Category Archives: guest posts

Work, Play and Family Time at the Library

The following article was submitted by Helen Ball.

As a child I used to love Saturday afternoons when my mother would take me to the library for an hour or two. As she perused Virginia Andrews novels or chatted with the librarians I would curl up the same purple, threadbare armchair and get lost in the works of Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. The thrill of sifting through those books, the painful deliberation of deciding which ones would come home with me and the pride I felt upon receiving my first library card all stay with me today. But never could I have imagined how important this building would become to me as I grew up and became a mother myself. This is my story.


I became disillusioned with my old job as an administration office manager within weeks of returning from maternity leave. I halved my hours but still found myself desperately missing my 9 month old son. The childcare fees were extortionate and I felt that working part time meant that I wasn’t able to fully commit to either my working role or my role as a mother. After my second child was born my mind was firmly made up and I decided to work for myself from home. I’d done a little freelance copywriting, blogging and content providing in the past so I found it easy to pick up work and by the time my kids had started school I had regular clients and was earning good money from my freelance writing.

The only problem was that I found it hard working from home. I was constantly distracted by the housework (or TV) and was used to the routine of going out to work so staying at home somehow made it harder for me to manage my time and schedules. Now my kids were in school I had no reason to stay in the house – I could go somewhere to work. But where? I remembered the library and that mysterious second floor that I’d had no interest in as a child because it was full of reference books and serious looking people tapping on computers. And it was on that second floor, in the same snug corner behind the geography textbooks that I set up a makeshift office for myself. Of course I had to pack it up every day but the routine of going out to work in a quiet place with no distractions made me so much more productive. This year I am in the drafting stages of my first novel and I just know that most of it will be written within the walls of the library.


Working at the library during weekdays meant I often saw the same faces. Like me, some people would come to study or work. Others would come in the morning to read the papers. One man from a homeless shelter came every day to read in the warmth because he had nowhere else to go. As time progressed I formed friendships with some of the people I regularly saw there and we spoke about our work, our families and our lives. Writing can be a very sedentary, lonely job that can become isolating quickly so for me, those brief, hushed conversations between the bookshelves or in the cafe at lunch were invaluable. By spending so much time at the library I also got to learn about the variety of groups and workshops they host there during the week. On more than one occasion I abandoned my work and joined in the the book club and the knitting class and once again got to meet like minded people and learn new skills.

For the kids

There are also a lot of activities on for babies, toddlers and children in my library. My youngest child adores story and rhymetime and my eldest was over the moon when he got to meet his favourite author, Nick Sharratt, when he visited on a tour. During the school holidays we always try to take part in at least one organised event at the library and visit regularly so they can pick out their books just as I did as a child – the other day I even spotted my daughter reading in the same purple chair that I used to curl up in. With studies indicating that reading more books improves life chances for children I am eager to encourage my kids to spend as much time as possible in the library and luckily they seem more than happy to oblige.

The figures that indicate over 10% of our libraries are at risk of cutback and closure from local councils don’t just concern me, they terrify me. I rely on my library as do countless others, each for various reasons. People argue that with the rise of technology and e-books libraries are outdated and simply not needed anymore but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They are about so much more than books – they are a place of comfort, refuge, interaction and an integral part of the community.

What is the value of the Imperial War Museum’s Library?

The Imperial War Museum (image c/o on Flickr).

Are libraries an important resource in large national museums? The recent news that the Imperial War Museum (IWM) plans to close their Library and dispose of the Library collection, suggests that libraries are no longer perceived to be of value to museums. Historically libraries were considered an essential part of the Victorian museum. But do shrinking budgets and resulting cuts spell the end for the museum library? With huge advances in technology widening access to information do museums believe the misconception that all information can now be found on Wikipedia? Are the days of the National Art Library, Caird Library and Natural History Museum Library also numbered? What is the value of a Museum Library in the 21st Century?

The core role of the museum library has remained fairly constant since the 19th century. Its primary purpose can be seen as providing information about the objects held in the Museum. An object is of little value unless something is known about its context, its relevance, its story. But the items held in the library also have a further value as objects in their own right. When you visit IWM, you will see items from the Library collection on display in exhibitions across the Museum’s sites. The IWM Library collection is not discreet from the Museum’s wider collections. The Library’s printed holdings form part of the Museum’s core collection, with printed material collected alongside the objects, art, film, photographs, documents and oral history recordings held by the Museum’s six other collecting departments.

The IWM was established in 1917 out of a desire to record and remember the Great War, which at that date was, of course, still being fought. The intention was never to create a military museum.  The address to the King from the Committee of the IWM at the opening of the Museum declared it was, “not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”*.

To this end the Committee set about actively collecting material that illustrated the toil and sacrifice of the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. War literature was preserved; regimental magazines, maps, music, letters, stamps, posters, propaganda leaflets and souvenirs. As the war continued, material produced by the Government printers, including war books, Army lists, proclamations, orders and regulations, were added to the collection too. The original collections of the Museum were not therefore iconic objects, not the Spitfire or V-1 flying bomb which visitors will find dramatically suspended above them in the atrium upon entering IWM London today. Much of the original collection consisted of war literature, printed material and ephemera – collections now held by the Library.

