Monday, 23 February 2015

The Libraries at Lincoln Cathedral

I visited  Lincoln Cathedral library last week. It would be fairer to say libraries, because there is more that one collection, specialising in different books and documents dating from the 1400's up to the present day. The collections are held in separate rooms: the Reading Room holds books dated from 1801 upwards that are all about cathedral architecture and artefacts; the Wren library holds the medieval collection and books up to 1800 of diverse subjects; the collection in the gate house at Exchequer Gate holds books about theology. All of these can be read by prior appointment with the librarian, Julie Taylor (

As well as diversity of collection, there is a diversity of Architecture. The reading room appears to be in  a Victorian extension to the Cathedral, but a nearby set of steps leads to the original medieval (15th century) half timbered reading room where the library had a collection of books that were chained to large long lectern like benches. Apparently the Cathedral kept a chest full of books that could be borrowed. If a book was lost, then the borrower had to replace it with a book of a similar financial value, not the same subject matter, so that meant the collection became very random. It is possible that the mediaeval room was constructed and the books chained to prevent then getting lost. It would be really interesting to find out if that system could work these days?

A door in the middle of the mediaeval library leads to a beautiful piece of reformation architecture. Restrained, perfectly proportioned and elegant, the long room above the north cloister was designed by Christopher Wren for  Michael Honywood who was the Dean of Lincoln from 1660 to 1681. He had gathered a large collection of books about many subjects, including beauty tips for ladies! On his death he left the collection to the Cathedral. Current day librarians that are concerned about classification would have a nightmare: the books are not arranged in conceptual order, but are simply arranged by height; large on the lower shelves and small at the top! This room has undergone some recent restoration and the walls are now painted in the original style. More restoration is taking place. Many of the books are quite unique, others have similar versions elsewhere. Many of the books are of Dutch origin because Dean Honywood spent some years in Holland.

Although none of the collection is currently digitised, the library does have an on-line catalogue which can be searched from the cathedral website (

The library web pages can be found here:

Friday, 30 January 2015

Libraries that get children excited

One of my five theories from my PhD research was that children's mobile libraries "worked" because the anticipation of them arriving and then disappearing made children excited. I noticed many times, all over the UK, that the children who came onto the vehicles were happy, smiling, looking pleased and excited. There were two or three children, I think, that were more cautious and shy and showing that they did not really want to be there, but that was out of about 700 children that I observed. There was even one pre-school child that came on with her mother, before any other children had come on to the vehicle, that was running up and down the vehicle with the simple glee of being surrounded by books. She want to borrow far too many. Her mother said, when apologising for the daughter's behaviour, that she was always excited on the day that the CML visited because she liked it so much. Here are examples of two other vehicles where the excitement happens:

My theory, which I may have mentioned before, is that when something is ephemeral, and comes and goes away, but you know that it will return again, makes humans interested, It is not always there, so you don't get used to it and you think you will go, but not get around to it. If it visits just briefly, then you are much more likely to go because you can only catch it then. It is a bit like a travelling show, or an ice cream van, or a fish and chip van (yes we have them in the UK). You must get there before it disappears.

The next time that you know it is due, you anticipate the pleasant experience that you had last time (assuming of course that you did). Your brain then starts to produce adrenaline, which makes you excited (a bit like going on a fairground ride). This works positively for learning, because the adrenaline makes your brain more alter and receptive to what is going on all around you, and if what is going on all around you is books and words and stories, then more of it is going to sink in and stick.

This is why the children in the Goddard School South Brunswick didn't want to wait to put their jackets on before running out to the bookmobile.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Random Updates and Reminiscences

One of the small irritating problems that we encountered on the Reading Rocket (a children's mobile library) was accessing Derby City Libraries' library management system live from our lap-top. Mobile technology was still developing at the time, and although some authorities were using satellites dishes on top of their mobile libraries, our technicians considered that the expense of satellite dishes, their deployment time and reliability was not as effective as using an internet dongle. This meant that we could access the Derby City Libraries system and the internet over a mobile phone signal. This was great, most of the time, but there places in Derby that received poor signals and on occasions the driver of the Reading Rocket would have to move the vehicle a few feet up or down a street before we got good reception. It seemed particularly bad in places where we were near mobile masts, like if we we just too close.

