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.



Public Library Standards

New Birmingham Library Interior 2by Tony Hisgett

Licensed under CC-BY 2.0

Original source via Flickr

I have recently been investigating the situation of public library standards in the UK. I first encountered them as a library assistant working in England in 2004. The English standards were first introduced in 2001 to ensure that public money was being used effectively and to give transparency to what was considered a good quality resource. There were 19 standards in 2001 which were reduced to 10 in 2006. Two further revisions followed but by 2008 they quietly disappeared, replaced by the softer “Benchmarks”.

In the UK public libraries are free for any individual to join and to borrow books and other resources (some charges may apply, such as fines for the late return of books and borrowing other items). The vanished standards took into account the latest UK legislation on public libraries – the 1964 Libraries Act. Some 54 years later that act still stands and one of its main tenets is that local government authorities have to supply a library service to all anyone who wishes to visit a library and to all the population of the local authority.

“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof…”

In recent years, as local authorities across the UK are trying to find financial efficiencies the above phrase has become a mantra for anyone, professional or public, who are desperately trying to keeps libraries open.

The standards measured such things as library distance from citizen’s homes, opening hours, electronic access, efficiency of book issues, customer care, staff qualifications and up to date stock. They were monitored and assessed by the then Department of Culture Media and Sport and heads of service were answerable. Back in 2004, the library authority where I worked took the standards very seriously. Even us lowly library assistants were trained in them, and we were expected to gather information daily about the use of the library.

I benefited from being given excellent training in customer care, equality awareness and a qualification in ICT. I was supported and encouraged to take a course in librarianship (distance learning), although the training budget did not stretch to paying the fees. Opening hours were scrutinised and adjusted to cover times when people could easily visit the libraries, at evenings, on Saturday afternoons and Sunday opening was being considered. the service was expanding.

Now, the very same service is contracting. Like many other local authorities before them they have stopped short of closing any static libraries, although both mobile libraries have gone. Opening hours have been reduced, homework clubs disappeared and staff numbers have dwindled. Soon there will be only one qualified librarian not in a management role. As I mentioned, they are not the only library authority that are doing this – there are many pressures on local government.

The other UK home nations have different strategies. Scotland does not have Standards, but it does have the “How good is our public library service” framework which is a rigorous self assessment and forward planning tool that is peer reviewed and reported on behalf of SLIC, the Scottish Library and Information Council, which is an independent advisory body for the Scottish Government. This framework is closely linked to a National strategy for public libraries in Scotland, the current iteration being: Ambition & Opportunity The framework and strategy are prompts for library managers to scrutinise their  library service ensuring that tax payers receive high quality service and value for money. Note that SLIC is a Scottish charity, not the Scottish Government itself although it works on it’s behalf.

The Welsh Government does have Welsh Public Library Standards (WPLS), which are administered through MALD, the Museums, Archives and Libraries Division, part of the Welsh Government’s civil service. The current framework is Connected and Ambition Libraries which has an accompanying guide called How good is your public library. These are confusingly similar titles to the Scottish Framework. The Welsh Public Library Standards comprise 12 core entitlements and 16 quality indicators. As for the Scottish framework, there is an element of self assessment by library management with the addition of the future direction of the library. Similarly, the purpose is to ensure that Welsh tax payers receive a high quality service with money being spent well.  These standards are assessed annually, reviewed by an independent adviser and peer-reviewed.

Northern Island also has Public Library Standards which are assessed, although I do not know the assessment mechanism. It appears to be by centrally sourced surveys and data from the Northern Ireland Library management system. The 12 standards cover the same sort of areas as WPLS  and the Scottish strategy. They are based on a Northern Ireland government act, The Libraries Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 which states :

“…to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service for persons living, working or studying in Northern Ireland.”

The main difference is that there is only one public library service that covers all of Northern Ireland, and it is part of the Northern Irish Department for Communities, whereas Wales, Scotland and England have multiple library services as part of local government.

So what is the point of having these standards, or strategic framework, apart from providing a checklist of good practice and demonstrating value? In my opinion, it is so that things are done. If someone has to look at what they are doing, if they have to count, assess, gather statistics, collect evidence they are paying attention to what is happening in their service and issues can be solved before they get out of hand and achievements can be noticed and celebrated.

Guidelines are good, as long as they are voluntarily followed, but when there are multiple pressures on services and their employees, it is the statutory actions that are prioritised. Standards are better, because even if a service knows that they cannot fully achieve a standard, they will work towards it and the issue receives a higher priority than it would otherwise. Similarly, standards give justification to actions, such as increasing the book-fund, or training staff. Standards also stimulate creativity. If you don’t have the money to achieve a standard, find a way around the problem, for collaborating with another organisation or simply coming up with an inventive idea. For example, several Welsh Authorities are collaborating with FE colleges to provide library and information qualifications to library staff.

Surely it is time that England had standards again?


Not the Edinburgh Fringe, but Repository Fringe 2018

I have been rather busy over August. When most people have gone off to milder climes and sun kissed beaches, I have spent a lot of time in my study focusing on some consultancy work. This meant that I didn’t manage to write up the conference that I attended in Edinburgh – so slightly late, here some highlights from Repository Fringe 2018. 

