Library connections, not collections


I know I don’t usually share links to external articles on here, but today this one really caught my eye. The headline alone, Why the future of UK libraries is in the ‘connection, not the collection’ strikes right at the heart of my own beliefs about libraries; the name of my blog, is, after all, Libraries Connect Communities.

Library Design

The article, by Louise Rhind-Tutt, quotes David Lindley, Executive Director of Designing Libraries, as saying that the key to shifting the focus from collections to connections is through “creating interactive, collaborative and participative spaces for people to come together and work together, learn together, and access a variety of materials and resources – not just borrow books.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Read the complete article here:


A Community Book Exchange

I have a confession to make.

Are you ready?

Its nothing too outrageous.

OK, here it is: yes, I work as a Library Assistant in an academic library, but I also run my own library on the side. Well, when I say “library” what I really mean is a community book exchange. These book exchanges are part of a global network that promotes literacy in local communities. The Little Free Library organisation began in Wisconsin, USA, and it is one of these small book exchanges that I run in my community.

Little Free Library

I’m a member of my parish council, and we successfully applied for a grant from West Oxfordshire Disctrict Council to set up our own Little Free Library. I know that there is some controversy among some professional librarians who view these little boxes as offensive, for using the term “library” incorrectly. Although ours is officially referred to as a Little Free Library, the correct term ought to be a community book exchange.


our free book exchange, located in Freeland, Oxfordshire

Free Book Exchange

Here’s how it works; anyone is welcome to give or take books as they wish, and they don’t have to bring them back. There is no permanent collection of books, rather all the books belong to the community and they come and go as people take them. It is a great way to people to share books that they no longer want, and to swap them for new ones. We have a shelf specifically for children’s books, and one for adults.

Successful Project

We launched our book exchange two years ago and it has been a huge success. It is used every day by all age groups in our community. As a result, I have met and got to know more people in my community than I otherwise would have done, and it has become an asset  in our village that has no amenities other than a school, church, village hall and a pub (our mobile library service was scrapped last year due to government funding cuts).

Community Asset

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am all about communities, and how libraries connect them together. Although in no way a substitute for a real local library, these small book exchanges are a great way for neighbourhoods to share used books and to foster a greater sense of community. It has been nothing but a positive experience, and the project has been overwhelmingly embraced in my community.

You can read more about our Little Free Library book exchange project here.

My Year in Books: part two

The Challenge

Last September, I set myself a literary challenge to see how many books I could read in a year. After six months my total reached 23 (read about those books here). Read on to find what my end of year total was… and what my choice of books revealed about me. Once again, you get bonus points if you can figure out the book titles or authors before I tell you (they’re listed at the end of this post).


books I may or may not have read during the past year


This month was a struggle, and I only managed two books. One was a famous chef’s memoir, mainly set in Cornwall but served with a side dish of Australia, and the other was a children’s book about mythical mountain creatures. Neither was particularly satisfying; I felt like I was reading them just to boost my numbers, or eating something tasteless just to fill my stomach. Word of the month: work.

Total so far: 25


I still wasn’t back on form in April but I did read more Hollywood memoirs of a space princess, and for good measure, a superheroes love story. A regular guy falls in love with a superhero called The Perfectionist; what could possible go wrong? Word of the month: other.

Total so far: 27


I began with a trip back in time to London in 1989, following the story of a young British-Pakistani man and his experiences in the drug-fueled youth culture of the city; the book is meant to be a classic, with the title inspired by a Prince album, but to be honest, I really struggled with it. Next, I went back further in time to the American frontier of 1823, to a novel based upon the real experiences of a man who was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead. I wanted something lighter to read after that, so I jumped into a contemporary children’s book about a greyhound dog, This was followed by another step into the past, right back to Tudor times and (spoilers!) the fall of Anne Boleyn. My final read of the month was a YA novel about a 19th century bride in rural England, who decides to run away the night before her wedding; I wouldn’t normally read this kind of thing, but the cover caught my eye and the premise sounded intriguing. Word of the month: fate.

