Follow us on Twitter? #nowcataloguing

Do you follow us on Twitter?  If you don’t already, you can follow us via the link to the side of this page.  As well as keeping you up to date with new posts on the blog, we use it to retweet news about events taking place in our libraries and elsewhere in the City of London.  We also sometimes tweet images from some of the more interesting collections that pass through our hands in ISS.  Recently, we’ve been cataloguing a new collection of books relating to food and drink for Guildhall Library.  Some of these images are historically interesting, such these two approaches to cooking in times of austerity:  Charles Francatelli’s “Plain cookery book for the working classes” (1852)

Plain cookery book

and “Tempting dishes for small incomes” by Mrs. de Salis (1892)

Tempting Dishes

Some are more visually attractive, such as this design by Barney Bubbles for a limited edition recipe book published in 1974 for Justin de Blank Provisions (“Feasts”)

Barney Bubbles

and these illustrations, by the ballet designer William Chappell, for June and Doris Langley Moore’s “The pleasure of your company” from 1936:

The Pleasure of your Company


Pleasure of Your Company

or even these two designs (perhaps not to everyone’s taste) that make use of the “nature morte” tradition: Comtesse Guy de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Les recettes de Mapie” (1956)

Recettes de Mapie

and Pierre Koffmann’s “Memories of Gascony” (1990):

Memories of Gascony

Not everything we catalogue is quite as visually attractive as these, of course, but if you follow us on Twitter (look out for the hashtag #nowcataloguing) you might come across something that is of interest to you!




Rare – and very well done!

Rare – and very well done!

Contributed by: Chris

With time always at a premium, training courses can sometimes feel like a luxury and self-indulgence.  I have recently been on two short courses on rare books.  One was a day course arranged by the Historic Libraries Forum and held at Cambridge University Library; the other just a half day organised by the Association of Pall Mall Libraries at Middle Temple Library.  The trainers at each – Will Hale and Renae Satterley  – were excellent: richly informative but with a light touch. And in each case, the cost of the course was inconsequential. Remarkable that when training in most areas is so expensive, in the area of rare books the attitude is so generous.

The Cambridge course gave a truly expert overview of the topic. The first session covered the history of book-making: from the making of the paper (until the 1820s, linen rags were used to create a pulp, which was then spread like porridge over the surface of a kind of sieve) through the process of type and different forms of illustration (type ornaments, woodcuts, engravings), explaining with great clarity how the printing process related to the final structure and order of the book, and finally to the binding process.

The second session built on this by explaining about bibliographic format.  This involved much folding of paper and closely resembled a childhood origami session – good fun, and much laughter. It then moved on to an effective explanation of Format signatures – the method of expressing the structure of a particular book.  For example, a simple one might be A – P4; a more complex one π’a2 A-04, P4 (-P4).

The success of the course was in revealing how what often today seems esoteric and slightly mysterious to many of us is actually based on simple and practical considerations in the manufacture of the books.  This was reinforced at the end when we visited a workshop in the basement, where we could examine many of the traditional tools of print-making.

The half-day session at Middle Temple Library focussed on provenance specifically ie. the history of a specific copy of a book and the interpretation of the book-plates, signatures, mottoes and jottings of all kinds that appear on books.

Renae gave an amusing summary of the different kinds of evidence (from simply-interpreted through to very difficult and impossible); an informative explanation of the kinds of resources available to help; and useful tips on approaches to cataloguing.

The session ended with informal discussion of actual examples from the Middle Temple and Athenaeum Club Libraries.

Far from being a waste of time (and certainly far from being a waste of money), these training seminars have provided instruction and inspiration.  Should I have gone?  Definitely.

Photoblog: Chap Books & Tracts

Chap Books & Tracts

In our last photoblog, we showed you a unique cookbook which temporarily resided in the CATALOGUING CUPBOARD (think of a vault, a scary vault, not from IKEA). This time we bring you Chap books and tracts.

A tiny little treasure trove of interesting things, this book includes poems, tracts, stories, a dream dictionary and an oraculum that may answer questions like, ‘where did I put my keys?’, ‘what did I come into this room for?’ and ‘do I need so many books?’ (oraculum says yes, always yes).

Probably intended as a bit of disposable pop culture, this item has luckily lived past its sell by date and is now a part of the Guildhall Library collection. Do take a look inside by visiting our Pinterest page, or an even closer look by visiting Guildhall Library.

