October book reviews: special edition

Well, October has been and gone… somehow, I haven’t finished a single fiction book. In my defence, I’ve been reading a lot of PhD flavoured materials but I wouldn’t subject you to reviews of books about Q methodology factor analysis. So, this month, I’m cheating and I’m turning in other people’s homework instead.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by bibliophiles… and I’ve invited them to contribute book reviews for October’s blog post. There’s so much to enjoy in here, you probably won’t want me to resume my reviewing next month. Ho hum. Guest reviewers were asked to tell me about their most recent or favourite fiction book: title, author, genre, summary-in-one-sentence, review-in-one-sentence and rating. Quite typically of book lovers, lots of them struggled to stick to the one sentence rule!


Reviewer: Helen (my long-suffering wife)

Title: The Finisher

Author: David Baldacci

Format: paperback

Genre: science fiction, fantasy, young adult – although I do reject that notion! (NB she’s 45!)

Summary: a fast-paced romp where Lord of the Rings meets Eragon but with a courageous, female protagonist whose wit is as quick and fierce as her loyalty, mind and body. (I mean, she followed the rule but it’s a pretty long sentence.)

Review: suitable for all those girls and young women who are described as bossy when what people actually mean is they have great leadership skills.

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

The Finisher (Vega Jane) : Baldacci, David: Amazon.co.uk: Books


Reviewer: Suzi (my marvellous PhD study chum – find her on Twitter here: @susanl_hughes)

Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman

Format: always paperback!

Genres: fiction, humour, psychological fiction

Summary: a botched bank robbery becomes a hostage situation in which a group of strangers are brought together, each with their own anxieties, idiosyncrasies and secrets. As the police work to safely resolve the situation, the hostages become unlikely allies and the power of humanity is exposed. (See, Suzi is a one-sentence cheater!)

Review: this has been my favourite book this year, and my favourite Backman novel to date. Revelations throughout to keep the reader alert and individual storylines that are resolved in a complex, integrated and extremely satisfying way! (Also not a sentence!)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️


Now, you don’t have to take Suzi’s word for it as Backman got a second hit from another contributor!


Reviewer: Sinead (my chum and fellow MA survivor – find her on Twitter here: @sineadfae)

Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman

Format: paperback, borrowed from Lancashire Libraries (Yas queen, big up our public libraries!)

Genre: fiction

Summary: the story is centred around a bank robbery which goes wrong as the bank robber escapes accidentally stumbling into a flat viewing, resulting in a hostage situation. It’s then up to two local police officers to handle whilst they wait detectives to arrive from Stockholm. (Never tell a bibliophile she can only have one sentence, ha!)

Review: I really enjoyed the twists and turns, and it really kept me guessing. I went through a lot of emotions reading it, from laughing out loud to genuine sadness – I think that’s the sign of a good book!

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Anxious People: The No. 1 New York Times bestseller from the author of A  Man Called Ove eBook : Backman, Fredrik: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store


Reviewer: Emma-Jayne (my fabulous Aunty)

Title: Mrs England

Author: Stacey Halls

Format: Kindle eBook

Genre: historical, drama, fiction

Summary: atmospheric, tense and easy to immerse yourself in this tale from the early 1900s. The main character is born to a working class family in Birmingham, she bettered her chances and won a scholarship to a revered Nanny/Nurse training institution. A quiet character, Nurse Ruby manages to get through the training and lands herself a job in a comfortable home in fashionable London. However, a change in circumstance sees her having to leave the relative safety of anonymous London and she ends up in rural West Yorkshire.

Review: absolutely loved this book and will be reading her other two novels in the near future. I do love a book set in days gone by where the author literally takes you there with their well written descriptions of how life would have been. For most, life is obviously harder in this time period but, in some ways, seems a whole lot simpler than life today… certainly less gadgety! This isn’t the case for Nurse Ruby May. She has issues. This novel takes you on a character discovery and you know all is not as it seems. A classic case of judging people before you know their backstory and this book has a couple of great backstories. It kept my interest throughout. I was a little frustrated with a couple of the characters on occasions but this is par for the course, I think. On the whole, a really good read. Good characters. Great atmosphere. Good outcome. Oh, I just read the review should be one sentence. LOL, oops! (Yeah, total disregard for the one sentence rule!)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️🤍

Mrs England by Stacey Halls | Waterstones


Reviewer: Sue (my lovely Mum)

Title: The Beekeeper’s Promise

Author: Fiona Valpy

Format: paperback – I still prefer turning actual pages. Plus, weirdly, I love the smell of real books! (You can see whence my love of books originated! I’m also a book sniffer.)

