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16 May 2022

Library Lives: Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle, British Library St Pancras

A good librarian is a bit of a detective, I think – whether it’s hunting down a mis-shelved book or the answer to a question.’

In this month’s celebration of librarians, we’re back at the British Library to meet Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle.

Selfie MorganMorgan Wadsworth-Boyle

Tell us about your role

I’m one of the Loans Co-ordinators at the British Library. Our team organises the loan of Library materials to exhibitions around the world, and makes arrangements for borrowing items for British Library exhibitions. We get to see beautiful books, prints, maps, letters, photographs, from all areas of the library (there is no end to the incredible material the collection holds!) and make sure they are safe and secure to travel to new places to be seen by new people.

Where was your local library growing up?

My childhood library was the Ojai Library in California – it is a gorgeous library with a courtyard shaded by oak trees. Great for reading your new selections outdoors.

2022_05_03_Ojai LibraryOjai Library (Photo by Ron Solórzano, Regional Librarian, used with permission)

Why did you want to become a librarian?

I studied art history and was always interested in how art and books interacted with and influenced each other, from illuminated manuscripts to contemporary artist’s books. I think often the art of the book gave artists space to be a bit more playful or humorous – everyone loves a weird little dude! Murderous rabbits! Snail cats!

MarginaliaMarginalia from a 14th-century Breviary (Yates Thompson MS 8 f292r)

What is the most unexpected query you have helped someone with?

Working at my university library’s reference desk, I once had a panicked student rush up to ask, ‘Where are the books?!??’

Which library would you would most like to visit?

I’d love to visit the Joanina Library or the Library at the National Palace of Mafra in Portugal – they are both home to colonies of pipistrelle bats who serve as the pest control team.

Library in the Mafra National Palace, Portugal, used under Creative Commons licence

If you weren't doing your current job, what would you be?

I’ve done some exhibition design, and I loved creating an exhibition space that helped to tell the story as much as the items on display – getting to dig in and get hands-on to bring something from imagination to reality is such a great feeling.

Painting sign

Outside of work?

I love gardening – I’ve got a lot of learning to do, but I’m very proud of my massive dahlia! It reached 7 feet 4 inches last year.


How have things changed in libraries since you qualified?

When I was in library school, there was so much talk about virtual libraries and QR codes, which never really seemed very useful or possible to implement – but we’ve seen how far those have come in the last three years!

Favourite fictional librarian?

Irene from The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman – or Evie from The Mummy – I love a librarian-adventurer with dubious collecting and object-handling practices (in fiction, not in reality!).

Can you recommend us a book?

I didn’t like short stories for a long time, but years ago when I was on maternity leave I came to appreciate being able to read something I could actually finish! Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women is a collection of stories that weren’t always easy to read, but were always powerful.

Interview by Ellen Morgan.

We’re interviewing people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website.

03 May 2022

Behind the Scenes at the British Library: Janis Black and Ged Prior from the Public Lending Right team

This month we meet Janis Black and Ged Prior from the Public Lending Right (PLR) team, who are based in Boston Spa.   

Janis BlackJanis Black


Ged Prior
Ged Prior

First things first: what is Public Lending Right?

In short, it means authors, illustrators, narrators and other book contributors get paid when someone borrows their work from a public library.

Quote from author Philip Pullman about Public Lending Right

‘PLR legally entitles authors and other rights holders to receive payments from a central fund based on the lending of their books, audiobooks and eBooks from public libraries in the UK,’ explains Ged. This is funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and administrated by the British Library: authors and other contributors register their books, and this information – along with borrowing figures collected from libraries – is used to calculate the payments they’re due to receive each year, up to a total of £6,600.

‘It is always satisfying when statements are sent out and there are a flurry of tweets from those who have received a payment, however small. It is very often not about the money, but the fact that their titles are being borrowed,’ says Janis.

Ged agrees: ‘It’s great to know your work is contributing to something so positive: ensuring authors and contributors whose books are being enjoyed in libraries around the UK for free will get something back, whether that’s a modest financial reward or just the satisfaction of knowing that their work is being enjoyed by library users.’


2 PLR_QuotesTwitter-panels-v37

You can find out more about how PLR works on the British Library website. If you’re a contributor to a book and haven’t registered for PLR yet, move quickly – 30 June is the final date for titles to be included in the 2021-22 year.

What are your roles?