The Library gives ordinary people access to research materials on all aspects of British and Commonwealth involvement in conflict since 1914. The collection includes regimental and unit histories, technical manuals, newspapers, trench journals, biographies, autobiographies, Army, Navy and Air Force lists, propaganda leaflets, ephemera, pamphlets and publications on the military, economic, social and cultural aspects of war.

The collection today results from the active collecting of printed material related to conflict and its impact over a period of almost 100 years – 97 years and 8 months to be exact! The Library acquired its first printed item in April 1917, a programme of the pantomime ‘Dick Whittington’, staged by the 85th Field Ambulance in Salonika. The Museum’s first annual report shows the Library acquired in excess of 7000 items in 1917 alone, of which 5000 were donations. Contemporary material published during subsequent conflicts, including the Falklands War, Gulf War and Afghanistan, has been added to the collection at the time of these conflicts. A clearly defined remit and collecting policy ensure a comprehensive collection of printed material is acquired. The holdings of the Library are estimated to be in excess of 320,000 items and part of the Library’s value stems from the depth of its coverage and from the completeness of the collections, for example in the holdings of published regimental and unit histories.

Some of the holdings of the IWM Library are rare, some are unique, some are valuable. But much of the Library collection is not – overall the value of the Library stems from the collection as a whole, and from the information these printed sources provide. An idea of the Library collection is provided by the online catalogue: and you can explore some printed items on this IWM website, which was created for the First World War 90th Anniversary in 2008:

The Library at IWM is a resource for museum staff, used for example when researching a new acquisition or when preparing an exhibition. A reference library, it offers borrowing right to Museum staff only (so long as material remains on site) as access to printed sources is essential to maintain the standard of information presented in the Museum. A library enables curators to gain a better understanding of a museum’s collection and a deeper knowledge of their subject.

The Library is also indisputably the most public-facing collecting department at IWM, used extensively by the Museum’s visitors. Library staff assist visitors in the ‘Explore History’ Centre and the Research Room, respond to written enquiries via the Collections Enquiry Service and manage the telephone enquiry service. Explore History opened in May 2010 with the intention of revolutionising access to the Museum’s collections, much of which – as is the case in most museums – is held in storage rather than on display. In the press release the Imperial War Museum proclaimed it was, “An innovative project which will see visitors get up close and personal with the past thanks to improved access to our Collections”. Explore History is accessed directly and freely from the museum, and here, with assistance from Library staff if necessary, visitors have the opportunity to delve further into the Museum’s collections, accessing digitised sound, film, photo and art collections.

Explore History is an extension of the Museum’s galleries with professional, qualified Library staff able to respond to queries, which may have been raised by a particular topic or item on display, using a printed reference collection. An individual who lived through the blitz of the Second World War may have memories jogged by items on display in the museum. Perhaps a gas mask. Perhaps a recollection of how she hated wearing her mask because of the smell, or the way the strap chaffed her ears. And then a memory of a particular experience – of a night when she had stayed in the cinema after the air raid siren sounded, of how her worried father had been out searching the streets, of the devastation that night’s bombing had brought. With her appetite whetted, Explore History, Library staff and the printed collections can provide more detailed information about the bombing raid which she remembers. She might be shown the, Blitz then and now volumes,which provide a day-by-day account of the Blitz. This publication is not rare, or valuable. It isn’t a primary source. But it’s a source of information, and it is the location of the book – available to be consulted in the Museum – which is key to its value to this individual. The museum visitor may then listen to an interview with someone who also experienced the bombing from the Museum’s oral history collections, or look at the details of those who died in that raid on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, or in the printed memorial volumes, which are also held in Explore History.

While collections held at the British Library, or at an academic Library, may be ‘accessible to all’, they are only truly accessible to ‘all researchers’. All individuals with a clear idea of what they wish to research, what material they wish to see, and a reader’s ticket to enable them to consult this. Collections at IWM are accessible to a wider audience; the museum visitor, the casual enquirer. The individual who may well go on to become a researcher or family historian but who is not yet at the stage of knowing what they are looking for.

Library staff direct visitors to other sources of information, including Museum collections, further published Library material and/or records held by other organisations, and Explore History acts as the first step into research for many Museum visitors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common enquiry is how to start tracing a relative’s war service. In assisting individuals’ with research into their own relatives’ experiences of conflict, the Library staff help honour an original aim of IWM: remembering the sacrifice of everyone who took part in the First World War. And the Library services and collections are well used; in 2013/4 55,000 individuals visited ‘Explore History’ and the enquiry service handled over 22,000 remote enquiries.