It is quite remarkable, then to read this story of a mobile library in 1980s Colorado which not only could be the very first mobile library with an on-line computer, but perhaps also a very early example of WiFi. The signals between the Mobile Library modem and the library mainframe computer were by radio, meaning that library had to have its own frequency. More of the story can be found at:

It is really quite common for children's mobile libraries to be illustrated with pictures from well known book authors. The Reading Rocket was covered with illustrations from Nick Sharrat's book Rocket Countdown (Walker Books) This was all perfectly legal, we got help and permission from Walkers Books and Nick Sharrat himself came to officially launch the "Rocket" and I still have my signed copy of Rocket Countdown which Nick said he signed with Jacqueline Wilson's pen. During my field work I found examples of work by:

Chris Riddel (Manchester's Reading Voyager)
  Mick Inkpen's Kipper from West Sussex

and Little Rabbit Foo Foo by Arthur Robins in Stockport.

The attractiveness of a familiar picture or artistic style appears to draw attention to the vehicles, and perhaps gives some sort of clue as to the content, not ice creams or hot dogs! I have found this other example of the tradition going on in the Caribbean island of St Martin where a local author has allowed her character "Lizzie the Lizard"to be put on a mobile library that visits schools on the island. 

And here are some pictures of the Reading Rocket:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Getting involved in something new

On Tuesday I went to Waterstones in Derby, actually a place that I usually try to avoid because it is the seat of my addictions: Books, Ordnance Maps, that sort of thing. I find it very hard to leave any bookshop without buying something. However, this time I was there for a different reason, Derby is getting around to having a book festival and it was the launch of the advertising for the festival and general announcement that it is going to happen. Here is a link to the website:

Which is a bit sparse at the moment, but I am sure it will fill up with information as things are finalised. There are pictures of the event on twitter (@DerbyBookFest) and there is a Facebook page. I have managed to get myself involved with it's organisation because I think that Derby needs a good cultural event, and anything that may promote books and reading is fine by me.

There will be many events over Derby between 1st and 7 of June, some of them directly organised by the festival team and others by local cultural organisations and businesses. The idea appears to have snowballed to a great extent with local theatres scheduling book themed performances. The headline act is Michael Morpurgo who will be closing the festival with his band, and several well known teen authors, for example Bali Rai, are going to go around schools in Derby. There are projects and competitions as well as author talks, and hopefully something for everyone. And it didn't leave without buying a book, I got "All Men are Liars" by Alberto Manguel, it was rude not to...

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Book Trade

When I agreed to teach a 12 week module on the Book Trade for undergraduates at 10 days notice, I really did not think that it would be as much work, so tiring and as rewarding as it turned out to be. Now the marking is done and the module over I can relax and mull over the pro's and cons of the experience. I have to admit to a certain amount of bravado when it comes to teaching, I have been teaching for something like 30 years, in some way or another. I worked in Adult Education for ages, then did a PGCE to teach Design and Technology, did loads of supply teaching, when you have to walk into a classroom and instantly start teaching a lesson that someone else had prepared, sometimes in subjects where you just don't have a clue. Gujarati was a challenge, and I have also previously co-taught graduates and done one off lectures. So I thought that a pre-planned 12 week series of 2hr lectures would be a breeze.

The first problem was IT access, the university IT people were very methodical with the way that they give out access rights and email addressed to "new" staff. I put new in inverted commas because I was not entirely new, I have worked as a university teacher there before but has a minor break of 2 years when I defected to another university. This meant that I couldn't get onto the VLE for the first 5 weeks of the 12 week module. The second problem was getting inside the head of the previous teacher and trying to convey the meaning of the presentations that had been planned. This, combined with the lack of IT access, did lead to some tricky situations, such as not knowing how a certain bibliographic database featured in one lecture actually worked, because I couldn't log on to the system to find out. 

I was also told that I couldn't use the planned assignments because this group of third year students had done them in their first year, so I hastily invented some with no idea of how feasible they were and whether the students would be able to find out enough information for what I asked (The assignments were approved by the programme manager, so they could not have been too outlandish). After 2 years of sitting at a desk playing with a computer every day I had forgotten how exhausting it was to stand up and talk at people for two hours (Actually, although I more or less stood up and walked around for two hours, I did plan the sessions for student interaction, discussion and activities, so although I am capable of talking for Wales at any Olympic Talking event). 

The benefits, however, overcame the problems. The students were great, polite, keen and receptive. I was really pleased to see the number of them that attended specially arranged talks with their subject librarian, a visiting lecturer and a field trip to the local Waterstones where the manger talked to them about being part of the book trade. I also learnt a more about the book trade than I had when doing a similar module for my Masters at Aberystwyth. Teaching a subject is a brilliant way of learning because not only do have to absorb the information, you have to understand it to a level when you can explain it to someone else. I had to update my background reading and find current statistics. I really would have like a longer time to do that and to put the module together.