Janis is PLR’s Operations and Marketing Manager. ‘I oversee the team who help people register their titles, check they’re eligible, and make sure everything runs smoothly so everyone gets the right payments at the end of the year.’ Janis also approves each year’s library sample. PLR figures are based on loans data collected from at least 30 regional library authorities (around 1,000 individual branches) and at least seven of these change every year to make sure different regions are represented fairly.

‘I’m also responsible for keeping the website up to date and working with the Library’s marketing team to promote PLR. We produce an annual ‘most borrowed’ list which is always of interest to contributors and the wider public.’ James Patterson has dominated recent years.

Ged is a Business Analyst (BA) in the PLR team. He’s been working with the team, along with the Library’s Technology department and an external developer, to help design, build, launch and maintain a brand new online system for processing PLR registrations and payments. ‘The role of a BA can vary massively. During an average day, I might find myself acting as a translator, organiser, facilitator, data wrangler, researcher, problem-solver, process-mapper, tester, or any combination of the above.’

How did you get the job?

Ged started in local government as part of a graduate trainee scheme and worked in a number of teams before moving to the Policy team, with a focus on service performance and improvement projects. ‘Since joining the Library I’ve had the opportunity to gain experience in a more technical role while honing my skills with more formal training and qualifications.’

Janis has held various roles at the Library and joined the PLR team in 2018. ‘I have always been interested in reading so to have a job where I work with those who create the books is my ideal role.’

What do you love about the Library?

Janis feels a real sense of pride when she’s asked where she works and can talk about all the different things that happen at the Library: ‘Very often people are surprised that it is not just a larger version of their local library.’

Ged loves working with colleagues ‘who are genuine experts, trusted and relied upon as leaders in their fields and that everybody still finds time to share their knowledge and expertise with others.’

What’s your favourite object in our collection?

Janis finds it impossible to choose a favourite, but really likes the Library’s exhibitions. ‘My favourite one has to be Marvellous and Mischievous which highlighted young rebels in children’s books. I was able to see the handwritten drafts of Matilda by Roald Dahl, one of my favourite childhood authors. His titles never lose their charm and are still popular today, rating highly in our most borrowed lists.’

Visitors at the Marvellous and Mischievous exhibitionVisitors at the Marvellous and Mischievous exhibition

Ged has taken this question as a useful prompt to explore some of the highlights and learning materials available online at ‘Exploring the project on British accents and dialects has been a fascinating rabbit hole to be led down.’

Any book recommendations for our readers?

Janis suggests The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. ‘This is the first book of his that I have read and it was filled with humour and demonstrated the power of books. I will definitely be trying some more of his titles.’

Ged selects a heady mix of 18th-century French travelogue pastiche and football. ‘My recommendation is Journey Around My Room: having been arrested after a duel in the Spring of 1790, Xavier de Maistre answers the question ‘What do you do when you find yourself imprisoned in your room for six weeks?’ I’ve also enjoyed reliving Leeds United’s promotion to the premier league via Phil Hay’s And It Was Beautiful.’

28 April 2022

Our top 10 most unusual collection items

We’re more than Magna Carta and Beowulf. Dig deep within our archives you’ll find some rather unusual and unexpected objects – from talking stamps to the Edwardian equivalent of today’s Sat Nav.

We asked our curators and librarians to tell us the most curious items they’ve encountered in our collections. Take a deep breath as we plunge inside our cabinet of curiosities...

1. Miniature mail boat

Presenting the Library’s only ocean-going vessel!

St Kilda is a now-uninhabited small island group some 50 miles west of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. This ‘mail boat’ was used in the transport of mail from Hirta, the main island, between 1876 and 1930. Letters were placed in the wooden boat in a protective canister, together with a request for the finder to post the mail to its destination.

It was then sealed with pitch and launched into the sea, with the sheep’s bladder acting as a float. More often than not, the North Atlantic drift would carry it to the Scottish mainland, the Outer Hebrides or sometimes even Norway.

The first mail boat was sent out as a distress signal in 1876 and the method continued to be used until the inhabitants were evacuated from the islands in 1930.

2. Peter the Great's gloves

These 17th-century gloves, belonging to diarist John Evelyn (1620–1706), were said to be gifted by Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia (1672–1725) as a token of apology for leaving his house and grounds in rather a state after a visit.

A brown leather glove with tassels
Legend has it that while a tenant at Evelyn’s London property Sayes Court, Deptford in 1698, the Tsar engaged in antics ranging from destructive wheelbarrow races through the immaculately-landscaped gardens, to using paintings for target practice and furniture for firewood.

Unfortunately, the story behind the gifting of these gloves has never been corroborated with evidence, and so continues to remain speculation.

