Books and Cycling


I have a Google alert that notifies me of anything that crops up about children’s mobile libraries and bookmobiles. This is because of my doctoral research into children’s mobile libraries and their effect on literacy. I am still fascinated by the subject, but these days I have little time to really read the alerts. I collect them with some false hope that one day I will collate all the information to produce the definitive work on children’s mobile libraries. Every now and then I have a little clear out of the data that have accumulated, such as vanished links or notices saying that Y will not be visiting X today because of rain/snow/mechanical breakdown. Actually, perhaps I should keep account of the days that mobile libraries are off road and the reasons for doing so. Someone, somewhere will no doubt really want that information.

But I digress. Today was one of the clear out days, and I found a fascinating podcast about a Bicycle Bookmobile. Like me, you may have seen some posts circulating around social media of bicycle libraries in developing countries, but this time I was really surprised to find that the podcast was an interview with a university teacher who has started a service in Arcata California. When I searched further I discovered that there are many “Bikemobiles” in the US.

The interesting feature of the Arcata bicycle bookmobile is that it combines the two passions of Melanie Williams, books and bicycles – which is obvious really. She was a university teacher that took a group of students to help reconstruct some libraries in a area of the US which had had a natural disaster, and she describes how that experience changed her life. She realised how important books are to literacy. She is an educator, and now in another role is promoting children using bikes to improve their health and to give them road sense before they become drivers.

While doing this it occurred to her that a bicycle bookmobile would be a great way to help literacy and promote bikes. All the books are children’s books with the theme of bicycles. She describes and recommends some in the interview. The podcast lasts for around 20 minutes, the first half is about books and the second half deals with promoting cycling. It is really worth listening to and can be found here.


Finding the right book

I have just discovered that my first library has been demolished. This adds to my list of personally significant buildings that exist no more. My primary school, secondary school, the building where I studied for my PGCE, the hospital where I was born, all vanished into building rubble.


Not building rubble, but the best I could do

Is someone telling me something I wonder? I was looking for a photograph of the library, which was part of Tredegar Workman’s Institute, because I wanted to illustrate this blog.  My mother was a passionate user of the library and I suspect that I travelled there with her before I was actually born. I certainly remember being taken in a push chair and then as I grew older, being abandoned into the “Children’s Library”, a separate room where I was usually alone, avidly browsing, getting the next “Swallows and Amazons” or “Biggles” book.

You see, my mother told me that libraries could find you any book that you wanted. Of course there are some that are simply not available, but I did not know that then. It was simply the magic of being able to ask for anything at all and it would be found – “requesting” a book. The other thing that I did not know at the time is that the library did not ring up the one in the next town and say “have you got a copy of War and Peace? We have completely run out here and we have a customer who wants it”. In fact, I still find it extraordinary that libraries do not do that.

Now, of course, I know better. The ability of local libraries to find a book for a reader in the 1950s and 1960s was firmly based on a well organised system called “Interlibrary Lending”. In the UK this was done on a regional basis, geographically close libraries forming an organisation where books could be lent and borrowed from one library to another within the region. There were approximately 15 of these regions which held “union catalogues” of the books that were available to loan.

In fact the regional organisations did a little more than sharing their stock with each other. Sharing the alphabet between them, certain of the regions collected one copy of each book published to hold in reserve. For example, the East Midlands collected the work of authors beginning with G to J. This was known as the “Provincial Joint Fiction Reserve”. There was also the “Inter-regional Subject Coverage Scheme”, collecting non-fiction and sharing by Dewey Decimal numbers. So, the East Midlands saved all the non-fiction books with the Dewey Decimal numbers between 400 to 499, and 800 to 899. I chose the East Midlands as an example because my first library job for Derby City Libraries was in the building where these reserves were held. Sadly, these reserves are no more.

Each region had a hub which held their union catalogue of the books available in each library of that region. The hub received the messages from a requesting library, found which library had the book and passed the message on. The book was usually transported from one library to another post or by a network of library vans. The cost of this service was paid for by the member libraries subscribing to their regional organisation. Obviously things have changed dramatically, and a reader is now more likely to consult Amazon or Google Books if they want to read an obscure book. However, I think that the interlibrary lending regional system was a wonderful example of the organisational skills of librarians. They achieved a network across the UK when anyone could have access to the information they wanted.

