Knowledge Matters blog

3 posts from March 2022

29 March 2022

Library Lives: Katie Kinnear, Camberley

'Passion is essential. You cannot be a half-hearted librarian!’ 

This month we meet Katie Kinnear, Strategic Manager for Development and Support Services at Surrey Library Service, based at Camberley Library. 

Katie KinnearKatie Kinnear

Tell us about your role 

Many people still have a traditional view of libraries and librarians: that we stamp books all day and sit behind a desk in a dusty library. I love to take them for a day in my life at work so they can see how exciting it can be.  

This week I’ve interviewed candidates for a new job overseeing our programme of improvements to library buildings; met with our resources team, who are responsible for purchasing our books and publicising them to our users, to discuss book promotions to support the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and our audio suppliers, to review our offer to residents; attended the launch of a literary festival I’ve been working on; worked on a library relocation; written an update on our property transformation; attended Leadership team meetings where we focused on what we could deliver in terms of outreach to help promote library use, raise skills and support wellbeing in a deprived area of the county; and planned how we can help raise the awareness of carers in our community through our social media channels... no day is ever the same.  

Horley LibraryHorley Library

Where was your local library growing up? 

Living on the borders of Surrey and Hampshire, I used several libraries. At the time my mum owned a toyshop in Farnborough, where I used to help out, and when I got bored I’d go to the library. I loved the fact I could explore the books and I wasn’t questioned; I was a shy child and I really felt at home in that safe space. I would use the local library in our village, run by Surrey Library Services. It’s great to be developing that same library now. 

Why did you want to become a librarian? 

I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I left school. I did a degree at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, and one day when studying in the library I realised what I loved was the library itself rather than the essays! The librarian on duty recommended I look up the Graduate Trainee Librarian scheme run by CILIP, which is similar to the current apprenticeship scheme.  

I soon secured a role at The London Library, which was an amazing experience. I had the chance to work with different teams to build my knowledge of the profession, while completing a Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCL. I later became a Chartered member with CILIP. As my career developed, I’ve realised what I love is helping people and making a difference to their lives. Libraries mean so much to residents. 

Do you have a favourite item in your library’s collection?  

I think it’s actually our staff. It doesn’t really matter how good your collection is if you don’t have great staff to bring that to life. From the weekend assistant to the head of service, we want residents to leave with a great book and a great experience. Our staff are fantastic. We’ve been part of a transformation programme to future-proof our libraries and our staff have been to key to this.  

We also recently joined the British Library Living Knowledge Network and live-streamed the launch of the Breaking the News exhibition a few weeks ago at Dorking Library. The team put on a fantastic event that was really well attended, adding a local flavour with a talk from Surrey Heritage Centre. They have been so imaginative at using this exhibition to promote the service to new audiences.  

What is your favourite query that you have helped someone with? 

Reopening after the first lockdown sticks in my mind: the first two customers in the door were so pleased the library had reopened. The first was desperate to use the computer – with nearly three months of closure due to government restrictions they had been unable to apply for any jobs or universal credit.  

The second said that the library, the act of reading and getting out of the house to a safe neutral space, was key to her wellbeing and mental health. They were both so grateful for the service and it really proved what an essential role the library plays in people’s lives. 

What's your favourite thing you can do in a library? 

I think it’s probably Rhyme Time – song and rhyme sessions for under-fives. My first profession role was as a children’s librarian. I love to hear the singing echoing through the library – it lifts everyone’s mood.  

Other than your own, where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?  

Tromso Library. Photo Mark LedinghamTromso Library. Photo: Mark Ledingham 

I had the chance to visit Norway and speak at a conference on library design, and I fell in love with Tromso library. Set slightly higher than other buildings, it has an amazing curved roof and is lit up at night, making it a beacon for the town. You can see right into the library from quite far away and that really entices you towards it.  

We recently secured funding to develop our own libraries, something I’m leading on as part of our transformation programme. It will mean big changes and modernisation for many libraries in Surrey, so I feel it’s really important to get out and see other libraries to spark your creativity for design.  

Sum up being a librarian in three words 

Creativity. Passion. Dedication. 

What do you think makes a good librarian? 

