Libraries Week

Libraries week is here, and before I dash out to my local library to order my next book I need to read for my book group, and to read the local newspaper, see what they have on organic gardening and maybe have a peek at Ancestry, I thought I should add to the general celebration of Libraries. Here is a short interlude from the BBC.

I recently went to France on holiday and I noticed that they now call many local libraries “Médiathèque” – which seems a good descriptive name for a modern library. While I was there, I had to pay homage to the library system, and visited Limoges central library

Limoge library

I have to praise the library staff both in Limoges and in Montmorillon as they helped us so patiently and were so helpful to us, although our French language skills are rubbish. I managed to identify a butterfly that I had photographed, and the other half hooked onto their wifi.

There is even a library in Versailles, rather opulent as you would expect.


So, here’s to libraries and library staff, wherever they are. Happy Libraries Week


SCONUL New Professionals survey 2019

Sconul logo

Are you a Library and Information Early Career Professional?

  • If you work in a SCONUL member library  in the UK, Northern Island or Republic of Ireland, in any role?
  • Or if have you worked in a SCONUL member library in the past five years and now have left.
  • And if  you gained your Information and Library Qualification within the past 5 years (since 2014)?

We want to hear from you.

We are working with SCONUL, the professional organisation for academic libraries (, to research into the “pipeline for new talent”.  We want to collect hear about the experiences of early career professionals working in SCONUL member libraries (at any level) so that SCONUL can recruit the best people and support those recruits to their potential.


Butterfly and Chrysalises

“Butterfly and Chrysalises” by Julie Raccuglia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

We also want to know line managers and Heads of Service points of view about the experience and potential of new library professionals that they have appointed.

Our research will give SCONUL a better understanding of:

  • The numbers involved and the types of roles occupied by early career professionals in SCONUL libraries
  • The transition from Library and Information School (or equivalent) to professional practice
  • The opportunities for ECPs to use and develop their skills while working in SCONUL member libraries
  • How managers can support the professional development of their new recruits.

The project is part of SCONUL’s strategic priority to develop tools and materials to support members in workforce planning, and we at Evidence Base are undertaking this research on SCONUL’s behalf.

We would like to invite any early career professionals, line managers and Heads of Service to contribute to this research by completing our survey

The survey is open until 25th October and there is an opportunity to provide contact details if you are interested in assisting further with the research project by taking part in a follow-up interview.

Please forward the link to anyone you know who fit the criteria.

Thanks, Marianne from Evidence Base


“BF_0018” by Bogdanfly is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Developing principles for working with young people in libraries

Evidence Base and Manchester Met’s School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies recently worked together in order to develop a set of principles for libraries to use when working collaboratively with young people. The work was commissioned by ASCEL in association with the Reading Agency and funded through the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. 

Some libraries were already using a set of  7 quality principles that were devised for Arts Council England, but these were general in nature, and not not really specific enough for libraries. Libraries have been encouraging young people to take up volunteering roles, such as being a pupil library assistant at a school library, or a reading mentor for younger children at a public library. The uptake of the Summer Reading Challenge by libraries during the school summer holidays has provided volunteering  opportunities for young people to help with reading activities at their local library. In some cases this has lead them on to getting a part time job in the library and has helped them with university and job applications, because it is a valuable experience to add to their CV. 

Libraries are places where young people can learn skills useful for their working life, experience roles of leadership, responsibility and mentoring  with adult staff who can help, advise, guide and encourage their skills. It was this aspect of libraries in mind that ASCEL wanted to provide library staff and management with a set of tailored principles to help them give young people such opportunities.

We approached this project from two different directions. One was to take the existing Arts Council quality principles, and ask the young people what they thought about them. This was done first of all with a survey that attracted 346 answers. At a later stage in the project, after analysis and input from the second direction, my colleague took our fledgling ideas for principles to a focus group of young people.

The other direction was to pretend that the Arts Council principles didn’t exist, and to explore the thoughts of adults who already work closely with young people as volunteers from a range of different organisations. For example, school librarians, youth workers, volunteer co-ordinations and uniformed youth groups, especially those which helped young people develop leadership and caring roles. We wanted to find out what principles they were already using, and what principles would they recommend. We compared what the young people and want the adults said, with the existing principles, and there was an encouraging amount of overlap.

The Arts Council principles are these:

  1. Striving for excellence and innovation
  2. Being authentic
  3. Being exciting, inspiring and engaging
  4. Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience
  5. Actively involving children and young people
  6. Enabling personal progression
  7. Developing belonging and ownership

After our analysis and discussion we changed them to these:

1- Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience for all young people
2- Being fun, exciting and inspiring for young people
3- Developing community belonging and ownership for young people
4- Being trustworthy, reliable and relevant
5- Listening to, valuing and involving young people
6- Working together for excellence and accessibility
7- Enabling young people’s life chances, confidence and well-being

The most noticeable changes were these: dropping the principle “being authentic”,  because neither young people nor adults fully understood the implications of the word “authentic”; and that although young people wanted their opinions taken seriously, they did not necessarily want to run and lead events. We inserted “Being trustworthy, reliable, and relevant” because both adults and young people considered that trust was an essential commodity for working in collaboration. Adults emphasised the need to “engage” with young people, but curiously, the young people just wanted to have fun. I feel that they were both meaning that the work should be enjoyable, and we used the word fun, because it is so much nicer than being engaged.

