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

A Blog Tour for A Library Miscellany

I am very excited to announce that I shall be embarking on a blog tour for the release of A Library Miscellany in February 2018.

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

What is a blog tour? Good question. I had not heard of them myself until I saw a poster for a fellow author’s tour on Twitter and it piqued my interest. I went and had a look and discovered it was a chance to share a fresh extract or guest blog on a different book blog each day for a week or more. It sounded like such a fun idea and a great way to share a new book with a fresh audience so I immediately set to work organising one for A Library Miscellany.

Most blog tours take place for fiction so I tried to identify bloggers who also had an interest in non-fiction and I got such a lovely response. My tour will take in nine stops encompassing a wonderful selection of bloggers who have kindly agreed to host an extract or guest blog about the world’s wonderful libraries, their treasures and the people behind the collections. See below for the poster showing all the stops on the tour:



I hope you will enjoy following the tour and getting a glimpse inside 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.

Bodleianalia at Oxford Literary Festival

I am very excited to announce that I will be appearing at Oxford Literary Festival onBod_jacket Monday 27 March, 2017 at 4pm in the Weston Library to talk about my book Bodleianalia: Curious Facts About Britain’s Oldest University Library.

I will be sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the Bodleian Library, sharing fascinating facts, the quirks of fate and the eccentric characters who have helped make the Bodleian the world-renowned library it is today.

Please join me for what I hope will be a wonderful celebration of the history of Oxford’s famous library. You can book your tickets here.

Behind the scenes at the Bodleian Library: The making of Bodleianalia


In the next few weeks one of the joys of the new students starting at Oxford University will be picking up their Bodleian library card, allowing them access to Britain’s oldest university library and the treasures within.

I had the pleasure of receiving my very own Bodleian library card last year (despite being quite some years off a fresh-faced fresher!) when I began my research for my book about the library, Bodleianalia. As a complete library geek it was an absolute thrill to get a behind-the-scenes look at this library and to talk to some of the many amazing people who work there who so kindly shared their expertise and some juicy morsels about this fascinating institution.

Library Tour

One of the first things I did when compiling Bodleianalia was to go on the “official tour” of

The Divinity School

the library. A very knowledgeable guide showed me around the oldest parts of the library – the beautiful Divinity School with its lofty ceilings – home to a chair fashioned from the timbers of Sir Francis Drake’s ship The Golden Hind; Duke Humfrey’s Library (which was used as Hogwart’s library in the Harry Potter films) where the guide revealed that in 1550 the library was gutted and the books burnt so only about five of the original books from that time survive in the library today; and Arts and Selden End – with many wonderful old books still housed behind the original grilles. This ancient part of the library is absolutely beautiful and has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years, providing a real glimpse into the library of the past.

Marvels of the Weston Library

As a counterpoint to the historical heart of the library is the brand new Weston Library, which after remodelling reopened in 2015. It is a light, modern, airy space with a fantastic gallery of treasures including J. R. R. Tolkien’s original hand-drawn illustrations for The Hobbit, a Gutenberg Bible, and my personal favourite – the “autobiography” of Toby the Sapient Pig.

The Weston Library

I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the conservation department, where they monitor and mend delicate items from the collection. Virginia Llado-Buisan, Head of Conservation and Collection Care and her team very kindly talked me through the fascinating process of fasciculing – a system developed at the Bodleian to protect and preserve single-sheet items in the collection so that they can be safely consulted. I discovered that on average 21,056 single-sheet items were pasted each year into a fascicule!

Also at the Weston Library I had the privilege of picking the brains of Head of Rare Books, Sarah Wheale. Sarah very patiently answered all my many questions on cataloguing, classification and the vagaries of shelfmarks so that I might unveil their mysteries to readers of Bodleianalia. To further my understanding Sarah gave me access to some wonderful books and records about the history of cataloguing at the Bodleian, including an account of an amazing system of colour-coding the books by subject which, proving too complicated, was abandoned in the mid nineteenth century. Traces of the coloured stickers remain on some items in the collection today, though unfortunately their colours have become so faded they are indistinguishable.

Facts, Figures and Curious Tales

Shelf of rare books at the Weston Library

One of the greatest sources of information for Bodleianalia was the amazingly helpful Dr Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment. Frankie collects and collates all the statistics on the library and was a mine of information. I threw many awkward questions at her (how many desks in the Radcliffe Camera? Which is the longest book in the collection? Which is the largest library? What are the top five languages of books in the collection? How many miles of shelving are there in the Book Storage Facility? What was the most expensive acquisition in the library? Which is the smallest book in the library? And so on ad infinitum…) which she very kindly answered, often adding some extra nugget of information which led me on to yet more questions.Bod_jacket

And so, with my head full of fabulous facts about the Bodleian Library and a bag full of books, I returned back to my little study in Cambridge and wrote it all into Bodleianalia. I hope that I managed to translate my wonder and fascination with this amazing library with its long history and numerous treasures so that readers will enjoy a real glimpse behind the scenes of the Bodleian.