Someone with good partnership and collaboration skills, good project management and good team working skills. Also passion for the service and profession is essential. You cannot be a half-hearted librarian! 

Outside of work... 

Sewing is my superpower! My favourite place is at my sewing machine. Dressmaking is a particular love: the act of immersing yourself in a craft that occupies your hands and your mind is a real stress buster, and at the end of the day you have something incredible to wear. I love making clothes for my young sons and I’m working towards a mostly handmade wardrobe for myself, but there are exceptions – I draw the line at making my own socks! 

Homemade jumper

Favourite fictional librarian? 

I think it’s the packhorse librarians in The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes – such as a strong band of women delivering books on horseback across Kentucky. I work with a group of amazing women and whilst we don’t travel on horseback much in Surrey, their dedication to the service is equally incredible.  

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 [email protected]  

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


14 March 2022

Behind the scenes at the British Library: Tasha McNaught, Marketing and Communications Manager

This month we’re in Yorkshire with Marketing and Communications Manager, Tasha McNaught.

Tasha McNaughtTasha McNaught

What’s the role?

Tasha is based at our Boston Spa site, near Wetherby, where she’s in charge of publicising, promoting and developing audiences for the British Library’s presence in West Yorkshire.

‘I support our work to transform Boston Spa into a sustainable, visitor-friendly home for our growing collection. So far I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the site and all of the improvements we plan to make and thinking about what marketing and communications work the project needs for the next five years. Because we’re the national library of the United Kingdom, it’s really important that we tell the public what we’re up to – like sharing the approval of our planning application for the Boston Spa redevelopment.

Boston Spa is only half of my job though! We’re also making our mark on the city of Leeds. From taking part in Light Night Leeds and other city-wide festivals, to organising family activity days and teacher training sessions, we are connecting with thousands of people in the region. I book advertising to promote our programme of events, activities – and soon, exhibitions – to people in the city and beyond. It’s so wonderful to be part of Leeds’s buzzing cultural scene, and work with great organisations in the city like Leeds Museums and Galleries, Child Friendly Leeds and people’s theatre creators Slung Low.

Part of the Library’s Light Night Leeds 2021 installation. Photograph: Abbie Jennings.Part of the Library’s Light Night Leeds 2021 installation. Photograph: Abbie Jennings.

Tasha also supports a programme to establish a major new British Library site in Leeds.

‘Right now we’re investigating Temple Works – a disused textile mill in Holbeck – as a potential site. I’m conducting audience research to find out what people in the region want and need from us, so the project team can design a site and services that will make a positive impact.’

Exterior image of Temple Works, South Bank, Leeds. Photo by Harry ArcherExterior image of Temple Works, South Bank, Leeds. Photo by Harry Archer

How did you get the job?

Tasha studied Philosophy at university. A lucky choice of summer internship led to a part time marketing job with her university’s fitness and leisure facilities, which then turned into a full time job after graduating - ‘rather ironic considering I absolutely detested PE at school.’ Tasha then moved to a marketing role at the National Railway Museum, York.

‘I loved using my marketing skills to persuade people to learn and have fun! I love the idea of museums as centres for lifelong learning and inspiration, and the National Railway Museum’s focus on engineering and STEM skills fulfilled that for me. I loved spending time getting to know the enormous collection and all the human stories it contained, and using my communication skills to share those stories with the public. Now I can’t imagine working outside of the culture sector.’

What’s your favourite object in our collection?

‘I visited our St Pancras site a few years before I worked at the Library and was mesmerised by handwritten letters and papers in the Treasures Gallery. My job at the time was working with a collection filled with gigantic steam locomotives; feats of engineering. I think the contrast of a delicate, personal and intimate object is what drew me to the documents. The contents varied between the domestic, the official and the monumental, but it was their own hand that made them special to me. History felt more tangible.’

What do you love about the Library?

Tasha’s heart belongs to Boston Spa. ‘Between the brutalist architecture, the wartime history of the site and the automated storage systems, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by it.’

