My Year In Books, part one

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).

In September 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.

October saw me join 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.

November 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.

In December 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.

January 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 in February; 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, which meant a much faster commute, but I lost valuable reading time. Word of the month: failure.

Total so far: stalling at 23.

From September to February, I read the following 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 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!


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.

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 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).

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…

What happens when half the library disappears…

There’s been a lot going on at work recently; this week half of the library disappeared. Yes, you heard me correctly; half of the library disappeared. This was not a sudden, out-of-the-blue event; indeed, we had been expecting this to happen for quite some time, and have been preparing for it, but it is still something of a shock to look around and see a lot of empty shelves.


Some background: I work as a library assistant in an academic library at a university which has multiple campus sites. The campus that I work at is due to close completely within the next five years, and the first phase of this involves the relocation of some departments this summer. As part of this process, half of our library’s collection is being moved to a different campus library.

This week, professional book movers came in and packed up crates and crates of books, to transport them to their new home.


As I said, half of our library has now gone. Some members of our academic librarian team will also be leaving us within the next few weeks, moving over to the other campus. The changes don’t end there, though. Half of the books have gone, and as a result, we need less space, so the library will also be physically shrinking in size; the building will be reconfigured during the summer vacation. I have now finished work for the summer (I only work during semester) so when I return in September, the library will be a very different place.


Hopefully, the redundant shelves will have been taken away, and the library will have been sufficiently redesigned to meet the requirements of the remaining students and staff that will be using this library for the next few years. It feels like the end of an era.

How Public Libraries Help Build Communities

Re-blogged from bluesyemre

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. Increasingly in the United States, you also can’t judge a library’s value to its community by simply its books. Let us explain. In a previous blog post, we’ve noted the importance of “third places” in strengthening communities – meaning those places that are neither one’s […]

via How #PublicLibraries help build healthy communities — bluesyemre


x-rated stamp

Don’t worry, this article is not X-rated; it’s UX-rated, which means it is most definitely safe for work…

I think we all know what X-rated means, without the need for a picture to explain it. However, what about this UX thing? Simply put, UX stands for User Experience, which is a method of learning about how users experience library services and spaces, through gathering qualitative and quantitative data. This might sound terribly academic and technical, but it really doesn’t have to be.

I was first introduced to various UX methods when I attended a training course at work last year, presented by Andy Priestner (I have previously mentioned him here). He demonstrated the different UX methods, explained how they can be applied to libraries, and how they are closely related to anthropology.

As I have said in a previous post, the academic library that I currently work in is undergoing a period of great change; half the campus is moving this summer to a different part of the university, and our library is shrinking and being reconfigured as a result. The library team thought that this would be a great opportunity to use some UX methods, to try to find out what the library users (i.e. the university students) would like our reconfigured library to look like.

The UX method we decided to try was the graffiti wall; no, this does not involve cans of spray paint (although that could be fun, just as long as the books didn’t get painted), but it does feature asking students to write on walls. We covered a notice board in plain white paper, left some marker pens next to it,  stuck a question on the board: What do you like or dislike about the library? and sat back and waited for students to cover the paper with their insightful comments and ideas. We waited quite a long time (two weeks) and didn’t get many comments at all. What were we doing wrong?

Firstly, the question wasn’t very good; we were trying to ask for two different responses to the same question, which was confusing. Secondly, the graffiti wall was a new concept in our library, so maybe students were just not used to the idea of it. Thirdly, we had set up the graffiti wall in a relatively quiet area of the library, close to where students study, so maybe not many students were seeing it, or perhaps they felt too self-conscious to be seen writing comments on the wall.

Despite the poor response, we did not give up. We came up with a better question; Where do you like to study?, and in addition to the graffiti wall, we also set up a graffiti table in a different part of the library. A graffiti table is incredibly easy to create; you just need some blank paper, a pen or two, and some tape. I taped two sheets of A3 paper onto a table, stuck the question on it, and left two pens next to it. We set up the table in a social learning zone, which is in a separate room, away from the main part of the library. This time we received lots of comments from students; again, the interaction with the wall was minimal, but the graffiti table was a great success.

Within the last month we tried the graffiti table idea again, this time specifically seeking student comments that could help with the redesign of our library. We set up four graffiti tables, in four areas of the library: silent study, the library entrance, the social learning zone, and in a general study area. We posed two questions in relation to the forthcoming changes: What aspects of the library would you like to keep? and, separately, What would you like to be improved? This approach successfully yielded lots of comments, which I subsequently collated into a table, to better interpret the results. These results were then shared with the relevant department at the university, to hopefully inform any decisions that will be made about what our reconfigured library might look like.

A graffiti wall (or in our case, graffiti table) is just one of many UX methods you could try, with minimal effort and minimal cost, to gain insight into how users experience your library. In other words, get yourself UX-rated!

As always, comments are welcome below.

The Story Museum


As you may recall, I have been helping to plan a Staff Development Day for my fellow library employees at our academic institution. During our initial meetings, we came up with the idea of basing the day around celebrating stories of our successes, and leading from that, I suggested an appropriate venue for us to use: The Story Museum which is located in Oxford. Our event is still more than a month away, but I am very excited that we are able to use this venue. I have taken my children there many times, and I also happen to work there occasionally as a Learning Session Leader; in other words, I lead visiting school groups around the museum and facilitate educational activities with them. The other afternoon I was there, pretending to be a giant frog, hopping and ribbeting around while telling a group of children and their grownups an Australian dreamtime story; it is quite the  contrast to my day job of working in an academic library.

If you are ever in Oxford, please do visit The Story Museum. It is a unique place, with wonderful, immersive exhibits, live storytelling throughout the day, and books everywhere that you are welcome to pick up and read (although you can’t take them home). It is not so different from a library, in a way, only it is the most magical library you could ever visit. There is even a wardrobe door you can walk through to enter into Narnia… I can’t wait for my academic library colleagues to experience it.

“Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories we wouldn’t be human beings at all.” – Philip Pullman, author and Story Museum patron