Communities love their libraries


Isn’t it nice to read an email that makes you smile? Last week Tess’s boyfriend Scott sent me a link to 10 unusual and beautiful public libraries, with stunning photographs of the loveliest buildings. It’s not just the architecture that I love but what the buildings represent to the local people.

Robert Dawson’s libraries show how important a library is to a community and many of them were built by the women who first settled in an area.




It’s a difficult time for Langley Library at the moment. Local newspapers have reported that it’s one of five local libraries at risk and our customers are feeling angry and sad at the possibility of us closing. There’s going to be a public consultation next month and hopefully we’ll know more after that.

Let children choose their own books (part 2)

“If it hasn’t got any words in it, you’re not having it!”

My sister Mary and I overheard a mother saying this at Woking Library a couple of weeks ago and we just looked at each other and sighed. Should we have said something, or would that have just put her off libraries all together? If I’d been at work I’d have laughed and told the woman how good the book was but as a visitor I didn’t feel I could say anything.

Michael Rosen talks about helping children understand what they are asked to read and suggests you “Take children to a library and encourage them to borrow anything that they want. Keep doing it.” Perhaps libraries should have signs telling people to let children choose their own books?

I must say how impressed I was with Woking Library! It’s like a fantastic book shop with the emphasis definitely on books, unlike many newly refurbished libraries I’ve seen. I chatted with some really friendly staff and picked up loads of ideas I’d like to use at Langley.


Sergeant Stubby and the brave dogs of World War 1


I chose brave dogs for the World War 1 Centenary display in the children’s library, having read the story of the heroic Sergeant Stubby on the BBC Schools web site.

Stubby was an amazing American dog who took part in battles, saved soldiers from gas attacks and captured a German spy. The soldiers loved him so much that when he was injured he was treated in a human hospital! They made him an unofficial sergeant and he became the most decorated war dog ever and somehow, reading about how the soldiers responded to him makes it easier to relate to the men themselves.

The BBC Schools site has loads of information about how dogs and other animals helped in the war – highly recommended for simple but interesting displays.

My gorgeous dog, Zelda, died recently and this felt like a personal tribute to her!


Holiday reading display – I do like to be beside the seaside!

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I hate the term “beach reads” – it seems to suggest that our taste in books goes downhill as soon as we go on holiday! So there’s no mention of a beach in our July display, just a couple of buckets and spades, some nostalgic seaside posters and words from the 1907 song:

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:

Public libraries and tourism

Tom on Cat Bellswainwright

Public libraries should make more effort to sell themselves to tourists. On a recent holiday in the Lake District, I visited Cockermouth Library and found it really easy to register as a visitor, borrow books and use the computers. Many people know they can access their email at any library but I don’t think many would think they could borrow books if they were only staying for a short time.

One of the arguments for taking a kindle on holiday is that it saves you taking a pile of books away with you, but it’s much more fun to borrow some from a local library, especially if you have children to entertain in the rain. You could even borrow one of Wainwright’s fantastic walking guides (Tom and I climbed several hills with him, including Cat Bells, “not quite so innocuous as is usually thought, and grandmothers and infants should have a care as they romp around”). Local libraries usually have a good selection of novels set in the area as well, which make good holiday reading (I’d taken William Boyd’s James Bond novel Solo, which I enjoyed, but it didn’t feel quite right in Cumbria).

The Black Country is nothing like the Lake District but we do have visitors researching ancestors who once worked in the local mines and factories and they often call into the library to look at local history books and maps and talk to us about their families. They’re always surprised to find they can actually take books away with them (you don’t have to have a local address to use a public library) and that’s probably because public libraries don’t advertise the fact!

Times have changed. The emphasis is no longer on safeguarding our books at all costs – most people are honest and we’d much rather have people visiting our libraries and enjoying the wonderful selection of books there.

Our public libraries are great assets and our tourist boards should be using them to attract visitors. (Not just as places to get local information but as places to borrow books and entertain children.) When I next stay in a holiday cottage or hotel, I’d like to see a brochure about the local public library, and if there isn’t one, I’ll add one myself!


Escape the World Cup – go for a picnic with a good book!