Genre: historical, drama, romance

Summary: a modern woman finds new lease of life in rural France after discovering the history of another brave woman.

Review: it was exceptionally easy to read but not in the simple sense. It flowed. I loved the jumping between time periods and the comparisons between Abi (now) and Eliane (past). I loved the characters, the tension and the history. (Ok, not quite a sentence but I did trick her into joining in!)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

The Beekeeper's Promise eBook : Valpy, Fiona: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store


Review: Holly and Rose (my epic cousin and her brilliant daughter – she is a founding member of my sisterhood-of-kickass-girl-cousins; you’ll hear from them all in this post…)

Title: My Little Night Light

Author: Claire Freedmand

Illustrator: Alison Edgson

Format: hardback

Genre: children’s book, bed time routine

Summary: it’s based right by the seaside, during the night. Featuring a battery powered soft-glowy light in the light house.

Review: I love it because it’s so comforting; it feels as though I’m telling Rose the story as if I’d written it. As if it were our perfect little life in a seaside village.

More from Rose’s point of view: the rhymes sound so smooth off the tongue for Rose. She properly chills out! She loves switching on the light herself. Flicking the pages over and over again and pointing to all the objects and animals – she can almost sound out words after reading it so much. Even words like rock pool. She particularly loves the last page because she thinks it’s her in the bed! Every time we reach the end of the story, I say “ahhh, na-night baby Rose” and point to her in the bed. (Seriously, Rose is perfect.)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️


Reviewer: Charlotte (also a member of the sisterhood-of-kickass-girl-cousins and correctly thinks animals are better than humans – find her on Twitter here: @ch4rmander94)

Title: Right Behind Her

Author: Melina Leigh

Format: e-reader

Genre: crime, thriller

Summary: book 4 in the series, Sheriff Bree Taggert is facing more painful memories as bodies are discovered buried in the yard of her childhood home, and the pressure is on to track down a brutal killer who has been free to roam her hometown for thirty years. (Oooo, she nailed the one sentence rule!)

Review: I am a huge fan of crime thrillers, and the Bree Taggert series provides just the right balance of mystery, drama, and just a pinch of steamy romance to keep readers engrossed in its pages throughout; if you want a story to keep you on the edge of your seat, this instalment will do just that! (Canny use of a semi-colon to stick to the one sentence, there.)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Right Behind Her (Bree Taggert Book 4) eBook : Leigh, Melinda:  Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store


Reviewer: Sallie (my awesome Auntyalso, I bet my aunties compare how I’ve introduced them!)

Title: The Midnight Library (I’m also a big fan – see my review here).

Author: Matt Haig

Format: Kindle eBook

Genre: Fantasy, philosophy, fiction

Summary: desperate girl feeling unwanted and unnecessary commits suicide and goes to the Midnight Library where she can experience all the lives she feels she could’ve lived.

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed the book, not my usual genre but it was very thought provoking, we’re all meant to live the life we live. (I’m saying nothing about which aunty followed the rules and which did not – hehe.)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

The Midnight Library: Matt Haig: Amazon.co.uk: Haig, Matt: 9781786892706:  Books


Reviewer: Eugenia (my chum and also a fellow MA survivor – find her on Twitter here: @TheMariugenia)

Title: Force of Nature

Author: Jane Harper

Format: hardback – borrowed from the public library! (Yas queen, more public library support!)