Library delivery van “Yale University Library mail delivery vans” by Step is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you want to know more about the Regional Organisations and other details of Interlibrary Lending up to the 1990s then there is a really useful thesis by Patrick Wanyama on Loughborough University Institutional Repository.

Celebrating Ranganathan

I had an invitation this week, to attend a seminar in Ahmedabad, India which is being held to commemorate 125 years of the birth of S.R.Ranganathan. The event appears to be called “Librarian’s Day”, which I think is a lovely sort of day to have. Just think if “Librarian’s” day became a national event. People would have to visit a library and give a librarian a present. Books would be acceptable, but so would chocolate, cake, money, fast cars, expensive shoes, fancy electronic gadgetry. But I digress. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, which as you know is always right, Ranganathan’s birthday is celebrated in India by “National Library Day”.


I first came across the life of S.R Ranganathan during my master’s course in Information and Library Science. I was fascinated by the idea of a young, Indian, mathematical genius coming all the way to the UK to study Library Science. Not only that, but he brought a fresh, straightforward view to the profession devising a new classification system (Colon Classification) and five “laws” of Library Science.

I was so enchanted by his “Laws” that I turned them into a poster which I laminated and put on the wall of my School Library, where I was librarian at the time. I have no idea whether they are still there and I don’t have a picture of them, so I am sorry I cannot show you my poster. I can tell you what the laws are, however.

  1. Books are for use
  2. Every reader his / her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism

Books are for use

Some people may consider that books are special, sacred objects, or things that are far too precious for people to handle, or even that they make splendid decorations or statements of being “learned”. But a book is merely a carrier of a message, from author to reader and to receive the message you must read the book. Ranganathan was also meaning that they should be accessible. There is a lovely conversation in his book “the Five Laws of Library Science” between the First Law and the Laws of Cost and Space. The First Law law argues that books should be on shelves within reach of a person of average height. I tend to take down books that are in pubs or cafe’s as decoration and start reading them.

Every reader their book – Every book its reader

Somewhere there is the right book for every person, the book that inspires, influences and makes them discover that reading is a joy, a pleasure. I have spent a lot of time teaching children to read. Sometimes is a difficult process, reading is like swimming, sometimes people take to it instantly, but for others it is not so easy. But there is always a key book, the one that unlocks their desire to turn page upon page and get to the ending. For my son it was James and the Giant Peach. For my younger daughter it was the Usbourne Little Book of Horses and Ponies. Two very different personalities with different needs. Ranganathan considered that libraries should stock ranges of books to appeal to different types of readers.

Save the time of the reader

This means that books must not only be accessible, but also easily accessible – easy to find with classification systems and helpful staff. How else would you find your perfect book?bookshelves.jpg

The library is a growing organism

Ranganathan considers that a library is never complete. It expands and changes as the needs of the community develops and as new books appear. If you happen to be like me and a collector of books you know what it is like. I have
been known to sneak new bookshelves into my study at home without my other half noticing, in order to accommodate the piles that are creeping over the floor. Information grows, therefore libraries grow.

Ranganathan published these laws in 1931, a long time from the current information explosion and digitisation. However, taking his principles for having a library that is accessible for everyone I am quite sure that were he alive today, he would be promoting Open Access to information, digitisation and the accessibility of e-books.


I was a bit confused when I heard to term COUNTER compliant statistics because the word COUNTER has so many meanings. Could it be to do with those round disks you have use to go up ladders and down snakes in the board game?

roman gaming counter

“Glass mosaic counter or inlay” by Roman via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0


Statistics is about counting, so that makes some sort of sense. It could not be a shop counter then,

lego counter

“View of counter” by Takanori Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 2.0


or a ticket counter, these are types of counter that help people to access something.

ticket counter

“Ticket Counter For Foreigner s” by Barney Moss is licensed under CC BY 2.0


or how about a kitchen worktop, some people call those counters. They are things to facilitate tasks. In the kitchen.


“Butterfly on a counter” by Helena Jacoba is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Or indeed, counter also means against, opposed to, so counter compliance must mean that it is statistics that is not compliant.

No, I reasoned, it must be something to do with counting.

clicker counter

“Counter” by Marcin Wichary is licensed under CC BY 2.0


So after all my speculations I gave in and searched Google. I discovered that COUNTER is an acronym, as many things are these days. It stands for Counting Online Usage of NeTworked Electronic Resources. It is a standard code of practice that facilitates exchange of the usage data of e-resources. So, in plain terms, it means that when publishers count the number of views or downloads of a journal, book or database has had, they should save and organise that data in a standard format that can easily be shared with libraries that subscribe to the journals or have purchased a book. These are simple examples of a rather more sophisticated system.