Total so far: 32


I’d heard so much praise about the first book I read in June, but I found it hard going, and for me, it failed to live up to expectations; the story of a Hollywood star who goes to rehab for a drug addiction just didn’t get me hooked. Stars of a different kind definitely did get me hooked, though; this next story, a children’s science fiction novel,  is one of the best books I have ever read, so I am not going to hide the title from you. Go and read Phoenix by S F Said as soon as you can, you will be whisked away on a galactic adventure (and the illustrations are simply amazing). After this supernova of a story, I went back to a favourite genre of mine, and read a dark dystopian novel, set in a totalitarian state where the government continually manipulates the public, and persecutes those  displaying independent thought. Sounds like a lot of places right now, doesn’t it? I picked up a children’s book next, this time about a young man who tries to fulfill his dream of working as a clown in an African orphanage, and followed that up with a dystopian (yes, that D word again) science fiction novel, which has a lot of feminist spark to it; quite shocking, in fact. I ended the month with two more children’s books, both by the same author, and both set in WWII; one set in France, about smuggling Jewish children across the Spanish border, and the other set in England, a tale of German pilots who crash land their plane on the moors, only to be discovered by two boys, who have been evacuated from London. Word of the month: battles.

Total so far: 39


The first page-turner this month was a biography written by a daughter about her ageing father, who had developed dementia. This was a quest to unearth his past, to save his memories before they were lost to him. This thrilling book takes you on a journey to his adventures as an undercover agent parachuting into France during WWII, looks back at his marriages and family life, and tries to discover the truth about who he really was; memories, intrigue, and family secrets. How to follow this? Well, with the true story of a Victorian murder, of course! A young boy murders his mother, in a crime that shocks the country. Why did he kill her? How does Victorian society punish someone so young? What happens to him after he grows up? Murder and morality; can we ever really forgive a killer? Violence and death were also all over the next book I read, a re-telling of the King Arthur legends, this time written by a children’s author. In this version, King Arthur has been hiding in a secret cave for centuries, and recounts his adventures to a boy who has stumbled upon him. Word of the month: gripping.

Total so far: 42


I began the month with the autobiography of a drummer, who accidentally became one of the world’s most successful singer songwriters, having a solo career as well as singing with a band. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have chosen this book at all, and felt obliged to read it after my wife gave it to me as a gift, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and admired the author’s honesty about his failed marriages and complicated family life. From drumming, to a children’s book, this time set on a farm where a boy visiting for the summer yearns to become a permanent member of the family. Another musician’s autobiography came next, from the height of Britpop in the 1990’s to his current family life on a Cotswold farm, followed by a memoir about an author’s early life, including her descent into illness. Word of the month: family.

Grand total for the year: 46

What did I learn?

Well, 46 books in 12 months isn’t bad, is it? I suppose, deep down, I was hoping to achieve a convenient 52, or an average of 1 book per week, but alas, it didn’t work out that way. So, what has this literary adventure taught me? That I have a penchant for dystopian novels, that I enjoy reading children’s books for my own entertainment, that I read memoirs mainly to inform how I write, and that I rarely give up on a book once I have started it, no matter how hard going it might be.  It has been fun looking back at all the books I read in the past year, so I am going to be doing it again, with the goal of achieving the magical 52 next time. See you in 12 months…

The books I read

Under A Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein, The King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo, Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, All my friends are superheroes by Andrew Kauffman, The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi, The Revenant by Michael Punke, Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher, Phoenix by S F Said, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Dear Olly by Michael Morpurgo, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo, Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo, Dadland by Keggie Carew, The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, Arthur High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo, Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins, Long Way Home by Michael Morpurgo, Bit of a blur by Alex James, and Giving up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel.


Shhh, whisper it, but … I’m reaching something of a career crossroads. I have spent the last 7 years primarily as a stay-at-home-dad, while my wife works full-time. During these 7 years I have, at various times, combined being a full-time parent with being a part-time student, worked part-time in a public library, and currently work part-time in an academic library, during semester time only.

However, my youngest child is about to start school, so I will now have an additional three free days per week on my hands (well, between the hours of 9am and 3pm). Here is my dilemma: what do I do? Working full-time is not an option, because of the school run, and my wife’s work hours are not flexible; I have to be at home to take care of the children before and after school (except on the two days I work at the library, when my parents help out). I have been looking for part-time jobs that would fit in with school hours, but they just don’t seem to exist; unless you want to work at a school.