Genre: mystery, thriller, crime

Summary: “Five women pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track. Only four come out on the other side” 😲😲😲

Review: I discovered Jane Harper a few months ago, when my local public library’s catalogue suggested her to me after reading a book from Riley Sager, I guess because of their similar writing style. Let me tell you that this was a one-way ride… After reading Jane Harper’s debut novel “The Dry” (which is absolutely brilliant and stunning – highly recommend it as well!), I couldn’t wait to immediately read the second book of her Aaron Falk series, “Force of Nature”as well. Just like with “The Dry”, Jane Harper haunts you with her incredibly addictive writing style, leading you to a non-stop and totally-worth-it one-seating read. The author has an impeccable way of narrating the story in short chapters that immediately haunts you and make you want to continue reading more and more. Unlike other crime and mystery fiction novels, Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series novels are not predictable at all and at the same time they are both perfectly written in a way that makes them both unique and brilliantly narrated so their outcome is never what you had expected to be so far. “Force of Nature” is a fine masterpiece for mystery, thriller and crime reading lovers who although are passionate for these genres, can’t deal with very violent and explicitly descriptive books in order to avoid posterior nightmares, like me 😂🤦‍♀️. If you are looking forward to reading an addictive, shocking, terrifying and with incredible plot twists book, search no more: this is a perfect choice for you. (Yup, another bibliophile… we had no chance of her sticking to the one sentence rule either!)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Force of Nature by Jane Harper | Waterstones


Reviewer: Nat (also Natty or NATALIEEEEEEEEEE – youngest member of the sisterhood-of kickass-girl-cousins, who might not yet have forgiven me for convincing her to do an MA)

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Format: paperback

Genre: historical, young adult / coming of age, fiction

Summary: narrated by Death, this book follows the tale of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany, 1939. Tale of childhood within the destructive environment of a world war. (That’s two sentences, Nat!)

Review: the last book I read, but not my first read of The Book Thief. It is well written, an absolute treasure. Probably one of my all time favourite books. (Nobody tell Nat that it’s been on my to-be-read shelf for ten years.)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

The book thief: Amazon.co.uk: Markus Zusak: 9780552773898: Books


Reviewer: Megan (I suggested I introduce Megan as my cousin’s cool friend but Nat said I should say “my cool cousin’s less cool friend”… just so you know, Megan!)

Title: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Format: paperback

Genre: fantasy, historical, Greek mythology

Summary: a retelling of the mythical story of Circe, daughter to the Greek god Helios, who after discovering her powers of sorcery is banished to an island where over the centuries she meets a number of famous faces from Greek legend. (I mean, it is a single sentence but it’s even longer than Helen’s!)

Review: this book is full of so many quotable lines thanks to Miller’s beautiful writing style and the complex characters brilliantly bring the world of myth to life. (Nailed it, Megan.)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Madeline Miller - Circe


Reviewer: Child 1 (eldest child of my spiffing study chum – go follow her on Twitter here: @PhDMumLife)

Title: Room on the Broom

Author: Julia Donaldson

Illustrator: Axel Scheffler

Format: board book

Genre: children’s book

Summary by Child 1: witch and cat! And loses hat! Yes! Cries the witch. Dragon roar! Scary and loud! Hee hee. (Sorry but he’s too cute to penalise for not sticking to the one sentence rule and he was still more succinct than some!)

Review translated by Mum: he loves the book. He loves the film version. He’s entranced by it, he recites whole passages word for word. But I cannot get a review type answer out of him! (When Mum tried earlier in the day, she sent me a video… as soon as she mentioned the book, Child 1 commented “it’s not bed time?” Love it!)

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Room on the Broom : Donaldson, Julia, Scheffler, Axel: Amazon.co.uk: Books


Reviewer: Child 2 (youngest child of small-human-wrangler-extraordinaire @PhDMumLife!)

Title: Mr Magnolia (or ‘Nolia as Child 2 calls it)

Author: Quentin Blake

Illustrator: Quentin Blake

Format: hardback

Genre: children’s book

Summary by Child 2: ‘Nolia! Boot! Owls! Hoo-hoo. Owls. Boot. Look! Boot!

Summary translation by Mum: delightful rhyming story about Mr Magnolia, who only has one boot. (Mum nailed the one sentence rule.)

Review: Mum to Child 2 – “do you like Mr Magnolia?” Child 2 to Mum (excited) – “‘Nolia! Yesss!”

Rating: 🦉🦉🦉🦉🦉 (that’s five owl-hoots)

Mister Magnolia : Blake, Quentin, Blake, Quentin: Amazon.co.uk: Books


September book reviews

Yes, yes, I’m late. But I wanted to finish the new Thursday Murder Club before I posted. And I had to climb into the loft to turn on the heating, now that I’ve won that argument.