Contributed by: HD

Introducing our new partner : St Bride Library

Everyone who visits the St Bride Library falls in love with it. It is an amazing collection of books and journals, type specimens and printing presses, anything and everything to do with printing, typography and graphic design, housed in a higgledy-piggledy beautiful building of 1891.

St Bride 1

Between 1992 and 2004, St Bride Library was part of City of London Libraries. We made a big effort to retrospectively convert the existing catalogues and 34,264 monograph records, 11,000 in-analytic records and 3,300 serials were put online.

Then, in April 2004, St Bride Foundation took over the running of the library and the ownership of its collections. Although their holdings were still contained and still displayed in our catalogue and although a limited number of records continued to be added, it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the Library’s acquisitions and a considerable backlog built up.

But now we are beginning a new project to catalogue as much as possible of that backlog and make those new acquisitions available to the enthusiasts, experts and students who use the library. Thanks to the generosity of the Foyle Foundation, a lucky cataloguer has been appointed to work part-time for a year on the project. These are some of the things we have catalogued already, in our first two weeks – books and pamphlets, old and new, in a variety of languages St Bride 2– and soon they will be available to St Bride Library staff and users.

I hope to update from time to time with reports on our progress and news of especially interesting treasures we discover, but in the meantime click here to see the latest additions to the catalogue.

Contributed by: Heather

Photo blog: cookbook

Item catalogued for Guildhall Library

Recently we had a cookbook pass through BSS on its way to Guildhall Library, a delicate tome filled with recipes written over the years, in pen and pencil, and on pages and scraps. It’s an immensely interesting piece of human history (interesting is interchangeable with yummy here), something we thought would be worth photoblogging.

Many wonderful items pass through BSS to be catalogued. Some of these take up a short residency in THE CUPBOARD (feel free to imagine this as a large dark towering oak monster vault), usually items which are rare, fragile and expensive. Most recently Tottell’s 1556 Latin edition of the Magna Carta had a short stay in BSS, where it was catalogued before being handed over to Guildhall Library.

Our office has its own history too, hiding old catalogues, shelves with names like Arthur’s Bin, and some papery things. Admittedly, this place has an interior that would only look good on radio, but we thought it might be fun to do the odd photoblog, whether it’s of things passing through or some forgotten corner with a dusty librarian rocking back and forth whispering, “You can’t beat card catalogues. You can’t. You caaaaan’t.”

TLDR: Pretty pictures on this blog sometimes.

(Contributed by: HD)

Book launch events in Guildhall Library 2012

Book launch events in Guildhall Library 2012

Contributed by: Karen

In spring of this year Sara Pink, Head of Guildhall Library, launched a programme of evening talks at Guildhall.  These have proved very popular, and indeed the schedule for next year is almost complete with only one slot left to fill.

The format of the event is that firstly a talk is given (which may be illustrated) with a Q&A session afterwards.  Once this is complete attendees may adjourn for a wine reception, with a chance to meet the speaker, and – where a book is being launched – purchase a personally signed copy.

I volunteered to assist at the first event in March of this year, and my contribution was initially meeting and greeting, setting up of the event, and assisting visitors.  My role has since expanded to include design and production of publicity materials, marketing of events in the programme (and others in the City of London complex) and identifying potential participants for future events.

I now present a selection of the materials I have produced to date.

As you see, where a book is being launched at the event, I use the cover artwork as the starting point of my design. 

When on display in the library they look very striking, and draw the visitor’s eye.


As a further design development I used the postcard produced by the publishers as a ‘pop-up’, where the card was trimmed, folded and an invitation placed inside for visitors to take with them.


For the above event, where no book was launched, I used a montage of sewing materials and images.

Here I felt the book cover was striking enough to stand alone.

Following from the ‘pop-up’ for Square London, I produced these tickets for issue at our last event, which visitors could have as a reminder of the event, and which also advertised the next event on the reverse.


This is my latest poster, for our next event, in October.

I am very committed to my work on these events, and do all I can to aid their success.  I now dedicate a day’s work per week on contributing to the events programme.  It has added a new dimension to my role in the library and in Bibliographical Services, as I seek out books on relevant themes that can be used at the events.

In fact, at our last event I attended in full medieval garb!

We try to keep these events as informal as possible, and we now have several regular attendees.  I recommend that anyone interested in finding out more should check out the current timetable of events on the City of London website, or call us on 0207 332 1870.