A further 3,600 individuals undertook in-depth research in the adjacent Research Room, where the Library’s collection can be accessed along with the unpublished diaries, letters and memoirs held by the Documents department. The Library collection gains value from being housed and consulted alongside museum collections. Indeed the printed collection is essential for the context it adds to other collections within the Museum. An excellent example of this can be seen when consulting postcards sent home from the trenches by a soldier during the First World War. A fantastic and moving source, sometimes made all the more moving by their upbeat tone. The soldier cannot provide details of the action in which he is involved in mail sent home, and would often also wish to shield his mother, wife or children from the horror he was experiencing. Therefore in order to discover in which action the individual served, and to gain a true picture of their experience, this item needs to be examined alongside printed material, including campaign and unit histories.

The IWM propose closing ‘Explore History’, closing IWM Library, disposing of printed collections and cutting experienced, professional Library staff. This would severely reduce public access to museum collections and to sources of information, knowledge and learning. This would lead to the loss of a unique national reference library on twentieth and twenty-first-century conflict. It would leave a Research Room with no printed collection. The Imperial War Museum is an international centre for study and research, but without a Library would it continue to be so…?

Individuals can help save this unique and valuable collection and ensure it remains accessible and held at the Imperial War Museum. Please sign the petition:  and read the ‘Petition Update’ of 27 November 2014 for further ways to support the campaign to save the IWM Library.

Article by Librarian and Imperial War Museum supporter

* As reported in The Times, 10th June 1920, Page 11, Column D

Dawn of the Unread – reaching out to a new generation of readers

Dawn of the Unread

James Walker shares an interesting initiative designed to help draw in a new generation of readers to libraries.

Last year I did a literary walk for the Nottingham Festival of Words and was struck by how little people knew about their own history. I found this incredible, particularly as Nottingham is currently bidding to become a UNESCO City of Literature. This became even more worrying when it was announced in the April 2014 budget that Nottingham City Council would be cutting 25.5 million funding from libraries and arts organisations. When we combine this with the number of independent bookshops falling to 987 in February, there is a real problem regarding physical access to books, and in turn access to ideas and culture.

All of which means that potentially the most visible space for books are the supermarkets. I don’t want to live in a world where Tescos dictate taste, not because I’m a literary snob, but because only large publishers can afford to retail at reduced rates.

We can add another, perhaps not unrelated, problem to the equation: illiteracy. England has never had it so good when it comes to this shameful social problem. According to a major study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, England holds the unenviable title of 22nd most illiterate country out of 24 industrialised nations.

The long-term economic implications of these findings were supported by the Confederation of British Industry which found that – brace yourselves – one-in-six pupils struggles to read when they leave primary school; one-in-ten boys aged 11 has a reading age no better than a seven-year-old; and at 14, six-in-10 white boys from the poorest backgrounds are still unable to read properly.

The National Literacy Trust suggests the reason for this depressing trend is that books are deemed a thing of the past by the so-called YouTube generation. Consequently, the number of children reading outside school has dropped by 25% since 2005. Finding engaging reading material is a particular problem for boys. This is appalling as there is a strong link between literacy and social outcomes, such as home ownership, voting, or a sense of trust in society.

To try to address these issues I have created an interactive graphic novel called Dawn of the Unread which is available across all media platforms so that our ‘youtube generation’ can access it in formats they are most comfortable with. I chose the graphic novel medium because it is something reluctant readers will be more comfortable with. The embedded content means that they can go ‘deeper’ into the text for additional information in the form of video, social media and contextual essays.

It was launched on National Libraries’ Day (8 February 2014) with a new chapter published on the 8th of each month until April 2015. At the end of the project a physical copy will be presented to every library and school in Nottinghamshire.

The narrative underpinning Dawn of the Unread is a loose twist on the zombie genre, with 12 writers from Nottingham’s past returning back from the grave in search of the one thing that can keep their memories alive: ‘boooks’.

Every chapter takes libraries and reading at the centre of the narrative as we want to explore the role and function of libraries in the 21st century. So for example, in Nicola Monaghan’s chapter we will see Kerrie-Ann, the protagonist of her debut novel The Killing Jar, using a disused library for an illegal rave. In my chapter, Arthur Seaton argues that the operative libraries of the 1830s used to be based in pubs, so perhaps drinking and reading is the way forward…

I have commissioned 12 artists and writers to give snippets into the lives of writers and fictional characters who may appeal to reluctant readers, such as eccentric lords (the 5th Duke of Portland), bare-knuckle boxers (Bendigo), and thieves (Charlie Peace). Hopefully they may be suitably intrigued to then go on to read more. The important thing is this will be their decision.

But what I hope will be a key factor in drawing in a new generation of reader to libraries is the opportunity to ‘play’ Dawn of the Unread. To play, users must complete four tasks at the end of each chapter which address various facets of learning.

These are:

GO – They visit a literary location in Nottingham related to the chapter. This is to create a sense of pride and awareness of their city.

CREATE – write, draw or photograph something inspired by the chapter. This can then be viewed on screens outside Broadway Cinema in Hockley or the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green. This is to raise aspiration and confidence.

READ – Get a relevant book out from the library.

BWAINZ – Answer questions based on the chapter.

We are able to track engagement via open access logins, GPS and QR codes on books at the library. Scores are recorded on a virtual library card. The teenager that scores the highest will feature as a character in our final chapter.