The full report is on ASCEL’s website, and if you work in libraries, there are extra resources of how you can use the principles.

The Legacy of Crime

Crime is popular, apparently particularly among women. Extreme crimes such as murder, torture and rape feature in these statistics. Not that women are actively committing these crimes, but they are writing and reading crime novels with a surprising relish, according to this article from the Guardian.  A few weeks ago, I was selling secondhand books at a charity event, when an elderly women sifted through the paperbacks on offer and remarked “no, they are all a bit tame for me. I like something with a good murder”. I suppose I sympathised with her, after all I had read the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes novels by the age of 13.

Perhaps it is the puzzle, the solving of a mystery, that attracts readers and writers. The ability to commit the perfect crime, because you are not committing it, the criminal in the book is being your proxy.  It could be the race to solve the murder against the fictional detective – or make conclusions from the clues scattered around by the author, dispelling red-herrings before the “Big Reveal”.  It takes a good deal of creativity in order to feed this curious obsession, and certainly a lot of research on behalf of the Crime Writer.

Mixing creativity with the crime

“Mixing creativity with the crime”by duncan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

We know from her still surviving notebooks that Agatha Christie collected scientific details and snippets of crime stories from newspapers to help and inspire her with her crime novels. I know that Stephen Booth, a crime writer from the Midlands and Alumi of BCU,  has spent time shadowing the police in Nottinghamshire to be able to get police procedure correct in his Cooper and Fry novels. At least that is what he said during a talk at my local library.

We readers get an insight into these creative activities because writers letters, notebooks, original manuscripts are archived.  These archives can give dedicated researchers many a happy hour trying to understand and reconstruct the personalities of authors that are long dead. For example there are many theories about Jane Austen which reflect society in the day and age when the researchers live. For example, in 2013 the Weston Library at Bodleian, Oxford, held an exhibition which describes Jane as “an ambitious and risk-taking businesswoman and a wartime writer”. The benefits of this link to immortality have been realised by living writers, and possibly a way to curate their own image for the future.

Returning to my theme of Crime, Ian Rankin has donated his archive to the National Library of Scotland. According to an article in the NLS free magazine, Discover, Ian spent six months sifting through boxes of manuscripts (published and unpublished), letters to agents and publishers, bills, bank statements and travel tickets, postcards and computer disks. Some of the ephemeral items have been shredded and he has not given his daily diary to the archive. I don’t suppose most of us would want all and sundry (or a least investigative researchers) to read our outpourings from early teenage to early 30’s. I know that mine would be rather dismal, recording highlights as going shopping and watching television.  More intriguing and definitely donated are the correspondence that  Ian had with other crime writers, such as Ruth Rendell, PD James, Colin Dexter and others.

It does make you think, though, that this physical archive may be amongst the last to be safely put away and preserved for future generations to discover the legacy of Crime, or at least the working life of a crime writer.

Did you know there are Poetry Libraries?

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile

Photo by Thought Catalog on

Who knew? Sadly, I didn’t until recently and it turns out I actually visited one some years ago and didn’t notice. This was at the National Poetry Library in the Southbank Centre, London when my daughter came 11th in a national poetry competition and was invited to a celebration at Festival Hall. The poetry event should have been a clue, but I think I must have been overwhelmed at the post war architecture and seeing Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. There are precisely 3 and a bit Poetry Libraries in the UK: the aforementioned National Poetry Library; the Northern Poetry Library, Morpeth; The Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh, and Manchester Poetry Library is the bit as it is in development and due to open in 2020.

These libraries are organisations in their own right, they are not collections housed as part of another library, although all of them except the Scottish Poetry Library have an umbrella organisation. They are all free to join, basically functioning in the same way as a public library, but with collections concentrating on poems and information about poems, poetry and poets. The National Poetry Library was founded in 1953 by the Arts Council and passed through several homes until it was adopted as part of the Southbank Centre complex in 1988. It boasts that it is “the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world.”

The Northern Poetry Library is currently housed in the quietly wonderful Medieval Chantry in Morpeth, sharing this building with the National Bagpipe museum and the local tourist information and craft shop.


The Chantry on a wet day in Morpeth

It was founded in 1968 to be a collection of contemporary poetry written after the second world war. Just like the National Poetry Library, it had several homes before it settled here. It is currently overseen by Northumberland Libraries and is a cosy space to sit and read poetry.