As the semester this academic year was longer than the previous year I also had to write a few new lectures, but I found them much easier to deliver. In fact I did pepper the pre-written lectures with my specialist knowledge. The proof of the pudding is in the eating so I was very pleased when the students did their presentations (an "on-line encyclopaedia" article about an aspect of the book trade) and when I read their written assignments (pretend you are giving an annual report to the board or shareholders of a Bookseller). They had not only taken in much of what I had told them in the lectures but they  had also found out a lot of information independently, despite my fears there was sufficient information out there for them to find, and some of them wrote very convincing annual reports (I did check that they had not just filched them from the internet).

I found out a huge amount of information about booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmiths, Amazon and Barnes and Nobel just from reading their reports. Repetition is a good learning tool! I like lecturing, but I far prefer to plan well in advance. I just hope that the students liked it too.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Speak Up for Libraries

Last Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at just after 5.30 am to catch an early train to London. It doesn't take very long to get to London, but I booked my tickets in August in a rush of enthusiasm when the days were long, light and warm! So I arrived nearly 2 hours before the start of the Speak up for Libraries Conference 2014 in the damp, cold and dullness. I amused myself nicely with a Beano Annual illustration exhibition in St Pancras, a walk in Regent's Park and standing at the foot of the Post Office Tower (yes, I know it isn't called that any more) marvelling at 1960's technology.

I was so pleased that I did manage to drag myself out of bed, however, because the conference was really interesting and felt that it had a purpose to it. I was surprised at the number of Unison reps that were there, especially the number of librarians that are also Unison reps. When I worked in Derby City Libraries, the Union reps were not from libraries, and didn't have the same passion as the ones I saw last Saturday. A sign of the change of times, I think, I left Derby City Libraries just before all the cuts happened. Librarians have become activists. I was also pleased to meet a number of people, some of them quite elderly, who were simply library users, passionate about their library with some of them actively resisting library pending library closure. One gentleman said to me that libraries are "the poor man's university": the place where anyone can learn irrespective of their class or income. Of course the words there are the phraseology of another generation, we don't talk about "The poor" in the same way, and he was using the term "man" to mean universal humanity, but coming from the South Wales Valleys myself, I knew exactly what he meant. The library was, and still is, a place where you can learn despite not going to school or not understanding your school work. On the Reading Rocket, at a few stops, we had random individual children coming along and enjoying themselves with books, who we knew should have been in school. We had the attitude that they were at least doing something constructive with their time, and learning what they wanted to learn.

Sorry, this has diverted me from my main theme today, the Speak Up for Libraries Conference. It was  well organised with workshops in the morning to discuss questions to put to politicians prior to the forthcoming general election, to work out ways to activate library campaigners on the ground during the pre-election time and polarise what the Speak Up coalition (SUFL) can do. These workshops also served as a vehicle for people's frustrations at what was happening in their area, good to unload their feelings before the politicians joined us in the afternoon. The group that I was in came up with the following:

To politicians: "What would your elevator (lift) pitch be for libraries?"
                        "Will there be a postcode lottery for library services in the future"
We also felt that having library standards for local councils were necessary, and were interested in their viewpoint of volunteer run libraries.

For local campaigners:
                         Give all local councillors library cards
                         Educate local councillors in what libraries really do
                         Get councillors to justify library cuts
                         Attend council meetings when libraries being discussed
                         Send postcards to residents naming councillors who want to close libraries

The SUFL coalition should:
                         Aid  national co-ordination of friends of libraries groups
                         Collate information.
                         Be honest, and state positives as well as the negatives about libraries closing or being                          taken over

In the afternoon, three politicians, Green, Conservative and Labour, spoke about their party's position on libraries. UKIP had not been invited. Lib Dems had, but could not find a representative.

Martin Francis of the Green party spoke passionately about libraries being a neutral, social space which could enhance and change peoples lives. He stated that the Green Party considers libraries a public service not something that needs to have financial returns.

Helen Goodman MP and shadow secretary for Culture, Media and Sport (Labour), talked about statistics of closed and at risk libraries, suggested the government underspend of faster broadband put towards supporting libraries. She stated that Labour does not approve of putting out libraries “entirely” to voluntary sector. Believes in professional libraries.

