did find these on the shelves this morning. They count as books as far as borrowing limits are concerned, so I could have borrowed up to 20 at a time if I didn’t have anything else out, which is a bit extreme. I could borrow them for a week, which is plenty, and they mostly come in rather nice plastic sleeves which keep them fresh. But what if my tastes are more specialised?

You’re probably ahead of me, here: specialised = even more expensive, which is why some of the “heavy” journals (eg Nature – £10) can only be read in the library. The two reference libraries (Westminster Reference Library and Marylebone Information Service), along with the specialist libraries, have most of the read-only stuff. Business, politics, literature, pastimes, buying things… the chances are that at least one of Westminster’s libraries will cover it. Free, of course.

What about that traditional activity, slumping in a chair and sleeping under cover of a newspaper? I have to disappoint you on one score – sleeping in the library is against the byelaws! But reading newspapers is still very much on the agenda. Every Westminster library has a selection of dailies, often with a foreign-language paper or two to reflect local demand. The bigger libraries have more newspapers, weekly and monthly as well as daily. And just in case you think the freebie-factor isn’t great for newspapers, let me remind you that the Guardian and the Telegraph cost a pound each during the week, the Mail 80p, and the FT an astronomical £2. More on Saturdays, of course, and as for Sundays, don’t get me started.

If you just want the satisfaction of reading a paper or a magazine and saving the cover price, just pop into any Westminster library.

If you want to be a bit more choosy, you can find out which library stocks which publications by going to one of two places – Newspapers & magazines on the Westminster Libraries Gatewayto the Westminster Libraries e-library catalogue for mags to borrow (search for the title ‘and periodical’), and to the exotically-named WULOP (periodicals catalogue) for the ones you have to read on the premises. Having them split up is a bit of a nuisance, but luckily the searches are free, too!