Bodleianalia: Curious Facts about Britain’s Oldest University Library is published in October 2016. Order your copy here.

Smithsonian article on most interesting and accessible libraries around the world

As a bibliophile I have always been drawn to libraries, from my lovely local village library where we stock up onBritish_library_londonx600 books for the children to the beautiful rare books room at the British Library, where I conduct most of my book research.

The chance came up to pitch an article to the Smithsonian online magazine and I immediately thought of writing something on the most interesting (and importantly) the most accessible collections around the world.

It was a real joy to research and so difficult to chose just eight libraries but I am proud of how the article turned out. Have a read of it here and please leave a comment about your favourite library.

Research skills for nonfiction books: My top six tips for library research

Libraries are still the best place for quality research. Nothing beats sitting in a nice quiet reading room with a pile of"British library london" by Jack1956 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - useful books for getting your teeth into a subject. But sometimes it can be hard to know how to find the right books and how to use libraries to your best advantage. The following tips should help you to make the most of libraries.

I would recommend completing some basic online research on your chosen subject first as this will help you to find key texts, identify experts in the field and provides a host of useful starting points.

Once you have a list of books and authors to explore the first stop should be identifying which library to attend. Your first stop should always be your local central library. Search their catalogue online and if they have the books you require then this is the most sensible option to use as you can borrow the books to use at home.

If your needs are not met by your local library then you may want to try one of the legal deposit libraries such as Cambridge University Library, the Bodleian in Oxford or the British Library in London. These are huge libraries with an astounding range of books and articles and are the best places to do some serious research, however they are not obliged to let you use their services so you usually need to speak to reader services to see if you can obtain a reader pass.

I am lucky enough to have a reader pass for the British Library (obtained in my case by having a letter from my publisher confirming I was researching a book) therefore the advice here relates to my experience at the British Library but hopefully it can be applied to other institutions.

It is always best to pre-order books before your visit so as to maximise the amount of reading time when you arrive. At the British Library books cannot be taken out but must be read in one of their many reading rooms.

If you already have a list of books and authors then it should be fairly straightforward to look them up in the online catalogue and reserve them. The complication arises when you are looking up specific information but have no idea which books to use.

As an example for my latest book How to Skin a Lion I wanted to look up… how to skin a lion. In order to find accounts of this skill I needed to find books on the wider subject of big game hunting. So I searched for books on this subject and then refined my search to titles about countries in Africa (where lions would have been hunted). I was ideally looking for colonial era books so I further refined my search by date.

This brought up a modest number of books in the catalogue which I then discounted or ordered depending on the title. It is always somewhat of a gamble ordering books this way but I find that by ordering the maximum ten books every visit I end up with enough gems to have made my visit fruitful.

When I get my pile of ten books I generally have a quick look at them and you can usually see quite quickly which will be most useful. I then work through the books in order using the contents page and index to find relevant passages and if a book is especially interesting I will see if it contains a bibliography so that I can find more books to consult.

Good researchers are like detectives, noticing references to other authors and following one lead to another. Researching is like picking up scattered jigsaw pieces and fitting them together until you have fashioned a whole picture.

It is very important that information taken from books but re-written in your own words are referenced in the bibliography, whereas quotations must include a page number so that readers can refer to the source themselves if interested. Collecting references for your bibliography is best done as you go along as there is nothing worse than realising you have forgotten to properly note down page numbers and having to go back to try and find them retrospectively.

My top six tips for library research:

  1. Do an online search of your subject first to give you background information and note down references to books, authors or experts.
  2. Look up these books, authors and experts on your local library’s catalogue. Reserve any with potential.
  3. If your local library draws a blank, investigate if you can get a reader pass at a legal deposit library.
  4. Use the online catalogues to identify books you want to consult – it always helps to demonstrate to reader services that you have specific books in their collection that you wish to peruse.
  5. If you are looking for specific information but do not know of any books that cover that area then try searching for wider search terms e.g. if you are looking for information on the origin of Baa Baa Black Sheep try widening the search term to nursery rhymes or folk tales.
  6. Always collect full references for your bibliography as you go along.

List of UK legal deposit libraries:

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Cambridge University Library

The British Library

National Library of Scotland

Library of Trinity College, Dublin

National Library of Wales