According to the COUNTER Code of Practice the data are also arranged in standard reports, for example JR1 is a statistical report of all the views, downloads or attempted downloads an individual journal has had over a period of time – basically how many people have access the webpage for that journal. Similarly, BR1 is the statistical report of the number of views, downloads or attempted downloads of a book. There are a variety of other types of report as well.

Overall, COUNTER compliant statistics are a way of libraries being able to understand whether the e-resources that they have purchased or to which they subscribe are being actively used. In the day before electronically automated systems when physical books were stamped as they were borrowed, you could easily tell which were your most borrowed items. So, COUNTER is doing the same job, but better, because you could never count the number of times a book was looked at, a reference noted, a photocopy taken and returned to the shelf.

To learn more about this, visit the COUNTER project website where it explains things in more detail in a much better way.  However, I don’t think I was entirely wrong about COUNTER, it does include some of those other meanings. It counts people who are trying to read an article or book, it facilitates the work of librarians and publishers, it gives librarians access to data that they need to improve their electronic collections. It doesn’t serve cake though, which is a bit of a shame…

cake counter

“Sweet Counter” by terren in Virginia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CILIP joining in with #FactsMatter

This is a quick follow-up from my previous blog. As part of the forthcoming election, CILIP is starting a campaign to “to promote the need for evidence-based decision-making as a foundation of a strong, inclusive and democratic society”.

More can be found out about it here:

So, as well as anyone interested in Libraries approaching candidates personally and on the ground, so to speak, CILIP is approaching the political parties to include key aspects of the work of information professionals into their manifestos. Remember then, not simply to ask your candidate “What are YOU going to do for Libraries?” but also to TELL them what libraries do for them, and the rest of the UK, or even the world. This pincer movement could begin to make politicians realise how essential Library and Information is to a healthy, prosperous society.

Snap Election and Libraries

WeIMAG1116ll, this was a surprise, an election after only two years of a new government. I had expected in 2015 that we may have a hung parliament and there would be an election shortly after that, but not now. I was particularly interested in 2015 about the different political parties’ attitude towards libraries so in my morning walk today I was again pondering how libraries figure in the policies of the parties.

The Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group was only just re-formed in January 2017, to much announcement and comment in Library and Information circles. All Party Parliamentary Groups sound so official, but when you examine them closely, they have no real power at all. They are a group of like minded people from both the House of Lords and House of Commons, who show an interest in a particular subject, and presumably try to reflect that interest in a positive way in parliamentary proceedings. So although the purpose of the Library All Party Parliamentary Group is stated as “To promote the role of libraries in society and the economy, and examine themes in the wider information and knowledge sector” there is little indication of the way that they hope to achieve that. One would hope that as the chair of the group, Gill Furniss, is a qualified librarian, then at least the group will act as a voice for libraries.


Looking at the make up of the group, it has 4 lords and 4 MPs from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats. Two of the Peers are Crossbench. As yet, they have not had chance to achieve anything, and what will happen to them after this new election? Looking through the rules of APPGs it seems as though the group can continue despite the possibility of losing some members through MPs loosing their seats. At least the lords with be still there. In theory, the membership could increase with new MPs joining. But this does not answer my original question –  What are the policies of the political parties on libraries?

Well, a swift Google search tells me that in Derbyshire the local conservative party 2017 manifesto say that they will “Protect libraries from Labour’s cuts and closure threats, recognising the important role our Library Service has in our communities”. This is response to the local government elections, and guess which party are in power in Derbyshire? The Guardian tells me that Theresa May has not yet written the 2017 election manifesto and is asking MPs what they want in there. Responses, according to the Guardian correspondent are: Brexit, Brexit, Just About Managing families, Brexit, immigration and Brexit. Not a lot about libraries in there.