Inside the Northern Poetry Library

The Scottish Poetry Library was the third on the scene. The poet Tessa Ransford identified the need for a poetry library in Scotland and the Northern Poetry Library became a sort of model for the Scottish Poetry Library. It was founded in 1983 and followed the pattern of both previous libraries in outgrowing space and moving home several times. The Scottish Poetry Library has now settled in a small close off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, situated near the Scottish Parliament in a purpose built building, which incidentally has been expanded and refurbished twice in order to accommodate the expanding collection and poetry events.

As mentioned before, the Scottish Poetry Library is a stand alone organisation taking funding from a variety of sources, with no higher organisation either to shield it from the slings and arrows of austerity or to dictate what it does and does not do. I have to quickly add that I am not aware that the umbrella organisations of the three other libraries do anything other than  whole heatedly support them.

Manchester Poetry Library will be under the wing of Manchester Metropolitan University and has been in development for some years. It will be housed in a new building which it will share with Manchester Writing School and Manchester School of Theatre. It plans to stock all things poetry, including film and audio, from the late 19th Century, in a multiplicity of that languages relevant to Manchester and to hold poetry events. It intends to do all this in collaboration with community groups and university schools. It too will behave as a public library, free to join and open to all.

Scottish Reading Strategy

blurred book

Sometimes it takes a while for research to filter through into reality. Near the end of 2017 I blogged about our work with SLIC to evaluate the Scottish Reading Strategy for public libraries.  The research was duly completed and presented, and the report passed to SLIC.

Last week the report was published by SLIC and the renewed reading strategy launched.  For any CILIPS members watching, there will be a presentation about the reading strategy at the CILIPS conference in June.

We found that overall the reading strategy was good and that some interesting and innovative events that promote reading were being held in libraries over Scotland. However, the strategy was not fully aligned with the Government National Outcomes  and Ambition and Opportunity (the Scottish libraries strategy document). We adjusted the strategy to cover this and made some recommendations that would improve the basic infrastructure.

During the research work we also found out about the reading strategies of libraries across the world, for example, the wonderful reading environments in Norway and the efficient documentation of the Australian state of Victoria. But I will tell you about those another time.

Open Access Week 2018

I have been seeing messages from UK University Repository staff listing the events that they will be doing next week – for Open Access week. One thing that seems to be popular this year is to “Screen” a “movie”, something that may appear to be not a very open access activity. To screen a film in public usually there has to be all sorts of considerations of permission and right licencing. Then there is the matter of charging for a ticket, ice-cream selling pop corn at inflated prices (pun intended).

Toyogeki-Movie Toyooka002

By hashi photo (hashi photo) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, they are not selecting different films, the one that they all want to show is quite different and very open access (spoiler alert!). It is “Paywall: the business of Scholarship” which, according to its website:

Staying true to the open access model: it is free to stream and download, for private or public use, and maintains the most open CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons designation to ensure anyone regardless of their social, financial or political background will have access.

I decided to take a look at it, and see what the fuss was all about, and although it talked about many themes with which I am already familiar, I thought that it was quite interesting and put over the concept of open access to information in a useful way.  It is a series of inter-cut interviews with academics and publishers in the open access world which have been edited  by theme of the discussion. It is a pity that Elsevier did not take part in this – their perspective would have been interesting, but apparently they turned down their invitation.

The overall point to the film is the problem of trying to access a journal or article online and not being able to download it, because you or your institution do not pay for a subscription to the journal. This means that authors cannot get copies of their own work, and taxpayers who’s money have paid for the research and publication of the article cannot see that their money has been well spent. Well, you can, but you have to pay a lot of money for access. It is like hitting a wall – hence the term “paywall”.


A Scottish Fort

Above is a picture of a Scottish fort, on top a hill, with a thick defensive wall, keeping everyone out, except for some slits and a rather modern gate. You can imagine that the paywall is like this, with one little door that is controlled by the publisher to let you in to read the article you want. You may consider that this is fair, the articles belong to someone, and reflect hours of research.

The argument of Open Access is that what is the point of having all that knowledge locked up for hardly anyone to see when the researchers want their work to have some influence in the world, and there are people locked outside trying to get to the knowledge, to build on the work, to solve global problems, to help humanity and science. Such walls should be broken down, like this one, the old Kelp store in Rathlin island.

Kelp store and beyond

From inside the kelp store, Rathlin

The information is then free to be used by anyone, in any country, rich or poor to help them solve the problems of the world, or simply to keep up with new scientific and medical thought, to provide the best service to their local community – basically making the world a better place.

The film is a little over an hour long, and you can watch it on the small screen of your phone or laptop, unless you are fortunate enough to be near a big screening. The website also tells you how you can screen it yourself – it has CC BY 4.0 open licence, so all it costs is your time.