The best option seems to be to set up some kind of small business from home, something that I could do alongside my current library job and also fit in with my children. This is something that I have been considering for a while, and now seems like a good time to develop this idea further. I just need to figure out what exactly it is that I could do; all I know is that I’d like to use my writing skills in some way. Watch this space.


I took this photo during a recent visit to Avebury


My Year In Books, part one

The Challenge

I work in a library, and you would be correct in assuming that I enjoy reading. Last September, I decided to take myself on a literary journey; a year-long voyage through different lands, cultures and times. I kept a record of it, writing down the places I had visited, and yet, I didn’t actually travel anywhere (well, other than family vacations to New Jersey and the Isle of Wight; feel free tinsert your own witty comments here).


My original intention was to simply see how many books I could read in a year, but what I ended up with was more than just a list of book titles; these books took me to places beyond my own imagination, opened up new experiences and revealed my reading preferences.


books that I may or may not have read during this past year

So, what did I actually read, then? A breakdown of the books I read during the first six months is given below. Bonus points if you figure out the book titles before I tell you (they’re all  listed at the end of this article).


I followed a murderer’s delicate sense of smell as he journeyed through 18th century France, killing people and finding different jobs. Then I climbed through a magic portal in Oxford to join an adventure in a parallel universe, spread across a trilogy of books, which explored danger, dust and daemons. Word of the month: adventure.

Total so far: 4


I joined a boy and his father as they poached their way through local woods, to wreak havoc on an aristocratic landowner. The next book I read took me on another journey, also with a boy and his father, across post-apocalyptic America. This was followed by a trip to Africa with a writer during the second world war, and then a journey of survival and Shakespeare through the American Great Lakes after a catastrophic flu epidemic. If those books weren’t cheerful enough, I next read a story about a teenage girl who has to compete in a life-or-death competition, set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic North America. Next up was a tale of parish council dramas and class inequalities, then an exciting teenage adventure, about young time travelers trying to protect historical events. My final book of the month told the tale of a young soldier who was shot in France during WWI, for failing to follow orders. Word of the month: doom.

Total so far: 12


This month was no less dramatic, with extremely cold climate change in Scotland as experienced by a transgender teenager, more post-apocalyptic shenanigans in Panem, and a young boy’s lonely voyage to Australia as an orphan in search of a new family. Word of the month: challenges.

Total so far: 16


I time-traveled to Ireland in 1846, 1919 and 1998 (all in just one book) followed by a trip to a plantation, in Virginia in 1790. Next was a visit to modern day Japan with a father and his son as they explored Japanese culture, and finally, I went to a mysterious Welsh island with a portal to a strange children’s home. Word of the month: time.

Total so far: 20


This month saw me delving into the Hollywood memoirs of a space princess, and navigating the muddled memories of an ageing woman, trying to solve the mystery of the whereabouts of her missing sister. Word of the month: memories.

Total so far: 23


I didn’t read anything this month; how did that happen? Well, up until now, I had been commuting to work by train and bus, so I had a leisurely three hours a day to read, but I ditched public transport in favour of my car, st I lost valuable reading time. Word of the month: failure.

Total so far: stalling at 23

The books

Perfume by Patrick Suskind, Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, all by Philip Pullman, Danny The Champion of The World by Roald Dahl, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Going Solo by Roald Dahl, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling, Timeriders by Alex Scarrow, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, Alone on a Wide Wide Sea by Michael Morpuro, TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, The Longest Memory by Fred D’Aguiar, Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Princess Diarist and Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher, and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

What did I learn?

What do these books say about me? Well, I seem to rather enjoy post-apocalyptic dystopian novels; I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about them that I like, maybe I’m searching for a glimpse into the bleak future of the human race? I am interested in reading memoirs, mainly to see how they are written and constructed, to inform and inspire my own writing. I’m not ashamed to admit that I read children’s books for my own pleasure; I have always loved Roald Dahl, and I have now discovered a penchant for Michael Morpurgo’s writing. (I’ll be reading these books again, to my children when they are old enough).

My Year in Books, part two is coming soon. How many books do you think I managed to read in one year? How many do you read?

Library Goes Pop!


Recap: Our campus library is currently closed for refurbishment, and as a result, a temporary pop-up library has been established for the duration of the summer. I recently spent a day working there.