‘Boston Spa’s Urquhart building is stunning – the waffle ceilings, the tinted brown glass, the distinct shade of mid-century brown stained wood. I watched Marvel’s Loki last year and seeing the architecture of the Time Variance Authority in that was like walking around the Urquhart! Having said that – the low ceilings and lack of natural light aren't ideal. I’m looking forward to seeing the planned redevelopment works do justice to the architectural style, while making it fit for 21st century working.’

Urquhart Building
The Urquhart Building

There are also two storage buildings on site that use robots to move the collection around.

‘OK, they’re not technically robots. But the automated storage system is pretty incredible – and the next one in our planned new low-carbon storage building will be even better.’

‘The site has a really long history of being innovative and forward-thinking. In fact, one of my favourite photos of the site is from the 1970s and it shows a display that boasts about “the information storage and documentation medium of the future” – compact discs! Maybe in 50 years time someone will look at our automated storage technology and find it just as funny.’


Any book recommendations for our readers?

Tasha tried reading some of ‘the classics’ during the first lockdown and ended up with a new favourite book – The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

‘It really moved me, and I love how Hemingway uses such simple language and structure to communicate such profound ideas. It really shows that there’s no excuse for complicated and inaccessible communication!’

Click here to find out how to visit the Reading Room at Boston Spa.

You find out more about our plans for transforming Boston Spa by clicking here.

11 March 2022

Memory of a nation – the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine

The Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine (Photo by Leonid Andronov  from Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)-SMALLER
The mission of national libraries is to preserve the memory of entire nations, and from the relative stability of the UK it is all too easy to take their survival for granted.

The Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, in Kyiv, is one of Europe’s great national library collections, a vast cultural and scientific resource that ranges from rare early Slavonic printed books to precious manuscripts, including the exquisite Peresopnytsia Gospels, on which the oath of office has been sworn by all six Ukrainian Presidents including Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019.

Like any great research library, its collection of 15.5 million items in normal times grows year on year – with 100,000 items deposited annually, including every publication produced in Ukraine and a copy of every Ukrainian university thesis. Its newspaper collection amounts to 240,000 bound volumes. Its unique collection of Jewish musical folklore consists of original recordings of folk music from 1912 to 1947 on wax cylinders – and in 1995 this collection was added to UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ register.

Between its original foundation in 1918 and its re-establishment as Ukraine’s National Library in 1996 the Vernadsky has operated under several different names and has witnessed many brutal turns of history, including the execution in 1938 of its first Director, Stepan Pylypovych Posternak for ‘anti-Soviet activities’.

In March 2021, reflecting on the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the library’s director, Dr Lyubov Dubrovina told the Kyiv Post: “We’ve lived through revolutions, wars and famines. The library has seen it all.”

Just 12 months later, the extraordinary institution she runs has never been in greater danger, with Russian forces outside Kyiv and the violence and casualties reaching awful new heights. As the onslaught continues, the library faces the increasing risk of catastrophic damage – whether through indiscriminate bombardment or targeted attack.

For a national library to face such a direct threat of destruction is, sadly, not without precedent in recent times. The shelling of the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, and the burning and looting of the National Library of Iraq in 2003 were moments of incalculable loss to the world’s shared cultural  heritage – and to the peoples of those countries in particular.

In a situation where so many rules seem to have been broken or forgotten, we must hope that the Russian Federation’s signature on the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property is meaningful, and not just an empty mark on a piece of paper.

The global community of librarians has spoken with a unified voice in solidarity with our Ukrainian colleagues. Bodies such as the International Federation of Library Associations have condemned the violence, while more than 800 UK library and information professionals have co-signed a statement from our professional association, CILIP, offering support and solidarity with librarians in Ukraine.

Respect for learning and knowledge runs deep in Russian culture.  Having worked alongside directors and colleagues from the three great national libraries in Russia I have seen that the values of librarianship and curatorship, which transcend national and political boundaries, are held as deeply in those institutions as they are anywhere in the world.  Those values are in direct conflict with the military mission we are witnessing in Ukraine.

Under threat in Ukraine today is not just a living nation but also its history and recorded memory.  What happens in these next few days and weeks in Kyiv will determine whether that history can ever be fully studied and understood again.  The world is watching.

Roly Keating,

Chief Executive, British Library



Main image: The Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine (Photo by Leonid Andronov, from Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)