George III’s horse’s hooves

This collection of horse hooves and shoes comes from a book of lectures on farriery published in 1793. The lectures – by the first professor of the New Veterinary College of London, Charles Vial de Sainbel – deal with how to build horse shoes for different types of hooves. 

Containing six plaster casts of hooves of varying sizes, together with six brass horse shoes, the set was designed for students to practice the teachings of the lectures. The work was one of the 65,000 printed books collected by George III for his collection, currently housed in the King’s Tower.

4. A vintage Sat Nav

The ‘Micro Motor Map’ – a forerunner to today’s GPS – was an ingenious attempt to solve the Edwardian motorist’s problem of how to drive and read a map at the same time. A reduced-size road map was carried on a set of 14 slides, each of which could be inserted into a hand-held viewing frame. This was held up to the light while driving – though presumably not at the top speeds of 60 mph that some cars then could travel.

5. London Underground board game

This board game is an actual London Underground map from 1908, which has been pasted onto card. Players pick tickets telling them where they need to begin and end their journeys, and the fare to pay (no more than a penny or two). Landing on (and remembering to call out) ‘All change!’ entitles a lucky winner to the contents of the booking hall. 

1908 was also the year that London hosted the Franco-British Exhibition and its first Olympics, so this game is likely to have been a hit with both locals and tourists alike.

How To Get There 530

6. Shelley’s hair and ashes

Percy Bysshe Shelley was just 29 when he tragically drowned after his boat was caught in a storm in 1822.

In what can be described as a sort of memento of mourning, this book gathers together the letters and documents that describe his demise and the afterlife of his remains. Contained within the front lining of the book is a lock of his hair, believed to be cut following his death, together with a lock of hair from his widow Mary Shelley.

The front binding of a book with two circular frames containing locks of hair 400
The rear lining of the same book contains material said to be from the ashes of Percy collected from his site of cremation.

Perhaps an oddity today – although in the death-obsessed Victorian age, this is unlikely to have raised an eyebrow.

. A 2,000-year-old homework book

'Accept advice from someone wise, it is not right to believe every friend of yours.’ This is the Greek maxim that a teacher from Egypt, almost 2 millennia ago, instructs a pupil to copy out into their wax tablets as homework. The student however, is unlikely to have received top marks as he makes a series of disastrous errors, including missing out the first letter, as this video explains. 

Fast forwarding in time, this 17th-century schoolbook contains the doodles of its young owners, including one Hannah Barrow who scrawled her name on as many of the blank pages as she could find. That’s one way to procrastinate before the age of the smartphone!

Jane Austen’s writing desk and spectacles

In 1794 Jane Austen’s father gave her this portable ‘writing-box’. When open, it provides a slope on which to rest paper while writing. Its various compartments include a space for an ink pot and a lockable drawer for paper and valuables.

An open wooden box with an open handwritten notebook and pair of spectacles 530

Between 1795 and 1799 Austen produced first drafts of what would later become Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, perhaps using this very writing desk. 

Among the items that had been stored for generations in the desk drawer were three pairs of spectacles which are believed to have belonged to Austen. Optical tests were even carried out on them to determine her prescription and whether she may have developed cataracts, potentially induced by arsenic poisoning.

Beethoven’s tuning fork

Over two centuries, this tuning fork passed through a succession of A-list composers.  

A silver tuning fork in a wooden box 440
It is thought to have belonged to Beethoven until 1803. Following a promise ‘never to sell it’ but instead to hand it to ‘some decent muskier who would care for it and pass it along when the time came’, it subsequently ended up in the possession of composer Gustav Holst, who in turn passed it down to Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In 1993, Vaughan Williams’s second wife Ursula presented it to the British Library in the ‘hope that all musicians will feel that in belonging to this treasure house, it belongs to them all’. For a deeper insight into the mind of Beethoven, the British Library also holds his handwritten laundry list.

Talking stamps

In 1973 Bhutan issued the world’s first set of ‘talking’ stamps. Each one is essentially a miniature one-sided vinyl record with gum on the back, playing material ranging from the national anthem to oral histories.

A green vinyl 350
Aimed specifically at the international stamp-collecting community, they were issued to help raise funds for major infrastructure projects following the World Bank’s refusal to lend the Bhutanese Government $10 million.

Although not taken seriously by the philatelic community at the time, they are now highly sought after by stamp and vinyl collectors.

A few more of our favourites

By Elliot Sinclair, Web Editor in the Digital Team