We are writing to every school/college and university in Nottinghamshire to involve pupils and students. If this works and we are able to lure readers into libraries through digital technology then at the end of the project I am happy to hand over the software and format to other cities to trial.

Now I need as much help as possible to raise awareness of the project. Please download the App (available from 8th July), blog and tweet, and where possible, I am happy to come and talk to staff and schools about the importance of ‘boooks’.

Twitter: @dawnoftheunread



Biog: James is the Literature Editor of LeftLion and Chair of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio. His most recent commission was the Sillitoe Trail for BBC/Arts Council multimedia platform The Space. For more info, please see

Guest post: No one seems interested in feeding the minds of the young people

The following guest post, written by Annie Creswick-Dawson, comments on the current situation of Birmingham’s Bloomsbury Library in Nechells.

Nechells is a ‘deprived’ area of Birmingham where the Bloomsbury Library provided a study space, community room and library facilities.  Refurbished in the 1990s, it had deteriorated by 2013 and there were urgent repairs required for which funding had been agreed. However, at the last minute the funding was withdrawn. Following the theft of lead from the roof, the building was so badly damaged by heavy rainfall that neither the heating nor the lift could function and in October the Library was closed.  Although there had been an arrangement with a nearby community centre for temporary services to be run there during the repairs, the library service has so far been unable to provide any alternative service there. It is not yet even providing the service of a library van which they ‘hope’ to provide once a week.

I had visited the Library in 2013 to record the sculptures on the exterior of this attractive library building and was disturbed by the obvious state of disrepair. It was warm and there were a lot of young people working away in the study area, and the staff were friendly and helpful, which makes the whole sorry story seem even sadder to me. Saddest of all was when I started to look into the situation this year only to find that it had been closed and no adequate substitute provided. It is just appalling that, after initial complaints, there has been little or no opposition because people in the area ‘have got used to services being withdrawn’.

This seems to be a prime example of Councils being able to withdraw services because people have been so used to the deprivation that they see no point in complaining. Protest has no effect and they have other priorities: there is a food bank in the area but no one seems interested in feeding the minds of the young people and helping them to get the best education possible by having a quiet study area in a local place.

My interest stems from my visit and the fact that I was visiting to record the sculptures by my great grandfather Benjamin Creswick. He was a Sheffield knife grinder, a job in which the life expectancy was about 30 years of age. Making efforts to get other employment, he visited Ruskin’s Museum set up for the working men in Walkley, Sheffield. Ben became a pupil of Ruskin, who recognised his talent and supported his family, teaching him how to find commissions amongst other help. After some time in London, Ben became the head of the Birmingham School of Art where he stayed for nearly thirty years.

It is ironic that Ruskin inspired sculpture celebrating the life of ordinary people at work and at play and in the close knit family unit. This included a more formal panel showing the civic pride of Birmingham with the arts representing the city’s wealth in industry. It also featured the real wealth in the youthful figures presenting the city with the fruits of their work. Ironic because this sculpture now stands witness to the dismantling of the systems which sustain the people who are the very lifeblood of the city.

While my interest started in the history and the wish to preserve the sculptures, it seems now to demand the protection of the library service and the recognition of its utmost importance to the communty. I am sorry for the length of this diatribe but it seems so important to see if I can help to raise awareness of this dire situation and hope it may help to make sure it is not just allowed to be another case of library closure.

If anyone in the Birmingham area could put me in touch with local commmunity groups I would be most grateful.

Library sculptures

Annie Creswick-Dawson was born in Edinburgh and spent most of my formative years in my grandparent’s studio. My grandfather, trained by his father Benjamin Creswick, was a bronze founder and silversmith and he trained his wife who worked with him in the studio as a jeweller. She worked in the studio as a general helper and had a very liberal arts education which has led to a lifetime of interest in the arts and crafts.

Having been an amateur artist working mainly in gouache and watercolour, she recently became interested in working with natural materials and now runs courses in this interesting type of work. Annie has spent some years in researching the life of Benjamin Creswick and his connection with the great Victorian John Ruskin and it was this research that brought about her interest in the Bloomsbury Library both for the sake of the sculptures and the tragic loss of the library service to the community.

Loans or sales?

In this post author Kathryn White shares her perspective of libraries as “cultural gold”.


In December 2011 the National Literacy Trust released figures that of 3.8 million children in the UK, 1 in 3 do not own a book. Seven years ago only one child in ten was thought not to own a book.

Sadly, it is schools from deprived areas dealing with overcrowding, language diversity and financial constraints that are unable to buy books or engage authors/illustrators; seeing their priorities, quite rightly, as the basic needs of their students. However these schools are those most in need of cultural support in order to bring children into and insure their positive development within the community. Reading not only teaches language skills but more importantly, social skills. There is a definite correlation between better reading and more tolerance and understanding between varying cultures and religions. Children attending deprived schools do not have the same exposure to external creative input; which often facilitates for alternative viewpoints and values. Students in higher income areas where parental input, community governors or public support enable staff to engage external creative tutors, invariably gain greater understanding and engage in open discussion. Yet it is poorer catchments, where students face greater financial and social hardship that is often starved of quality literature at home which would encourage empathy and tolerance.