In the interests of being non-partisan I have found the local Derbyshire Labour manifesto which is decidedly in favour of libraries, as they say “Derbyshire Labour recognises the community value of your local libraries which is why they have kept them all open and even invested in building new ones.” And the national party? I am not sure about them, I found the Jeremy Corbyn website, which includes policies on Energy and the Environment, Transport, NHS,  as well as the Arts, which says that “We will create a legal obligation for for local authorities to provide a comprehensive library service”

My Google search was very swift and didn’t immediately throw the Derbyshire Liberal Democrat policy at me, but did give me the Buckinghamshire Liberal Democrats website, which states that they will “transform libraries into real community hubs using the library model to develop local, community led facilities.” Is that a euphemism for making them all volunteer libraries? And what about the national Liberal Democrat policy? Tim Farron has stated “No Library closed under  Lib Dem Leadership” but he said that in 2012. Nothing about libraries is mentioned in their “Issues” pages under Education or Culture.

IMAG0326So, it seems from a quick skim of the internet that libraries are an important issue to local councils and local parties but that matter of interest has been overshadowed by other events and political issues as far as national government is concerned. Perhaps it is simply a personal issue for people in politics and not part of any particular Political Agenda.
This election does seem to be one that has come about without a well considered agenda, rather too soon for pronouncements to be made on anything that is not in the immediate attention of the populace, or press for that matter. Perhaps this is a good thing is you want libraries to be an issue, a personal and a local one. When your parliamentary candidates are on the hustings, or walking your streets looking for voters, then why not ask “What are YOU going to do for Libraries? Will you join the All Party Parliamentary Group for Libraries?” At least it will get the candidates thinking and perhaps they will start listening to the advice and research that has proved the benefit of libraries to society.

The trouble with ISBNs


As a Librarian and shuffler around of books I have found International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) to be really useful. Unlike what is portrayed in popular media the role of a librarian is not to stamp books and go “Shh” at people aggressively. It is our job to find things and to put things in the right order or place so that other people can find them too. I like to simplistically say that the purpose of a librarian is to sort things out into piles and that is a reasonable basic analogy of what we do. We take the things that hold knowledge, such as books, scrolls, documents, vinyl records, compact discs, digital texts, databases, e-books, anything and we make them “discoverable” by arranging them in ways that are  easy to find. So books can be sorted out into the type of knowledge that they contain, such as History, Geography, Religion, Science and so on. There are many ways that things can be sorted, which is why there are many classification systems – Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, for example. A book is assigned a particular classification number according to the knowledge that it holds, its content, so there can be many books attributed to the same number. Of course the titles and authors are different.

So, what if you want to find a particular book? This is where ISBN numbers come in handy. The number is an official International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard  which was introduced by the book trade in 1970 to identify one publication or edition of a publication published by one specific publisher in one specific format. It was set up to allow automated machine reading of books, or “book like items”, such as maps. The thirteen digit number is made up from smaller number groups that have been mathematically calculated to represent different elements. Let’s take one of the numbers from the books in the photograph above.


The number above shows that it is an ISBN (preface), it was published in the UK  (geographic element), it was published by Ladybird Books (publisher or imprint) and it is this particular book (edition). In fact it is a hardback book titled The Shed. The machine readable part of the ISBN is the bar code, which can be scanned by a supplier, bookshop staff or library staff to identify that particular publication. ISBNs are issued through national agencies and held on their databases.  This means that if you know that you want to buy a copy of the Ladybird Book of the Shed and you have its ISBN number you can type that in to Amazon or a library catalogue you can find out where to buy or borrow it.


So each ISBN number is a way of identifying that a printed, hardback copy of the title “The Shed” written by J.A.Hazeley and J.P.Morris was published by Ladybird Books Ltd, Loughborough in 2015. If the publisher decides to sell a paperback or e-book version, or the author wants to update or correct the words or change the illustrations in a second edition, then each one would have a different number in that edition element. Great, perfect for identification – by a machine.

Just imagine that you are a  librarian you only want one copy of The Shed and you don’t care whether it is hardback or paperback, or you are trying to make space on your selves and only want an e-book and all you have is a long list of numbers and you can’t work out which is the e-version, which the paper back and which is the one with different pictures. You see, the “edition ” part of the numbers is a unique grouping just for that instance of publication. It is not a code that means e-book, or hardback, or third edition. This is the problem with ISBN, they are just too unique sometimes. What is needed is an identifier for the intellectual output of that book, what ever the format.

Now, I am not very well acquainted with these, but in searching for information for this blog post I have come across International Standard Text Code (ISTC) identifiers. This appears to be a number allocated to the textural content of something, no matter what is wrapped around the outside, metaphorically. So, perhaps these are the numbers to use at a time when any piece of text could available anywhere in any format and the variety of format choice just keeps growing.