Into the next millennium

Books & the City - 1000th post

We can scarce believe it, but this is the 1000th post on Books & the City! The original aim was to shed light on ‘the life of the Libraries & Archives service, what’s happening, occasionally a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes. And a certain amount of random library-ness too’, in (we thought) one or two posts a week… This would have meant post number 1000 would have taken between ten and twenty years to arrive. The aim remains the same, but of course there has been a LOT more to write about than we foresaw, and it’s taken just 5 years and 3 months to get to this point.

Door(s) to the Marylebone Information Service reserve stackSo to celebrate, we thought we’d look back at some of the most popular, interesting or strange posts since 1 July 2010.

There have been posts about books, and posts about history. Posts about national projects and individual experiences. We’ve helped you use online resources and save money, we’ve introduced new services, reviewed hundreds of events from author visits to concerts and shown you some of the hidden places in our libraries.

What do the statistics tell us about what you want to see? You like a chance to get involved (Little Big Stories (A Mail Art Call)), you lap up pictures of works in progress (The rebirth of Maida Vale Library), and you love the idea of getting married in a library (Wedding ceremonies at Mayfair library).

Testing the technology and finding homes for the books, not very long before reopening... eek!The Marylebone Room - One of the two beautiful marriage & civil partnership rooms at Mayfair LibraryA piece in the 'Little Big Stories' mail art exhibition at Pimlico Library.

But most of all you want to read about the history of the wonderful City of Westminster, whether it’s in the form of a post from the Archives Centre (most popular subjects: Charles Dickens, swimming baths, Nathaniel Bryceson), a re-enactment to mark an event (Marylebone Library in the Park) or an exploration of a minute detail of library architecture (An ‘uplifting’ relic of Charing Cross past).

Hungerford Stairs, near the site of a blacking factory where Dickens worked as a boy. Image property of Westminster City Archives.Marylebone Library in the Park 2015 - Francis, Anabel, SabinaRelic of the London Hydraulic Power Company, to be found in Charing Cross Library

Posts about children’s activities are always popular too, and while they barely scratch the surface of the huge number of events that go on every week (especially during the Summer Reading Challenges), these stories do fulfil the stated aim of shedding light on ‘what’s happening in libraries’. Pictures of Lego rockets, vast papier maché penguins and duffle-coat clad dignitaries are among many that have caught the imagination.

Lego rocket and enthusiasts at Maida Vale LibraryPapier Mache Penguin in progress - St John's Wood Library, February 2013Paddington Bear visits Paddington Library, November 2014. Photos courtesy of Gavin Conlon Photography Ltd.

And what of this editor’s favourites? Well, being able to boast not one but TWO posts entitled, quite legitimately, ‘Polar Bear in the Library‘ has always pleased me, and I confess to a puerile giggle at having the chance to publish a post with the heading ‘Explosive bowels‘. But my favourite post of all was the one that seemed to say all that needed to be said about the modern public library service, the pride and ownership you the customers feel and how very wrong people can be about libraries (but also how gracious they can be in admitting their mistakes): ‘Frankly, my dear, we *do* give a …‘.

Frank Skinner at Church Street Library

We look forward to the next thousand posts and hope you’ll join us for the journey. Now, shall we watch some fireworks?


A Lovely Library Living Wall

Church Street Children's Library Wall, by Valentina Wong
Church Street Children’s Library Wall

Church Street Library has a lovely new artwork! Artist Christian Nyampeta and local gallery The Showroom worked with different groups of Church Street people to create the design which has been printed onto wallpaper and installed on the library’s big back wall which spans two storeys (from the Community Space in the basement, right up to the Children’s Library).

Local children, schools, library users and lots of different community groups took part in art workshops with the artist to share their ideas about what should be included in the design and we are really delighted that it was jointly created in this way and reflects their views of Church Street.

Photo 1 (art workshop with Church Street Library ESOL group) by Louise Shelley
Art workshop with Church Street Library ESOL group

The wall has ended up being a demonstration of how libraries can be places not only for reading, learning and access to information but also spaces for culture, discussion and creativity. It’s something you can enjoy visiting many times and find new things in it each time you look at it.

The finished wall was celebrated on Wednesday at the Church Street networking lunch with music from King Solomon Academy and St Edwards’ Primary School and speeches from Cllr Steve Summers and Christian Nyampeta.

St Edwards School performing in front of the new Church Street Library Living Wall, January 2015, by Valentina Wong
St Edwards School performing in front of the new Church Street Library Living Wall


Hide and seek

Charing Cross Library, although in a brilliant location, has never been the easiest library to find. Many customers have said they used to walk past for years without realising there was a library here, and this is not helped by our relatively narrow entrance.

