Library quiz

Book cover for A Library Miscellany

Welcome to my library quiz! It’s packed full of fun library facts from my book A Library Miscellany, do have a go and let me know how you get on. Answers in a separate post here (no cheating!).

1. Which is the biggest library in the world by number of items in its collection?

a) National Library of Russia

b) The British Library

c) Library of Congress

d) New York Public Library

2. Which library, which opened in 1909, was designed in art nouveau style by Charles Rennie Mackintosh?

3. Which popular 1990s TV show included the fictional library Sunnydale High Library?

4. Which is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world?

a) The Bodleian Library, Oxford

b) New York Public Library, New York

c) The Wren Library, Cambridge

d) Chetham’s Library, Manchester

5. In the first decade of the noughties (2000–2010) who was the most borrowed author in UK libraries?

a) Jacqueline Wilson

b) Catherine Cookson

c) Roald Dahl

d) James Patterson

6. Name any three of the six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom (bonus points if you can name all six).

7. The Osmotheque is a unique library in Versailles, France. But what does it preserve there?

a) Poisons

b) Pornographic books

c) Gems

d) Perfumes

8.  Which celebrated author was said to have published a book in all of the ten main subject groupings of the Dewey Decimal Classification System except ‘100 philosophy’?

a) Isaac Asimov

b) J R R Tolkien

c) Mark Twain

d) Barbra Cartland

9. The American Library Association keeps a record of all books that are challenged or banned in libraries across the USA. Which book was the most ‘challenged’ book in America 2000–2010?

a) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

b) The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

c) His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

d) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

10. Match the writer’s archive to the library which holds it:

Virginia Woolf                                                  New York Public Library

George Orwell                                                  British Library

George Eliot                                                       Lilly Library, Indiana University

Sylvia Plath                                                         University College London Library

11. Over the years many famous people have worked as librarians, but who is the odd one out in this list and the only person who was never a librarian?

Mao Zedong      J. Edgar Hoover                 Andy Warhol      Marcel Duchamp              Giacomo Casanova

12. What do L’Enfer in Biblioteque Nationale de France, the Phi collection in the Bodleian, the triple-star collection in New York Public Library and the XR collection in Harvard’s Widener Library all have in common?

13. Which American luminary borrowed a book from the New York Society Library in 1789 which was not returned until 2010? (Bonus point if you can name the book!)

a) Alexander Hamilton

b) George Washington

c) Paul Revere

d) John James Audubon

14. The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at Harvard was established by Eleanor Elkins Widener in memory of her son after he died in which disaster?

a) World War I

b) The Hindenburg disaster

c) The sinking of the Titanic

d) The Great Boston Molasses Flood

15. True or false: White gloves should always be worn when handling rare books.

Check your answers here!

If you enjoyed this quiz have a go at my museum quiz here.

For more library fun buy a copy of A Library Miscellany here.

Book cover for A Library Miscellany

New book klaxon: A Library Miscellany

Hot on the heels of my bookworm’s treasury The Book Lovers’ Miscellany, I am delighted to announce my next book A Library Miscellany! And look at the beautiful cover:

Book cover for A Library Miscellany
The very stylish cover for A Library Miscellany

Here is the blurb for more details:

What can be found in the Vatican’s Secret Archive? How many books did Charles Darwin’s library aboard the Beagle hold? Which library is home to a colony of bats?

Bursting with potted histories, quirky facts and enlightening lists, this book explores every aspect of the library, celebrating not only these remarkable institutions but also the individuals behind their awe-inspiring collections.

From the ancient library at Alexandria to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, A Library Miscellany explores institutions both old and new, from the university library to that of the humble village. It opens the door to unusual collections such as herbaria, art libraries, magic libraries and even the library of smells, and charts the difficulties of cataloguing subversive, heretical, libellous or obscene books.

Packed with unusual facts and statistics, this is the perfect volume for library enthusiasts, bibliophiles and readers everywhere.

A Library Miscellany will be published in February 2018 by the wonderful Bodleian Library Publishing. Please pre-order your copy here.

Bygone objects and terms from How to Skin a Lion


In my last blog I discussed some of the bygone ingredients referenced in How to Skin a Lion, this time I am going to look at some of the bygone objects or terms, most of which have now disappeared from common use.


(in how to pan for gold)

A wikiup is a simple Native American shelter. Usually oval in shape, the wikiup is fashioned from debris from the forest floor such as sticks, bark or rushes.

The beauty of the design is that it allows the making of a fire inside or right beside the shelter, this has ensured the wikiup’s enduring appeal to survivalists.


(in how to run a household in Anglo-India)

A tannycatch was a word used in the Madras area of India (in Bengal, mussalchee was used) for a scullery maid who would assist the cook with tasks such as boiling water or grinding rice. In Madras the tannycatch was always a woman but in Calcutta and Bombay a man would take on this role.

Punkah wallah

(in how to run a household in Anglo-India)

punkah-wallahA punkah is an elaborate ceiling fan used to keep rooms cool in India. It consists of large flat ‘sails’ or fans made of canvas or woven from palms, descending from the ceiling and joined together by pulleys and cord.

The punkahwallah was the unfortunate individual whose job it was to pull the cord to keep the fan moving.

In nineteenth century Anglo-India many staff were required to keep a household running smoothly. Edmund C. P. Hull in his 1874 book The European in India estimated that ‘the house of a married couple without children, in comfortable pecuniary circumstances’ would require ’18 men and 5 women’ servants.


(in how to get presented at court)

Lappets were two lengths of material attached to a headdress, such as a bishop’s mitre, that generally adorned ladies’ headgear in the early twentieth century.

It was stipulated by Victorian etiquette guides that ladies getting presented at Court must wear lappets on their head dress as well as a plume of feathers. It was generally accepted that the plume should be white in colour (coloured feather were apparently ‘regarded unfavourably in high quarters’) and should be worn on the left, with the lappets on the right.

For more on traditional Victorian clothing terms see this excellent blog.


(in how to quiet bees)bee-skep-image-full-size

A skep is a traditional domed woven bee hive. Very few people keep bees in skeps anymore as having a beehive with moveable frames for extracting the honey is much easier.

For more information, instructions on how to make a skep and some lovely pictures see here.


(in how to stalk a Lion),

A Paradox was a versatile gun developed by Holland & Holland in 1886 that could be used as a rifle or a shotgun.

This type of gun was especially useful for game hunters in India or Africa, who might encounter both large and small prey on the same hunt.

Brain scoop

(in how to skin a lion)

A fairly self-explanatory tool used by the taxidermist when preserving a specimen. In the picture of old taxidermy tools here, the brain scoop is numbered 7.brainscoop

It seems the brain scoop was perhaps used by the more careful taxidermy enthusiast, or perhaps by those who wished to preserve the brain intact, because in Charles McCann’s 1927 A Shikari’s Pocket-book he eschews using a brain scoop, preferring this rather more ‘rustic’ approach:

‘Take out the brain through the orifice at the back by pushing a stick into it and stirring them up, then shaking out the resultant porridge. Pouring hot water into the brain-case and shaking it out again will help greatly to bring away the contents.’


(in how to make stilton cheese)

Chessart is originally a Scottish word for a cheese vat or container into which the curd is placed during cheesemaking. Once in the vat the cheese is pressed so that excess whey can escape.

A chessart varies in size and shape according to the type of cheese being made, but a typical chessart might be a round, half barrel-shaped vat, made from elm staves, strongly bound with metal hoops to prevent it from bursting during the pressing. The bottom of the chessart would contain holes for the whey to escape. According to Henry Stephen’s The Book of the Farm (1844) some chessarts from Cheshire were made from tin.