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Not everyone loves football but everyone loves a picnic so I used an old picnic basket and filled it with books and a jug of artificial flowers for our latest display. The Please Take a Book! signs are working as people have actually taken books out of the basket, which is very brave. How tempting to take a snack, blanket, cushion and good book down to the park!

Books for people with dementia


My Mum has Alzheimer’s. About a year ago I borrowed some Pictures to Share books that had just come into the library and took them to her thinking that she might like to have a look at them, although she hadn’t looked at a magazine or newspaper for months.

Straight away she wanted to hold the books and turn the pages and we spent a lovely half hour looking at the pictures. She read some of the words aloud and said something about nearly every picture. She really liked the garden book, especially the photos of birds, and she talked about the clothes people wore in some of the old photos and paintings. I enjoyed the books too, which are beautiful, and it was probably the best half hour I’d spent with Mum for a long time. My sisters and I bought her some of the books so we could share them with her more often.

Mum’s Alzheimer’s has got a lot worse since then and she recently moved into a care home but she still looks at the books and they help us enjoy our time with her, as well as giving her some simple, lovely things to look at.

This week is Dementia Awareness Week and lots of libraries are hosting events to support people with dementia and their carers. At Langley we have a display of the picture books,  together with a few words about how I’ve shared them with Mum.

Library books for teenagers or young adults?

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We have a Divergent display at the moment near the entrance and although I haven’t actually seen anyone take a book from it, I had to replace a couple the other day so I was very pleased!

I’m trying to get people to borrow more of our teenage books but it’s difficult. The Teenage section is tucked away in the computer room, which doesn’t help, and should we change the name to Young Adult? There’s a big crossover with other books in the library and the Dark Romance section is very popular, so perhaps some of the teenage books should be promoted by genre rather than by age? Or perhaps Young Adult e-books are the answer – I love the graphics on another library blog (the inspiration for this display).

Children’s nonfiction in public libraries

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Our children’s nonfiction collection has been worrying me for a while! The books were tightly packed, borrowed infrequently and there was no room for front-facing displays on the shelves. We use the Dewey Decimal classification system and as a result, not all books are where you’d expect them – and children and parents don’t want to have to ask the library staff every time they’re looking for something.

The first thing I did was have a drastic weed of the nonfiction and remove all the tatty or out of date books so each bay had one or two display shelves and the whole area looked more inviting. Then I created a new section called History Projects and filled it with all the relevant books from the main sequence. We had no money for shelf dividers so I covered some withdrawn adult fiction hardbacks with black paper and stuck laminated labels on their spines: Egyptians; Greek; Romans; Medieval and Castles; Tudors; Stuarts; Georgians; Victorians; World War One; World War Two. The books have coloured stickers on their spines for easy shelving, but are in Dewey order within each section.

Almost straight away I noticed more children borrowing the History Project books and we’re shelving more children’s nonfiction generally, so it all seems to be working. I think we need to move some of the other books as well and create more shelf dividers, although it’s not always easy to choose the best way to split up the books. For a start, I think pets should be shelved with other animals and poetry and jokes should have their own sections nearer the fiction. We haven’t altered any catalogue records so it will all be easy to change if we find something else works better. Some libraries arrange their books by curriculum area or by age but I think this is too restricting as there are too many cross-curricular books and I don’t like the thought of children (or their parents) avoiding books that are considered too young for them.

Nonfiction is important for children as many (particularly boys) prefer it to fiction. It opens up wonderful facts to them and helps their reading, writing and academic conversation skills. At a time when many bookshops have cut back on their children’s nonfiction (now often dominated by character or tv-based books) and many schools have lost their libraries, it’s even more important that public libraries provide children with books to excite and inform them.

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Chick Lit display for spring

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It’s easy to ignore books none of the library staff reads but Chick Lit is popular (and I’m a big fan of Bridget Jones!) so I thought it deserved a bit of promotion for a change. It’s an awful name for a genre and (as I’ve mentioned before) I hate the way books are marketed to men/women or girls/boys. I’m hoping the “chick” pun and the “spring” display will distract people from the “feminine” covers and perhaps encourage some men to try the books, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking? I copied the display idea from the Oakridge branch of Vancouver Public Library, but avoided the pink background.