Books in schools are frequently used purely as instruments of learning data; chunks are bitten off and digested as required to fit in with the national curriculum. Books are not viewed as a whole experience, a potential means of mutual discussion and support for mental and social health. Books are a window to the world; they challenge and teach, guide and often help children comprehend what is happening around them, easing isolation during times of change or crisis.

Where schools are unable to provide a comprehensive book list for children, public libraries can adequately fill that gap.

My role as an author visiting a school is to insure that children see books not only as number crunching, information providers but as a genuine pleasure, encouraging imagination, fantasy; escapism without the external control of a computer or tv screen. Stories where a child’s imagination can do the illustrative work, visual character building, are wonderful for developing independent thought and confidence. Authors love to sell their books and I used to endeavour to do this by lugging my heavy suitcase filled with stories for all ages across the country on school visits. However, I was beginning to resemble an ageing body builder or at best careworn salesperson, rather than a writer. I found the whole experience, exhausting and distracting from my main focus; providing enjoyable story sessions. I now only take books into schools upon specific request and if I am driving and not at the mercy of public transport. This makes the availability of libraries for the children I am visiting, vitally important. If I can’t offer my own books for sale, then I can at least direct children to their local library. “It’s great!” I say, “It’s full of amazing books you can read because you want to – about anything or anyone you’re dying to learn about. And guess what? The books are free to borrow.”

For me, as a writer, libraries are cultural gold and sharing this precious national commodity with children in schools is something that gives me immense pride and pleasure. Long may their shelves be full and their doors open.

Kathryn White.

Kathryn White specializes in children’s and YA fiction. She has written over thirty books and often presents at literary festivals and in schools throughout the UK and abroad.

“Libraries are the hub and heart of communities” – so why are Luton Cultural Trust closing them?

The following post was sent in by Doreen Steinberg, a campaigner for Luton libraries.

Luton Cultural Trust is forging ahead with plans to close Wigmore and Sundon libraries despite petitions of 10,000 and 1,000 supported by speeches against being presented to the Council at its September meeting. The Trust was instructed to take these into consideration and do everything possible to avoid closures and return to the Council on November 14 with their “final” proposal. In her arrogance and with total lack of respect for democracy Maggie Appleton, CEO of the Trust, put out a press release on October 25 announcing the closures of these and the mobile library service.

For a town which had aspirations of becoming a city it is beyond belief that they would think of closing any library.

There is great concern over the lack of focus by the Luton Cultural Trust with regard to keeping a viable library service in Luton.

Nick Gibson who was chair of the Trust when the decision was made to close these libraries wrote, “It is the least worst solution to cuts to Luton museums, libraries and culture for the next 3 years!”  He is still a trustee.

The so-called consultation process was a major failure in the democratic process. Apparently the consultation document was available in schools, clubs and libraries and on the Council website. This means over 90% of adults had no chance to see it.

I use Wigmore library regularly and saw no consultation – was it kept under the counter like black market food during the last war?

While in Asda with the petition over 5 days, I spoke to thousands of people. Not one had seen any consultation and they were very angry to read that the library was closing. We had five clipboards and at times people were queuing to sign to keep their library – that is how passionate they are about it.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that hundreds of people said there was no point in doing a petition as the Council never listened – I persuaded them to sign. When we are successful in keeping the se libraries open, their faith in local and central government will be restored.

Maggie Appleton CEO of Luton Cultural Trust confirmed that the libraries were not allowed to have a petition on site because of a conflict of interests – I asked whose interests; we are the rate payers and we were not consulted.

It gave no option to keep all libraries. They chose Option 1 which said Stopsley would close and Wigmore which is a strategic library designed to serve thousands would move into a nearby community centre as a smaller library.  However neither of these actions is now planned.

Wigmore has ample parking with Asda, petrol station, medical centre, newsagents and restaurants in the area. People are there going about their normal business so no extra travel or time is required.

In Amendment 15 of Council minutes dated.3.12.12

“24    There will be a negative public reaction to any service reductions plans through the consultation. However, the emphasis of this review is about re-provision of service which will provide some mitigation for this.”

On Sep 19 Maggie Appleton CEO of the Trust wrote to two residents representing action groups for Wigmore and Sundon libraries (Claire Lee of Sundon and myself) asking them to look for access points and let her know as she might be able to help them. This means no plans have been made to mitigate the loss of library service. Wigmore has 72,000 visits a year. Sundon is the only community building in the area.

“26    The library service is the single biggest operational element of services offered by LCST, if any proposals ultimately developed resulted in significant service reductions, there could be risks to the operational viability of the Trust to continue to function.”

Wigmore was opened over 20 years ago to replace Stopsley which was designed to serve the village and was unfit for the large population. The plans were to close Stopsley but people made such a fuss that it has remained open. However it has only 4 parking spaces and there are yellow lines all around the area. It is not a viable alternative for users of Wigmore Library.

