Tag Archives: National Libraries Day

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…



Happy National Libraries Day!

National Libraries Day 2014Today, 6 February is National Libraries Day – we’d love to see you at the library today!

If you haven’t been in for a while, pick your nearest one and come and find out what we have to offer.

We’re holding an online competition to celebrate both National Libraries Day and the fact that this week has been National Storytelling Week:

Can you tell a story in fewer than 140 characters?
If you’d like to try, post your story on Twitter before midday on Monday, making sure you include the hashtag #NLD132.
There are prizes for the most retweeted story and we’ll pick our favourite reading- or library-related story too.
Find out more, and join in the judging by retweeting your favourite story at #NLD132.

This Saturday in Westminster Libraries you can find:

In addition to these special events we have literally hundreds of other events going on every day of the week across our network of libraries. Keep an eye on the Forthcoming events page for one-off events and at the regular events section of your own library’s events page for regular activities.

Or just come in and have a look at our wide range of books for both adults and children, use the library computers, ask a question, borrow a DVD or CD, find out about local history at the Archives Centre, use our amazing special collections or use the study space we offer.

If you can’t get to the library today, have a look at our brilliant online resources – you can download e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks for free, and use the Guardian newspaper archives, Naxos Music Library and KOMPASS business directory (and much MUCH more) from home too.

And if you can’t get to the library at all because you are disabled or caring for someone at home, don’t forget that we have a Home Library Service for you.

There are loads of reasons to love libraries this National Libraries Day. Come and find out why!


“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!


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

Browne system issue tray. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Happy National Libraries Day!

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

St. Marylebone library book label and pocket

Just a generation ago, things were very different. With no computers, most libraries issued books using the Browne system. Books had a pocket holding a card which gave the book’s number and author/title details. Readers were given a number of pocket tickets with their name and address details. They tendered one of these for each book borrowed and the book’s card was placed in the pocket ticket and then filed in a rack before (or behind) a date due marker. On returning a book, the racks would be searched for the matching card and the ticket returned. Returns and renewals could only be done at the library where the books were borrowed. Readers with overdue books would get posted reminders.

City of Westminster catalogue card

The library catalogue was a large set of drawers in which were inserted 5in x 3in cards for each book – one filed by author, and one by title or class number. The catalogue would only show books at that library, and would not show whether the book was in or on loan. When new books were added or old books withdrawn, the cards had to be manually filed or removed. By the 1970s, new technology saw the introduction of a system-wide catalogue on microfilm or microfiche. But it would still not show whether the books were in the library or on loan.

City of Westminster tokens

With fewer alternatives available, reading was a far more popular activity, and the library was so busy, especially at lunchtimes, that in 1952 Westminster dispensed with the Browne system. Instead readers were given plastic tokens which they handed over for all but the most expensive books. There was no record of who had out what books, so no overdue letters could be sent, but once a year each reader was written to and they had to produce all their tokens or pay a forfeit. This system was to last until a computerised management system was introduced from 1984.

City of Westminster renewal letter

As well as books, readers could borrow gramophone records, although there were strict rules about their care. The records themselves were not on the shelves. Instead there were display racks of the cards from which borrowers made their choice and then exchanged the card for the recording – supplied in a carrying case.

City of Westminster Gramophone library rules

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

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

Westminster Libraries catalogue, February 2015

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

E-books from Westminster Libraries

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

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014

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

Marketline - one of our many online resources

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

Charing Cross Library 1948

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

Happy National Libraries Day!

National Libraries DayToday, 7 February is National Libraries Day – are you coming to the library today? We’d love to see you.

If you haven’t been to the library for a while, pick your nearest one and come and find out what we have to offer. This Saturday in Westminster Libraries you can find:

These are just the special events this Saturday – we have literally hundreds of other events going on every day of the week across our network of libraries. Keep an eye on the Forthcoming events page for one-off events and at the regular events section of your own library’s events page for regular activities.

Or just come in and have a look at our wide range of books for both adults and children, use the library computers, ask a question, borrow a DVD or CD, find out about local history at the Archives Centre, use our amazing special collections or use the study space we offer.

Regular library users – or even lapsed ones – will enjoy the Twitter-based quiz we’ve got going on this morning. We’re posting pictures of details, features or aspects of many Westminster libraries and asking you to work out which one it is – take a look at #HowWellDoYouKnowYourLibrary? on Twitter to have a go. We’ll also be posting the pictures on here and Facebook later on.

If you can’t get to the library today, have a look at our brilliant online resources – you can download e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks for free, and use the Guardian newspaper archives, Naxos Music Library and KOMPASS business directory (and much MUCH more) from home too.

And if you can’t get to the library at all because you are disabled or caring for someone at home, don’t forget that we have a Home Library Service for you.

There are loads of reasons to love libraries this National Libraries Day. Come and find out why!