Montalbano and the Borrowers

Montalbano and the Borrowers

You may have noticed that a new feature has recently appeared on our sidebar – ‘We’ve been borrowing …’.  What’s it all about?  G.M. explains all …

We’ve been borrowing …’ appears as a series of regular updates on the BSS page of our catalogue and it does pretty much what it says on the tin!  It features anything on our catalogue that members of the BSS staff have been borrowing from our libraries (or at least will admit to borrowing from our libraries!) and would like to draw to the attention of both colleagues and visitors to the page.

It was initially introduced as a way of promoting the diversity of our stock to library users as well as personalising the catalogue a little and reminding everyone that there are actually real live people working here behind the scenes!    Since our work can sometimes be quite solitary, it was also an opportunity for us to share our interests, inspire each other and prompt some lively discussion between us. 

The list is updated at the beginning of each month. There’s no pressure on anyone to make suggestions – everyone is free to contribute on a regular basis or just occasionally, whatever suits them best. There’s no guarantee that all suggestions will make it up onto the live page either. It depends on things like space, formatting, visuals and other technical stuff. But our aim is to include ideas from everyone in BSS at some point so that we accurately reflect the borrowing habits of the section as a whole.

Anything and everything can be included. Any subject in any format … fiction, non-fiction, comedies, dramas, tragedies, reference items, children’s books, graphic novels, language courses, light reads, weighty tomes, hardbacks, paperbacks, DVDs, Blurays,  CDs, spoken word and scores … Anything we’ve been reading, watching or listening to … as long as it’s in the libraries and on the catalogue then it qualifies!

So far the contributions have focussed mainly on books, along with the occasional DVD or CD. But the subject matter and the genres have been quite eclectic and have included music theory, economics, comedy, animated films, Ethiopian jazz,  recipe books, travel guides, historical and classic novels.

Now and then a theme emerges … this month’s suggestions were made in the run up to a hot and sunny weekend and the list features gardens, barbeques and cricket. We in BSS obviously know how to relax, switch off and recover from our exhausting working weeks!  Sometimes suggestions can be seasonal … I think several of us were in spring cleaning mode when we became intrigued by the suggestion ‘Vinegar: 100s of household uses’ (Seriously! You’d be amazed!)

One of the first recommendations ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada has now been borrowed by several members of staff and has been much discussed and unanimously admired.  Sometimes there are strange coincidences … one staff member had just recommended ‘The Tin Drum’ by Gunter Grass and by the end of the morning the Bluray / DVD version had landed on her desk for cataloguing.

Some of us were slightly nervous about including the suggestion ‘Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club: one man’s quest to uncover the books that taste forgot’ … wondering how many of these so-called awful books we might have read and ahem … maybe even enjoyed! Or which ones may be lurking in our (otherwise quite tasteful) libraries! 

A recent TV series inspired a mammoth Montalbano readathon between two of our resident book-junkies. They tore through all of the Commissario’s titles that we held in stock and then had Barbican staff rooting through the stacks to find ‘The Day of the Owl and Equal Danger’ by Leonardo Sciascia, the ground-breaking ‘Godfather’ of Italian crime fiction. 

Interestingly, these particular titles provoked a discussion about what we should actually call this staff picks feature. (Not that cataloguers are pedantic or anything … just scrupulously accurate!)  Originally it had the heading ‘We really liked …’ but we later changed it to ‘We’ve been borrowing …’ – a subtle but significant alteration which (as well as conjuring up images of my colleagues as Poms and Ariettys scampering about the libraries scaling bookcases and winching books down to the ground with washing lines) meant that we were now free to include ANYTHING we’d been borrowing even if we hadn’t necessarily ‘Really liked’ it (sorry Montalbano).

Perhaps we’d just found something mildly entertaining, distracting, slightly useful or unsettling, disappointing, derivative or surprising in some way.  Maybe we’d been experimenting and trying something new and very different that didn’t quite meet expectations.  They all became valid reasons for inclusion in the list. The new heading also reinforced the fact that all the items featured can be found on the catalogue and borrowed from our libraries.

So! That’s a very loonnnnnnnnnnng explanation for how a very short feature ended up making an appearance on our blog! Check out this month’s list and feel free to comment on our choices … or explore our extensive, user-friendly catalogue and be inspired by the range of reading, listening, watching material available … but please excuse me now … must fly … I’m off to borrow books!