Maggie says she is delighted that people are so passionate about libraries – I told her there was not much point in being passionate if they are denied access to a library.

Maggie was asked if the Trust had sought funding or sponsorship for libraries and she said they had not specifically done so!  This is a factual inaccuracy. There is a “Lottery Funded” sign in the entrance of Central Library.

Why was no funding or sponsorship sought for the town’s other libraries?

It is the Council’s statutory duty to provide a comprehensive library service for the whole town. The Trust, to whom the Council has delegated this responsibility, appears to have been determined from the start to close these libraries. Why – when they came highest in customer satisfaction. At least the customers appreciate the staff even if their employers do not.

When Maggie Appleton was challenged  that the consultation was flawed she said that they had received 4,000 responses – when the representatives of Sundon and Wigmore asked what she thought of the 10,000 and 1,000 petitions, she replied, “Those are just signatures”.

Libraries are the hub and heart of communities.  They are essential for the character and social cohesion of the town as a whole. They are not just for borrowing books.

All ages use the computers for homework, looking for jobs, information, social interaction and just for the pleasure of gaining knowledge. Everyone cannot afford an internet connection at home.

Others are lonely and the welcome and help they receive from the library staff and interaction with others is a great boon to them. Without this there would no doubt be more depressed and lonely people in town, which would have a detrimental effect on their health. Reading is a great gift – books can take you anywhere and enrich lives in all sorts of ways.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has concluded that reading for pleasure is even more important than social class in determining academic success.

A recent report states that children who read for the love of it do better in all subjects – more so than if one or more of their parents has a degree.  Does Luton plan to discriminate against so many young people?

The Council and Trust are autocratic and care nothing about the wishes and needs of their employers (the ratepayers and electorate).

When Trevor Holden, CEO of Luton Borough Council, was asked if the Council saw detailed accounts of how the Trust spent its money, his reply was “We give them projects and look at the outcomes”.  In other words they apparently do not have a clue where the millions from Luton Airport and the Council money given to the Trust goes.

The Trust claims because it is a charity it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Surely it cannot be morally or legally right that they are unelected, unaccountable to anyone and do not plan to provide a comprehensive library service over the whole town.

Edit: Doreen Steinberg has informed us that there is now a website for the campaign in Luton. It can be found at: Libraries of Luton Arise.

The Artist in the Library: a case study of benefits of public library engagement with the artistic community

Laura got in touch with us to let us know about a fantastic project she is involved in, bringing artists and libraries together.  Below Laura tells us all about the interesting project and how you can help.

I currently work as a library assistant at Woodley Library, in Reading, Berkshire, where I have set up and run our ‘Art in the Library’ project. I keep a little blog about it all here.

What started as a small exhibition space has led to great projects with artists working with local care homes, mental health groups and children all through the library. Having come to work in the library after finishing my art degree it’s very clear to me how much artists and librarians have to offer to each other, and how much networking between the two can benefit the local community. I have seen first hand that the energy and enthusiasm of the arts community often mirrors that of library staff, and furthermore both groups often have shared goals such as promoting culture, lifelong learning and social wellbeing. However based on this personal experience I believe these relationships are very fragmented, often centred around individual enthusiastic library staff prepared to involve themselves in their local arts community. This has inspired me to research further!

I am also studying for my Masters in Information Management in the Cultural Sector and just have my dissertation to go. My proposal is titled: ‘The artist in the public library: a case study of benefits of public library engagement with the artistic community’. My plan is to undertake a survey of all the UK libraries in order to understand if and in what ways this engagement is taking place. I also wish to undertake case studies of libraries in the UK that are delivering innovative projects that could be taken as examples of best practice.

I would like to ask for your help with the research, if you work in a UK Library please take the time to complete this survey.

Also if your library is working on arts projects, or with artists please get in touch I would love to talk to you! My personal email is and my phone number is 07828299435.

Are you involved in an interesting project in your local library? Got a story to tell about your experiences of libraries? Then get in touch at We’d love to share your stories and library projects!


The Importance of Librarians and Libraries

Libraries are physical repositories of human culture. (Image c/o boltron- on Flickr.

Terry Deary said that ‘libraries have had their day’ and are ‘no longer relevant. As someone who is currently training to be a librarian and works in a highly specialized library I would beg to differ.

I see evidence every day of the value of what I do and even more so of what my Manager does. So firstly lets address what a librarian does. The image of the tweed skirted lady who has finger to her lips saying ‘Shhh!’ is the most common and perhaps the memory of a slightly rumpled and out of touch Rupert Giles (remember him from Buffy?) are the most common images. But let me paint you another image. Someone who is a guide, someone who rather than knowing everything about everything, can tell you where everything is. You can go to Google or Bing and type in your keywords. But do you know which of those results are authentic? Do you know which ‘hits’ are actually the most relevant to you? No. If a librarian is doing his/her job right, you will go in asking for A but you will come out with A2 , by which I mean the information that you wanted plus information about what needed that you didn’t even know existed.  Odds are you’ll come back because ‘You didn’t know we did that’.