Three strong books this last month, well suited to the season of pumpkin spiced lattes, scarves and Ugg boots.


The Harm Tree by Rose Edwards

The Harm Tree : Edwards, Rose, Tomic, Tomislav: Amazon.co.uk: Books
ARC received from Netgalley. Available on Kindle and as a paperback.

I think in many ways, the novel is technically flawed and could be improved. There were some things I wanted Edwards to expand on and others I wanted her to cut back. But I don’t want to focus on that; I’d rather talk about the feeling it created, because Edwards has got so much right in her debut novel.

“Under my ribs, the hook of my homesickness tugs me north. I wonder if this is what the gulls feel, flying back to their nests in the spring.”

Rose Edwards

There’s something utterly immersive about the way Edwards wields language. Some of her phrases don’t just strike a chord, they perform an entire score that’s simultaneously familiar and new. There’s a great deal I really admired about Edwards’ novel: the Norse-inspired world is richly built, the characters have distinct voices, Edwards doesn’t patronise her YA audience and the female characters defy vapid, fantasy tropes.

I’ll definitely be reading future books from this author.

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️🤍


The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List: A Reese's Book Club Pick, the biggest crime thriller of  2020 from the number one best selling author of The Hunting Party: The  Biggest ... No.1 Bestselling Author of
Available now in paperback

I worked out all but one of the twists and whodunnits in Foley’s novel. As you can see on the front cover, Horowitz says it’s a ‘very clever’ book and my extremely smart chum, Suzi (go follow her on Twitter), says she didn’t figure it all out and enjoyed “the genuine surprise.” So I’m thinking I should become a mastermind criminal, detective or crime writer… because I’m rarely surprised by crime novels, TV shows or movies. Is there something wrong with me?! Anyway, my smugness didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

I think Foley might have done something quite clever with The Guest List and I hope it was deliberate. For the first half of the book, I didn’t like a single character. This is usually a complete turn off for me because it means I’m not invested in what happens to them and it’s the main cause for me to give up on a book. But, somehow, Foley balanced this with a sufficiently interesting plot and setting that meant I persevered. Towards the end of the novel, there were a few women I’d warmed to but the men could literally all get in the sea – they embodied privilege, toxic masculinity and drunk, obnoxious, manchild behaviour.

Unlike some other reviews I’ve looked at, I liked the gothic, gloomy setting; it was a useful plot point (isolating a group of people of a stormy island), as well as matching the overall secret-death-revenge vibe . Although the clues were heavy handed and I’d solved it long before the end, I rather liked the slowness of the story structure, told by multiple people.

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️🤍 (I much preferred it to The Dinner Guest)


The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman: 9781984880994 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Listened via Audible. Also available in hardback and Kindle

The plot is a little broader than the first book, including some spy stuff, ex-husbands, diamonds, the mafia, drugs and therapy. And a sprinkling of romance but not so much that it put me off.

I understand that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s something quintessentially British about Osman’s series (we can call it a series now that Penguin is offering a pre-order of the third book) which really appeals to me. It feels like a perfect, autumn Sunday: a walk in the woods with the dogs kicking up leaves, a roast dinner, a board game, a pair of fluffy socks, a hot chocolate (or mulled cider) and a re-run of David Suchet’s Poirot on ITV. It’s familiar and cosy whilst offering sufficient twists to keep my interest piqued.

The characters are the biggest draw, I think. The second instalment provides more depth to their backgrounds and the multiple moral dilemmas offer greater insight into their personalities. I aspire to be even a little like Elizabeth when I pass through middle age into my golden years… Of course I’d like to be like Joy but I don’t think I’m kind enough!

It’s a big, fat yes from me. I really worried that offering up a sequel so quickly would mean Osman fell into the trap of producing formulaic stories but this couldn’t be further from the reality. I listened to the book via Audible and Lesley Manville is a stellar narrator. There’s also a bonus conversation between Manville and Osman at the end of the book, which I enjoyed.

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ (because it delivered exactly what it promised)

May book reviews

Somehow May has run away from me. Only three books read but I’m already making up for it by reading two books simultaneously for the start of June.