Dundas Street, Edinburgh, looking towards the Forth

This annual  two day conference in Edinburgh is organised by the UK open access repository community for anyone who is interested in the concept of open access and for those working in institutional repositories. It is very much a practical conference, full of good, useful information and it provides a springboard for networks, initiatives, very useful meetings and potential collaborations.

This year’s venue was The Royal Society of Edinburgh, one of Edinburgh’s stately Georgian buildings. It was historic, welcoming and just the right size. I have to say that I was very excited to see portraits of past Fellows on the walls,  including Humphry Davy and the inevitable Walter Scott.

Speakers were drawn from all facets of the open access and academic community. The opening Keynote speech was from Danny Kingsley, Deputy Director of Scholarly Communication and Research Services, Cambridge University Library.  She drew attention to the surreptitious way that publishers are infiltrating online resources that openly share the work of academics and outlined the difficulty of getting academics to deposit their work into the repository. One solution being to train PhD students and their supervisors with the idea that sharing their work on open access is normal procedure.

Emily Sena, an academic and researcher as well as Editor in Chief, BMJ Open Science, Edinburgh, gave a powerful presentation from an academic perspective. Very much in favour of open access to information, she talked about the importance of publishing research that have negative results as this sets research into context and minimises bias.

Gavin Ian McLachlan, Chief Information Officer. University of Edinburgh spoke of the forthcoming data economy and data repositories. Edinburgh is being given funding to become “the Data Capital of Europe” and anticipates that many jobs will arise in the area for anyone who works and innovates with data. The University will be home to a world class data centre, that will include open data.

Colossus – Bletchley Park


Such openness comes with consequences. Information has become a commodity that may be bought and sold, and the people who work hard: to make discoveries, to write up their life’s work and prove or disprove scientific facts deserve recognition for their achievements.  Therefore, licensing and copyright laws have to be taken into consideration when work is made open, to ensure that reputable institutions such as Universities remain reputable and do not fall foul of the law. Jane Secker (City University, London) and Chris Morrison (University of Kent) have a solution. They have invented a board game that illustrates the problems involved and how to avoid them. They gave a presentation about the development of this clever training device and then there was a chance to play the game. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the hands on experience as I had arranged a meeting at that time.

Other sessions were summaries of good practice being done in repositories across the UK, updates of partnering organisations working to help the flow of information, such as Jisc, CORE and Wikipedia. A selection of special interest groups held meetings to support practitioners. I enjoyed the two days because the conference was relevant, concise, practical and informative. I also met old colleagues and friends, an important aspect for peer support in a field that is often isolated.

The presentations can all be found at the Repository Fringe archive:


Ancient Libraries

Libraries have been around for a very long time and somehow it seems to catch the popular imagination, or media imagination, at least, when a new bit of knowledge is revealed about them. There seems to be something about human psychology that life in the “Old Times” was really basic and I think it must come as a shock when evidence is found that humans have been doing the same things for millennia. A piece of news caught my eye. A 2000 year old building has been revealed in Cologne, which puzzled archaeologists for a while.   Comparing it with other buildings, they decided that it was most likely to be a library building, as it had many small compartments just the right size to hold a few scrolls. Around 20,000 of them.

Of course, there is no record of what type of library this was or what sort of documents were held there. for example was it philosophical or religious teachings, legal documents or the mundane bureaucratic records of a governing body. Was it for the use of all, or a select few? Was there a Librarian that looked after these documents? we can only speculate, but what ever they were, the knowledge that they held was considered important enough for them to be neatly housed in a stone building.

Another library doing the rounds on Social Media is the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral. I remember seeing this a long time ago, as a child. Hereford Cathedral was one of the places that I really liked visiting, along with Cyfarthfa Castle and Monmouth Museum. I was an unusual child. The Chained Library is so called because the books are chained to the shelves. Apparently the library was built this way in the 1600’s and the cathedral’s medieval manuscripts were rebound and re-shelved – modernisation at the time, no doubt.

As I recall, the library was situated up a narrow spiral staircase, in a small dark room, with the shelves looking very dark and very, very old (was very, very young). It was unusual to find it open, and there was a guide to take you up there. It certainly added to sense of mystery and uniqueness of the collections. It seems as though they have been cleaned and re-housed. Better for preservation, no doubt and accessible to more people, but rather a shame, I feel, to lose that feeling of something exciting and special.

A third library, I came across last week. This is a tiny library, and it is the space itself that enchanted me, more than the collection of books inside it. It is in a turret of Ferniehirst Castle, designed in the 1600’s and housed the private collection of the laird. Completely circular, with shelves reaching the elaborately carved ceiling, it felt like a little private chapel to knowledge and learning. And the natural habitat of a librarian.
The library in Ferniehurst Castle

By Victuallers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons

Today, in this time of efficiencies and austerity it seems that library buildings are too costly to maintain, or too costly to fill with staff, and some people consider them unnecessary because knowledge is held on the internet. However, our ancestors know that knowledge needed to be put somewhere safe. Safe for the container of the knowledge, scrolls, books, other documents, and safe for the person reading that knowledge. I believe that there will always be place in the world for library buildings. 2000 years of their history shows that humans care about them.