There is a human element to a librarian, which no catalogue can ever hope to duplicate. The search engine will provide you tailored information based on what you have asked for. But it cannot replace someone asking, ‘What else are you interested in?’ ‘What skills are you trying to pick up?’ and so on.  Imagine a librarian as a search engine with a heart. Or in the case of where I work, an obsession with Game of Thrones, music and anecdotes about travelling.

However, it would be wrong to assume that all librarians are like this. For the most part librarians are a helpful, inquisitive lot but you do have a few that will give you the book you want and nothing more. Or even worse there are librarians out there who see the new wave of technology and digitization as an enemy that needs to be faced as instead of embraced.  This is wrong, librarians the world over are coming to grips with concepts that wouldn’t be out of place in a start-up ‘How can we engage our customers?’ ‘How can we communicate with them more directly?’ Questions, if not asked mean that libraries will be ‘no longer relevant.’

What about the library itself?  ‘A blockbuster for books’ is the most unflattering comment I’ve heard lately. Most local libraries have cottoned on to the fact that they can provide more than ‘book lending’ service. But some haven’t and insist supplying curating books that are out of date and not publicizing the new stock that they do have.

Libraries have the potential to be hubs of learning for the entire community. Story-time for children? Check out your local library. Don’t have a computer at home but want to go online? Have a wander down to your local library; they’ll probably have a couple of terminals that are for public use, and probably a printer too. I’ve heard of MPs using local libraries as clinics and as a way to get in touch with their constituents. In a larger library, how about using the computer hubs as opportunities to help people with their IT skills? Even more recently libraries are introducing a gaming section complete with Wii and games so children who may not have consoles at home have a chance to have a play.

Apart from the physical uses of a library, what about their contents? A library contains fiction, non-fiction and often historical and technical books. In short they are physical repositories of human culture. I don’t deny that the Internet has the same title, but websites can be deleted, you can’t ‘delete’ a book (Dictators the world over have tried, doesn’t really work).

Libraries show us the past and as far as they can prepare us for the future and it’s a shame that Governments and Councils are unable to see that. In a community that may not have much in the way of resources a library is often the source of solace for people – a place to read the paper, a place to gather and foster relationships and even a place to hide and immerse yourself in the adventures of others (I know that I did the latter when I was a teenager).  So much as the librarian is the guide, the library is the gateway. If we lose both of these things, our society will have lost something precious that we will feel in the years to come.

Bio: Natasha S. Chowdory is a Masters student for the second time. Takes pictures of clouds (because they’re amazing) and devours YA books like it’s the end of the world – also loves fantasy novels with strong female leads. Dreams of going into space one day because it’s the final frontier. Collects postcards because they’re like snapshots into other countries and lives.

Hosting at Archway Library

Thanks to artist Lucy Harrison for this guest post about the creative project she was recently involved in at Archway Library.


Between September 2012 and January 2013 I was ‘hosted’ by Archway Library in north London. I’m an artist and often work on projects in specific locations, usually involving people who live or work there, and producing various outcomes like books, events, audio and video. This was a project organised by Islington Council and managed by an arts organisation called Air Studio, for which 5 artists, poets and dancers were placed with different organisations: a charity shop, a carers’ centre, a mothers’ group and a mental health charity. The arrangement was that we would regularly spend time in our host organisation and have a public outcome at the end. We also met as a group every few weeks to discuss how our projects were going.

I’ve always been interested in libraries and have worked on a few other projects involving them. In 2003 I collected all the notes made in margins of books in an art college library, and made them into a new book. I also worked on a project in Sunderland where I re-categorised a section of the library according to emotions, events and characteristics mentioned in the blurb on the back. And I used to have a studio above Stoke Newington library, next door to the head librarian.

The library manager at Archway was helpful and enthusiastic from the first time we met. He is very focussed on the local community and always willing to try out new ideas. So I started going there on Wednesdays and began by observing what happened around me. One of the first things I noticed was how many people went in for things other than books- people were booking time on the computers to use the internet or type essays, they were coming in for children’s activities, or to read newspapers. There is a large Irish community in Archway and the Irish newspapers are kept behind the desk for people to request, which they do every day. Some people seemed to spend long periods of time there, perhaps to keep warm or to have some company. The staff were usually very busy, often too busy for me to find time to talk to them properly.

I decided to install a post box in the library, and started to leave notes and questions around the place for people to fill in and leave for me. It was a way of having a presence in the library during the rest of the week when I wasn’t in the building. The most popular question I left was simply ‘What is a Library?’ to which I had handfuls of answers every time I went back to check.

Archway Library launch event (c) Seb Lynch

Archway Library launch event (c) Seb Lynch

The answers ranged from “a community centre that’s open to all” “Somewhere warm and free” to “a galaxy of things we can learn from. It’s an encyclopaedia with different branches, different leaves, different topics” and “Any place where you can forget your daily problems and feel the pleasure of letters flying around you”.