Hide and Secrets by Sophie McKenzie

ARC received from Netgalley, due for release 22/07/21

I’m a fan of McKenzie having been introduced to her Split Second books, by a chum’s daughter.

The book follows 14 year old Cat as she navigates life after her father’s death, supporting her (recently) mute sister, Bess, and her troubled relationship with her mum. Just as another family move into the property for a summer project, Cat is informed her father is alive and in danger – Cat has to save him.

The book has everything a teen reader wants in a YA novel: mystery, thrills, some romance (it isn’t overdone), a relatable protagonist and a sense that the kids have some autonomy – in this case, they’re solving a mystery.

I’ve read some other reviews that complain the relationship between Cat and her mum is odd and that Cat’s friends wouldn’t ghost her in light of her father’s “death.” As someone who has taught thousands of teenagers, I found both situations utterly believable. In losing her go-to parent, it’s no wonder that Cat would retreat from the world. Naturally, this would strain her relationship with her mum and potentially alienate her from all but the most persistent friends. I mean, don’t get me wrong… it’s also convenient for the plot and premise because in seeking her father, Cat relies on herself and her new friend, Tyler (one half of the family who move in for the summer), rather than her mum or existing friends. It makes the sleuthing more insular. But convenience doesn’t mean implausibility.

I also note that some reviewers judge Cat’s decision making to be questionable at best and ridiculous at worse. Er, yup. That’s what 14 year olds do! I’m a long time fan of YA fiction; I’m about a minute away from turning 40 and I’ve still not outgrown YA fantasy, SciFi or drama. That said, I recognise I’m relating to the characters and plot through a haggard-40-year-old-lens. I think Cat’s choices are daft but I’m meant to think that. Youngsters in Years 7-10 enjoying Hide and Secrets will most likely resonate with Cat better than I can.

There were definitely sufficient twists to balance out the more obvious turns. And I also really liked Tyler, her sidekick; I wish we could have learned more about his backstory.

Overall, it’s great to have a YA book that’s actually aimed at a YA audience. McKenzie has created another brilliant novel that will comfortably sit in a secondary school library – unlike other books branded as YA which are too smutty or violent to avoid parental complaints. (I imagine this is a publisher problem not authors’ intent).

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️🤍


I find my strength in simple things by Desree

Paperback, out now

I was fortunate to hear Desree perform at CALC 2021 as Day One’s social event. I was immediately blown away by her.

I am loud.

I’m trying to be heard.

I do try to have the last word,

because you didn’t listen to the first.

Black Girl Magic by Desree

She writes about identity, politics, love, icons and, even, hangovers. There’s nothing she can’t explore with her persistent and inventive language. I was hooked and had ordered myself and a friend copies of her book within minutes of her performance ending.

I love that the poems are peppered with QR codes – they link you to Desree performing live in different settings. It’s like getting two gifts: the written record and her lyrical, melodic, hypnotic performances.

With Desree, it doesn’t feel like a simple case of mic drop moments. It’s more like she drop kicks the mic, aiming hard and with fierce accuracy for the people at the back who choose not to ‘get it.’

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️


Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

eBook read on Kindle

I somehow missed the Armistead Maupin boat the first time around but I know my brother was definitely captain of the ship.

It was the May choice for The Information School’s virtual book club. And it was chosen as a palate cleanser following two gritty and pretty intense books (The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota and The Power by Naomi Alderman). The plan was to read something not too taxing and definitely a little nostalgic.

Well, I can say it made me very grateful to have met Helen in the times of going-to-a-pub-or-club. Long have I been smug that I missed the swipe right era and that I haven’t needed to navigate dating with apps, social media and t’interweb. It transpires that I also would have found courting in the 70s and 80s exhausting. It seems the entire cast of characters in Tales of the City are on one long, arduous campaign to you-know-what. And that supermarkets, bookstores, workplaces, cornershops, laundrettes were all legitimate places to find hook ups or partners, as long as you knew the rules. I probably channel far too much Mary Ann Singleton as I find it all too much! What if I just wanted to buy an avocado, pick up a paperback and wash my jeans?