Charing Cross Library under scaffolding, September 2014

For the next 3 months it will be even more difficult to spot us as we are completely obscured by scaffolding from top to bottom while repairs to the roof are taking place.

We will be open as usual! Don’t be put off by our appearance, come in and look around, like a tardis we are much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Charing Cross Library interior, 2014


Scrubs up nicely!

Charing Cross Library was closed for almost the whole of last month for a full redecoration, reopening last Monday 31 March.

Charing Cross Library after redecoration, April 2014

Our refurb has given us a fresh new look, with improved lighting and additional shelving, more laptop spaces (with more power points), an increase in seating, a much needed bigger space for the children’s library and display furniture for the front window.

We had a wonderful Under 5s session this week, showing off our new space with new carpets and some new toys – the reaction of the children and their parents & carers was very positive.

The lovely new children's area in Charing Cross Library, April 2014

Do come in and have a look around!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, yes and yes, in that order.


Marylebone Library on the move… pt8

Clock at Marylebone LibraryClocks. There are clocks everywhere.

And where there aren’t any clocks yet, there are post-it notes saying “clock”.

You can’t run a library without clocks. For a start, the library users like to know what the time is. If you’ve spent the morning researching the history of 14th Century Korean porcelain, or browsing the latest DVD releases, you need to know when to get your notes together, or make your choice of viewing, before slipping round the corner for a coffee or a sarnie.

Clock at Marylebone LibraryAs for the staff, the clock rules, regulates and directs all our working lives. 9.00am – set up ready. 9.30am – open the doors, go on public duty, or do some paperwork in the office. And so the day goes on. But not yet.

The library is still being prepared for next Wednesday’s opening (28th), and the clocks are waiting for hooks on the walls. With public areas on three floors, spread either side of a central stairwell, at least half a dozen clocks are needed. With two offices and a staffroom, that’s three more. Allergic to clocks? Don’t panic. The loos are clock-free areas.

Preparing the library for opening - Marylebone Library, Macintosh House, August 2013Apart from the clock situation, this building is really starting to look like a library. Books are on shelves, magazines in racks, and computers on desks (admittedly not quite connected yet, but the man with the screwdriver is on his way). Some really lovely people have been touching up the paintwork and cleaning all the surfaces. Oh, is that the clock man I can see over there? Now we can get organised!


Marylebone Library on the move… pt7

To move a library, you pack everything up, load it into vans, unload it all at the other end, and arrange the furniture, the books and the computers in the new premises – right? Wrong!

Getting the library ready to open - Marylebone Library (Beaumont Street), August 2013Everything happens at once. Sure, to start the whole thing off you have to pull some books off the shelves and load them into crates. Or deconstruct some tables and stash them in the van. But as soon as you fill a van, it’s off to the new gaff, the contents are unloaded, and the reconstruction starts. From then on, right up to the last vanload, there is a continuous stream of stuff, out of the doors, along the streets of Marylebone, into the open maw which is Macintosh House.

If I’ve given you the impression that I am somehow a big part of this process, let me confess: I’ve been like a man in a chain gang, taking the next bucket and passing it on. I know my place!

Crates in Marylebone Library, August 2013
Apart from the library’s managers, very much the clients in this operation, the masterminds are the movers, planning a vanload in their heads, assembling the ingredients and loading them. It’s not as awesome as it should be, because it’s just too smooth. They don’t shout or disagree or flounce off shaking their heads. They mutter and chat, or say nothing and just do it. Respect.

Library staff, as they do their bit towards this mammoth operation, are failing in one respect. There has been a complete disregard for the normal dress code. T-shirts (with slogans!) are being worn by almost everyone. A colleague in a rugby shirt has just carried a crate past me. And he nearly snagged my bow tie as he did so. Scandalous.

By the 28th the stream will have stopped flowing. A pity really – it’s great to witness.


Marylebone Library on the move… pt6

Getting the new Marylebone Library ready, August 2013
Everywhere you look, people are crouching in corners, reaching up to ceilings and squeezing themselves into tiny spaces. It’s finishing time at the new Marylebone Library.

Work at the new Marylebone LibraryPaintwork is being touched up, and dust is being vacuumed up. There is no sense of panic; the picture is one of people who know what they’re doing, just getting on with it. I went for a quick look, trying not to get in anyone’s way. As colleagues did a bit of measuring and note-taking, I just pottered, trying to visualise how the spaces will look with furniture and – vital ingredient – books in them.

A library spread over three floors will be different from what we’re all used to, but there is a lift, and signs will be arriving soon to guide us all around the new and strange landscape.

The new Marylebone Library at Macintosh House, August 2013
I promised, in good faith, to tell you what the strange object is, which looks like a spaceship, in the middle of the new children’s library. Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t reveal what it is, because nobody knows! Unless you know differently – if so, do tell.