In my first week I also went to the Islington Local History Centre at Finsbury Library, and looked at the material they had related to Archway Library. They had a whole box of leaflets, photographs and press cuttings, dating back many years but mostly from the last few decades. I discovered that the original library had been in a different building across the road, and had opened in 1946 to the delight of the local people who had been ‘starved of books’ during the war.

I found out that the building the library is now in opened in 1980, and found a large number of highly saturated old colour photographs which were taken as the library was being moved into the new building. It was strange to see the same wood and orange metal shelves that I had become familiar with, but brand new and empty with boxes of books strewn around the floor. The photos showed library staff unpacking the boxes and stacking the books, while others showed the old building being emptied. I also found out that the children’s library, which is through a partition from the main library, opened in January 1983, meaning that the 30th anniversary would be during my project.

I ordered some scans of the photos and when I received them I brought them into Archway library to show the manager. He hadn’t worked there then but was also fascinated by them, and started to give me contact details for some of the library staff who worked there in 1980. I was surprised that he was able to put me in contact with 4 or 5 people who still worked for Islington Libraries after all this time. They all worked at different branches now, apart from one member of staff at Archway who I suddenly realised was in one of the photographs, as a teenage girl.

I started to arrange to meet them, and recorded interviews with them while showing them the photographs. Certain things cropped up in all the interviews: how excited they were to move in to the building, the feeling of hope for what they could do there, how much they all loved working there and how well they all got on. It seemed that the thought of leaving the library service had never occurred to any of them. They all still met up with each other and with a few others who had retired. There were some really funny parts to some of the interviews too- remembering being made to carry out make-up demonstrations in the teenage library, a person who left glittery shoes on the shelves, carrying all the books across the underpass from the old building.

The interviews made me see the building in a new light, and I transcribed them all and edited them into one narrative, which went around the building from the entrance. I asked one of the librarians if she would mind being recorded reading it out as an audio tour, which she said yes to straight away. Some people have said that they would have liked to have heard the different voices, but I wanted it to be read out more formally, and liked the idea that it was all of the librarians speaking with one voice, as if they had become one person.

As well as the audio tour, I designed two newspapers and had 100 copies of each one printed; I liked the format of the newspaper as it is so well used in this building. The first was using the librarians’ text telling the story of moving into the new building, along with the old photographs, so that people could see them while looking at the library as it is now. The other one used the texts that people had left in the post box, along with photographs that I’d taken of some of the things library users had been reading. We had a launch evening and a lot of the librarians came along. I gave a short introduction and was surprised to find I had a lump in my throat when I said how important the library was for Archway.

The project was fairly short and I had so many other ideas I would have liked to have carried out, but I finished the project with very good memories of Archway Library, and I am glad that I had the insight into the story of how it opened.

Lucy Harrison was hosted by Archway Library as part of A Million Minutes, an Islington Council project supported by Arts Council England. It was produced by AIR, a project studio at Central Saint Martins College of Art.


The audio tour is available on MP3 players at Archway Library, and free copies of the newspaper are available until they run out.

PDFs of the newspapers can be downloaded from the following links and paper copies can be ordered for £2.


Open letter from the Staff of Westminster Libraries

The following is an open letter from the staff of Westminster Libraries to their local councillors.

To the Councillors of Westminster,

Westminster Libraries currently uses less than 1% of the council’s overall budget. We have 11 libraries, an archives service, a reference library, a music library, a home library service and the largest online database for any public library service in the UK. We provide books, DVDs & CDs, Internet access, CV building workshops, Under 5s sessions, class visits, language and computer courses, community groups and workshops and engage teenagers through projects like Fast Forward which has taken over from the connexions career Services: We promote health, community and citizenship and provide a free space to work, socialise and study for residents and visitors.

We now have Parking, Council tax, Rescard, Housing and OneStop services incorporated into our day-to-day duties with no additional funding as a service or as employees; In fact we’ve provided all these services at this low cost whilst going through 5 years of cuts that has already closed libraries, reduced our budget and decimated our staff levels each and every year.

When employment goes down, our workload goes up, and as homelessness increases and incomes plummet, our footfall increases. Year-on-year we’ve risen to the challenge of providing all these services for that ever shrinking less than 1% of the council’s budget.

In 2011, Westminster Council hired two new department directors at the rate it cost to run St James’s library which they were closing at the same time.

In that same year, Westminster councillors refused a 5% reduction to wages above £100,000 to save £3.5 million because the saving would be too insignificant to justify; but library staff have been asked to bear double that cut for only 10% of that saving.

The solution to unemployment cannot be to fire people, and the solution to debt is not to cut income generating, job creating, and crime preventing services.

Not only is it a statutory requirement to provide this service, it is our moral obligation to do so. With new challenges, we need new ideas, not old mistakes and any further cuts to our library service budget would be a drop in the ocean compared to almost any other department in a council that has often stood in the spotlight on the international stage.

We ask that this race to the bottom is brought to an end; and that Westminster council commits to investment rather than cuts so we can continue the good work that we do for the small budget we have.

The Staff of Westminster Libraries