Justin Tomlinson MP  Conservative, was chair of parliamentary library group. He also quoted statistics and said that libraries should be run by core professional staff, However, libraries need upgrading, should open longer hours and library numbers should be published. He did not appear to be very well informed about what libraries are actually doing.

The discussion included Digital Inclusion, which was supported by Green and Labour, but Justin said that libraries workers shouldn't be IT workers, they should have time to do their proper jobs. There was gasps and stuff from the floor, IT is so much part of librarianship these days. As for Secretary of State intervention to prevent library closure, Labour and Greens agreed that they should, and Conservative think that they should not interfere with local decisions. As for volunteers running libraries, Labour thought they may be a current necessary evil, Green was not clear on the situation and Conservatives thought that they add useful extra skills, but should not be the core of library function. One has to remember that they are politicians speaking to about 100 people passionate about libraries, they were not going to say anything contentious.  

The second part of the afternoon was devoted to the latest library reviews,Welsh Libraries and the Seighart Review of English public libraries. Clare Creaser gave a useful summary of the Welsh Libraries, which have library standards and the intention that a Minister of State can and will intervene to prevent library closure,

Sue Chateris gave an indication of what may be in the Seighart Review when it is published and Alan Gibbons gave a very socialist and impassioned speech about the power of libraries which made me realise that he is now much more a library campaigner than a children's author these days.

The day finished with drinks and some food at a nearby pub where I got to know Barbara Band, the current President of CILIP who appears to be a very dedicated School Librarian, so we already had a bond and Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News, a website that spreads reported news about UK public libraries which puts this blog to shame.   

This is a long blogpost to reflect a long day. I got home at around 11pm. I was pleased that I was there to take part in the debate, and I hope I now have the resolve to ask all politicians that knock on my door in the next few months "What are you going to do about libraries?". Please do the same thing.

Friday, 21 November 2014

What IS a Librarian? Yet More from Library Camp 2014

What IS a Librarian? I asked at the session which I facilitated at Library Camp 2014. Of course, being a librarian I knew what I was, and the jobs that I did, and the various roles and activities that other librarians do. My reason for asking was to try to find the refined essence of librarianship, the one thing that can be explained to people to show the special skill that a librarian has to have. Like a builder constructs buildings, a medical doctor treats ailments, an accountant looks after finances. There are many nuances to their jobs, but that is their raison d'etre, their reason for being, so what is a librarian's definitive description?

I hoped by the end of the session that we would come up with a sentence or short paragraph that can the define the main quality of librarianship that can be used on websites, campaigns, in literature, letters to MPs, anywhere that the real job of a librarian needs to be explained. In the end we came up with the thought that maybe one snappy definition was not necessarily enough, the phrasing needed to be suitable for the intended audience, but we only had a scant 45 minutes to pursue a basically philosophical argument. We did come up with a number of ideas that certainly identified the threads that make up the tapestry of librarianship, and some good sentences.

I did not do a statistical survey of the jobs of the 15 or so people that came along to the session, so I can't scientifically say that they were a randomised sample of library staff, but I do know that some were qualified librarians, others were not. Some worked in public libraries and others in academic libraries, but they all agreed about the following aspects of librarianship.
  • Librarians are a conduit of Knowledge
  • Librarians support and facilitate Knowledge creation in the community
  • Librarians engender empowerment
Those three statements on their own are powerful thoughts. They demonstrate that librarians deal with the flow of  knowledge from one individual to another. We all thought that there was an educational aspect to librarianship: a librarian doesn't know all the answers, but knows where to find them and can teach other people to do the same thing (information literacy). We realised that there is a spiral of knowledge creation, where a librarian is a key component: a librarian helps someone discover knowledge, the individual gains understanding and then can impart that knowledge, which is collected and distributed by a librarian. This bit really could do with a diagram, I need to think about this.

Meanwhile, here are some of the statements that were constructed:

"Our business is helping people access information"

"A librarian serves and empowers users and communities by sharing, facilitating and supporting access to knowledge and information"

"A librarian is a conduit of information who supports his/her users, and through sharing and facilitating this knowledge, thus empowers them"

"A librarian is a facilitator who supports the user and shares knowledge with information to empower and server their appropriate audience"

Well, I think there is enough there to show that a librarian is a Knowledge Broker. It is not all about books.

It's about anything that can contain knowledge: people, computers, images, maps, data, objects and artefacts, anything.

I promised the people who came to my Library Camp session that I would blog about the session and perhaps write something about it, so I am sorry that it has taken me a while to get around to it, but now I have I am inspired to go into more depth, and write that article.