The A-Z of Westminster Libraries

The missing letter WIf you follow @WCCLibraries on Twitter, you may well have seen some of our tweets in honour of National Libraries Day on Saturday. Alongide our Triborough partners @RBKCLibraries and @LBHFLibraries, we tweeted an ‘A-Z of Libraries’ – a selection of things, such as Q for Quiet and G for Graphic Novels, that are on offer from your library service.

The idea was inspired by an ongoing list put together by library campaigning organisation Voices for the Library, though we added our own slant and our own specialisms :-).

We thought, for the non-tweeters among you, that we would post the full set here… at which point we discovered that much to our embarrassment, W was missed out on the day. Of course W is for Westminster, it goes without saying…

Here is the A-Z, stripped of the formatting and the #NLD14 hashtags, but still fitting within Twitter’s required 140 character limit:

A is for Audiobooks
– we’ve got a great range and you can download them #free! http://bit.ly/g5GtFe

B is for Business
– amazing facilities at our Business Information Points (BIPs) http://bit.ly/WestminsterBIPs

C is for Crafts
– with activities for young and old(er) throughout the year! http://bit.ly/1niqWDV

D is for DVDs
– a huge range! Ask about subscriptions for brilliant prices too http://bit.ly/1aGgPID

E is for Events
– we run 1000s a year: book clubs, gigs, IT training & much more http://bit.ly/us7wd

F is for Family History
– with #free access to @AncestryUK and @findmypast too http://bit.ly/1fRSwr2

G is for Graphic novels
– lots of stock in libraries and a ‘Comic Club’ to join http://bit.ly/1aGjja2

H is for Health information and advice
– books to borrow and almost daily events http://bit.ly/WgQmJx

I is for Information
– Got a question? Ask us and we’ll try to help! See http://bit.ly/1knqsPT

J is for Jobs
– employment advice sessions, computer access & lots of resources http://bit.ly/1eGZ2Rc

K is for Knowledge
– Keynote, Kompass & KnowUK – 3 of our #free online resources http://bit.ly/1fRSwr2

L is for Learning
– we run courses in libraries and you can learn online #free http://bit.ly/aN5LdY

M is for Music
– #free gigs, classical concerts and award winning music library http://bit.ly/8hjTc

N is for Newspapers
– paper copies, HUGE online archives, many languages! http://bit.ly/cImJC3

O is for Open
– incl late nights & Sundays, and the 24/7 Library never closes http://bit.ly/7bPzT8

P is for Photographs
– an astonishing store of old pics at the Archives Centre http://bit.ly/LYVbUQ

Q is for Quiet
– study areas, quiet corners, space to think… ssshhh… (OK, sometimes it’s noisy too)

R is for Romance
– ah, yes, we have that in spades… swoon… http://bit.ly/RomanceBks

S is for Social Media
– Never miss a thing with Twitter, Facebook & WordPress http://bit.ly/a09RVr

T is for Twinning
– Church Street twinned with Place des Fetes – who’s next? http://bit.ly/LHffup

U is for Unlikely
– for #NLD13 we posted this from St John’s Wood Library users: http://bit.ly/LHeDVo

V is for Villains galore
– borrow one of 5000+ crime novels from our shelves! http://bit.ly/crimewriting

W is for Worshipping a librarian!
– omitted on the day, but a sneaky chance to add a link to this: http://librarianavengers.org/worship-2/

X is for X-Rated
– yes, we have books and DVDs for Adults – search the catalogue http://bit.ly/Njp2sd

Y is for Youngsters
– we love kids! Here are some of the things they get up to http://bit.ly/1dx8MsF

Z is for Zzzzz
– need bedtime stories for the kids? Come to the library! http://bit.ly/Njp2sd

Thanks to everyone who replied and retweeted on the day, we hope everyone had a brilliant National Libraries Day 2014!

Happy National Libraries Day!

National Libraries Day 2014It’s 8 February and it’s National Libraries Day, which is always a day that makes us smile – what with all the #NLD14 tweets, activities all over the country and library supporters speaking in the media, how could we fail to feel loved?

And then, of course, there’s One Man and his Beard. who does a great job of spreading the library love with his song ‘We Need Libraries’. Can you spot a Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham or Kensington & Chelsea library card in there?

Last year, our post about famous and not-so-famous, real and fictional librarians was very popular, and this year we’d like to share a few quotations about libraries that have appealed to us:

“When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you.”
― Keith Richards

“Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.
― Isaac Asimov

Here’s one that will resonate with everyone who has ever worked in a library…

“People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.”
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

And one to big up all the librarians out there 🙂

“Librarians are the coolest people out there doing the hardest job out there on the frontlines. And every time I get to encounter or work with librarians, I’m always impressed by their sheer awesomeness.”
― Neil Gaiman

Thanks Neil, you’re SO right.

So on this National Libraries Day, we’d love to hear what your library means to you. You can comment on this blog, send us an email or a tweet, or tell the staff in your library what you like best about the service and what it has done for you.

And spread the word – USE IT, LOVE IT, JOIN IT.