There are so many pop–up things these days: pop-up shops, pop-up restaurants, pop-up cinemas, so why not a pop-up library? There is something buzzy and now about it, something so intrinsically Twitter and social media-friendly that the very phrase pop-up brings to mind all kinds of connotations of cool; it is here and now and you don’t want to miss it because it will soon be gone, so catch it while you can!

In all honesty, working at the pop-up library was a deflating experience. There were no books, other than a slim shelf of reserved items that were waiting to be collected. Can a library really be called a library if it doesn’t have any books? The books, you see, are all in the actual library, even though it currently resembles a building site. Staff are permitted to enter the library once a day, under the supervision of the builders, to collect any books that have been reserved, to take them to the pop-up library where students can pick them up later.

Since you asked, no, the pop-up library is not in a tent or under a bunting-covered gazebo. Instead, it is housed in what used to be a student lounge, so there are computers, a kitchen area, and plenty of seating. Library staff have taken over two meeting rooms; one has become our break room and the other is used to store essential library items.

The space does work as a point of contact between library staff and students, but it feels strange to refer to it as a library. The pop-up library will remain open for about nine weeks, or until the refurbishment work is finished; target completion date is by the beginning of the next semester. Due to the nature of the pop-up library, it is manned by just a few members of staff, so in the meantime, my colleagues and I will be mostly working at a different campus library.

Have you ever visited any form of pop-up establishment?

the wrong library

Last week I spent a day working in the wrong library.


This wasn’t actually a mistake; I had been knowingly sent there, to work at an alternative site while my library is being reconfigured. Shortly after arriving, I duly set off around the library (all four floors of it) to collect reserved books off the shelves. This took longer than expected, because I didn’t know where anything was. I have visited the library building multiple times, mostly to attend meetings, but I had never, until this moment, had to navigate the shelves to find any materials. I was totally unfamiliar with the layout of each floor, I had no idea where the different Dewey classifications were located, and I didn’t know where to find the various subject areas. I did stumble across a whole section of books that had recently been moved here from my library; suddenly, I was among familiar titles, and felt strangely connected to them, although at the same time I had a strong sense of disconnect, because they were, to my eyes, in the wrong place.

This experience gave me insight to what it must be like for our students, who are thrown into university life and are expected to quickly navigate our libraries. I now know how intimidating a campus library can be, when you don’t even know where to start looking for something.

Meanwhile, my library is still being refurbished, and during this process, it will remain closed for nine weeks. We now have a temporary, pop-up library, located in vacant space not far from the actual library building. I’ll be working there for the first time later this week. The pop-up library has no books in it, just desks with library staff, so I am intrigued to see how this set up works. I’ll let you know how my day goes…


I went away for five minutes…

I stepped out for a five-minute break, and suddenly its been weeks; I walked away from my desk the first week of June, and will finally be returning to work tomorrow, just for one day. I only work during semester-time, you see, other than the odd day here and there in the summer months. My library is undergoing a refurbishment, so tomorrow, for one day only, I will be working at a different campus library (so really, I won’t be returning to my desk at all, but to someone else’s. Truth be told, I don’t even know where my desk is… it has been packed away and gone into storage until the refurbishment is completed).

There’s a direct correlation between me being at work in a library and writing on here, and, well, me not being in a library and not writing on here. In a funny way, the parallels between my library and I have continued in my absence; while the library is being redesigned and reconfigured, I have been doing much the same thing at home by  redecorating and repainting our bedrooms; one is now a calming, minimalist brilliant white, while our sons’ bedroom is mostly a playful lime green.


I have no idea what the library will look like by the start of next semester, but I would be very surprised to find King Louis lurking in the corner next to the photocopiers.

Next post: I’ll let you know what it is like working in a workplace that is not my own.


It’s been a while since I have put pen to paper (or, rather, fingertips to keyboard). I was going to write about the redevelopment of Oxford’s public library, which has been relocated to a smaller, temporary location in the castle quarter while the original library undergoes major building work, as part of the multi-million pound Westgate shopping centre redevelopment. The newly expanded and upgraded Westgate, including the public library, will reopen later this year, to, I suspect, great fanfare and publicity. I am eager to find out what the library will look like, and what services it will provide, but as yet, there is little information available. In the age of austerity, it is a rare thing to have a public library redeveloped on a scale such as this.

So that’s what I was going to write about, but then the general election was approaching, and I gave that my full attention instead of this blog. Now, the election still doesn’t feel resolved, as there was no winning majority. The prime minister is stubbornly hanging on, trying to strike a deal with the dubious DUP, even though I felt sure she would have to resign the day after the election results. I voted against the Conservatives, in protest against Brexit, and against the austerity measures that have ripped the heart out of communities across the UK, including vicious attacks on public library budgets. Although, to be fair, I have never voted Conservative in my life, so I was wasn’t going to vote for them anyway.

Then the Grenfell fire happened in London this week, with rising anger pointing the finger of blame at government cuts, which seem to have resulted in cheaper, more flammable building materials being used. Anger is rising out of the ashes, anger at the increasing divide between the rich and the poor. Everyone has the right to a safe home, and everyone needs community services, no matter what their income or social status. Judging by the protests that are happening in London right now, austerity might finally become the dirty, unsayable word it needs to be.

I don’t know where this article is going. It certainly isn’t the one I had intended to write. I’m not even sure if I should have pressed the publish button, but these are my thoughts, and I needed to get them out.

Lego + Lightning + Librarians = Success

So, what happens when you put Lego, lightning talks and librarians in a museum? The result is an inspiring and successful staff development day!


Staff Development Day

Last month, we held a staff development day for employees that work in our university’s libraries. It was the first time that we had held an event like this off-campus; we used The Story Museum, in Oxford, as our venue. The museum offered versatile and quirky spaces, and provided inspiration and a sense of adventure which would otherwise have been lacking had we held the event on campus, in some anonymous conference room.


I joined forces with  select team of colleagues to help plan the day. We didn’t have much time; we only had three months to plan the whole thing, which was quite a challenge when you consider that at our first meeting we had no date, no venue, and no idea of how the day would look, or what it would consist of.

Finding a venue

At that first meeting, I suggested The Story Museum as a potential venue; it is somewhere that I am very familiar with, since I work there sometimes, running educational workshops with groups of school children. Choosing that as the venue naturally led us to loosely basing the day around the theme of stories; we liked the idea of staff sharing their success stories, talking about recent projects they’ve been working on, or discussing current challenges they face.


We used three different rooms at The Story Museum, to allow us to run three different activities or workshops simultaneously. Unlike previous staff development events, this gave us the ability to offer our colleagues choices about which activities or workshops they wanted to attend.


Attendees were invited, in advance, to choose from a menu of workshops and activities throughout the day; we tried to offer a variety of things, to hopefully, meet most people’s tastes and interests. Our program of events featured a series of lightning talks, where  colleagues gave short presentations about projects they have been working on. We offered three different sets of lightning talks, with four presenters in each hour long slot. Also on offer was a singing workshop, a voice coaching session, tours of the museum itself, a design workshop (how to design a book cover), an introduction to Raspberry Pi, and a two-hour long Lego Serious Play workshop, which we ran twice (in the morning and afternoon) facilitated by Andy Priestner. There was a keynote speaker first thing in the morning (one of our newest senior members of staff kindly offered to do this), which was the only compulsory part of the day.

Library Staff

Library staff were able to come along for just the morning, afternoon, or the whole day, to fit in with their different shift patterns.  We operate four libraries across four campus sites, so not everyone was able to attend; some people had to stay behind to staff the libraries during the day (myself included).

Staff Feedback

We conducted a quick online survey after the event, to get feedback from our colleagues. The responses were overwhelmingly positive:

  • 95% of participants rated the event as either excellent or very good
  • 98% want to attend a similar event in the future
  • 100% thought that we should hold other Staff Development Days off-campus

“Nice to do something different”

“Interesting to hear what colleagues were up to”

“Good to catch up with colleagues from other sites”

“Informative and thought-provoking”

“A change of scene”


“The location was great”

“The lightning presentations were interesting and varied”

“I learned techniques to help me find and project my voice”

“What a lovely, sociable, talented bunch of colleagues!”

All this indicates that we’ll be planning a similar event in the future, although this is probably going to be hard to beat. Now, to start thinking of a suitable venue…