It’s dialogue driven and episodic in nature, which made sense when I learned (thanks to book club) that it had originally been serialised. Maupin plays with sex, sexuality, drugs, family, race, class and wealth all through the characters’ relationships with one another. There’s something very soap opera about it – individual lives all cleverly intertwined with one another. I tried to listen to it on Audible as well as reading it, to speed up preparation for book club, but I found it was hard to keep track of all the characters in an audio format.

I enjoyed it and I’m glad I finally read it… but I’m not sure I’d read the rest of the series. It doesn’t hold any nostalgia for me as it’s neither my era nor did I read it when it was first popular. It’s hard to conjure up the same affection for 28 Barbary Lane as This Life, The L Word or Queer as Folk because I watched these at their peak.

Rating: ❤️❤️❤️🤍🤍

Big decisions

Where to start?

First of all, I’ve decided to put my hat in the ring and have a go at winning some funding for the PhD. I’ve spent quite some time on the phone to SFE (they’re really nice to you once you’re a postgraduate borrower of money, it transpires) who assure me that this is all above board and won’t leave me out of pocket if I win the funds. Yes, I’ll not receive any more student loan payments but, no, I won’t suddenly have to stump up thousands to pay them back instantaneously. This is a moot point anyway as the funding is damn hard to get – they even call it an “open competition,” which sounds a little Hunger-Games-esque to me. First to the cornucopia gets the funding?! The White Rose College of Arts and Humanities is a federation of the Universities of Sheffield, York and Leeds; the funding is open to PhD students in multiple schools / faculties across all three and only 40 people are awarded the funding. My guess is that the majority of it will go to 2020 first year students, not those of us who are beginning our second year, because it’s a good marketing tool.

In the first instance, I’ve had to apply to the Information School to get their go ahead to then apply to WRoCaH. Yup, that’s its acronym and it’s pronounced rocker. Whilst I’m very unlikely to win the funds, it is good practice at writing bid-like things and explaining what it is I’m trying to achieve.

Second of all, it is time to euthanise my laptop. I’m hoping it isn’t self-aware enough to read that last sentence and that our Alexa device hasn’t given it a heads up. It is slow and clunky; it basically takes longer than me to warm up in the mornings. Once you have more than two tabs open on t’internet, it grinds to a halt. And multiple applications gives it a stroke. In my head, it’s a relatively new and powerful laptop but, in actual fact, I bought it in 2012. That’s probably geriatric in laptop terms, right? I have to turn my simple needs (fast, number pad for data entry, not too heavy) into technical specifications. And I don’t even know the difference between memory and storage. Plus I’m on a poor-student-budget. Nevertheless, I am committed to spending my loan (after fees) on this endeavour at the end of the month and to ensuring I don’t choose whimsically because I like the colour. I’ll keep this laptop because the man-child will need something for university and it will do until he saves for better.

How I am greeted most mornings…

Finally – and I guess I buried the lead – I’ve resigned from my job. Big, difficult, unwanted decision. It turns out that studying for a PhD full time – and remotely – isn’t conducive to holding down a job, even part time. I knew that the PhD would require self-motivation and discipline but I truly thought that I was enough of a workaholic that I could do it all. I can’t. It’s a very hard pill to swallow.

Currently, I am not in a productive routine and I’m jumping from deadline to deadline. Also, I need the flexibility to engage with the brilliant doctoral programme and academic development opportunities. Not only that, the man-child has hit the needs-me-but-doesn’t-want-me stage of his development (Nanny McPhee reference) and is taking up an inordinate proportion of my time… I won’t go into details because it wouldn’t be fair to share his life. I will say it’s exhausting and I also don’t want to unintentionally let him down because I am spinning too many casserole dishes (bigger and more awkward than plates). Essentially, life, wife, teenager and PhD are all plates that I cannot and would not drop, meaning I had to turn my attention to the work plate. One influential factor is financial stability: I am fortunate and grateful that my wonderful wife has landed an impressive new job and has offered to solely shoulder the burden of the household income.

Sketch by Hurrah For Gin…

I am gutted to be leaving my job for so many reasons. I have an excellent boss, who is a perfect mentor and coach for me: supportive and challenging in equal measures. Plus, she lets me flex my initiative. Any Sunday night blues are banished because working with her is a dream. The whole College Group was supportive of my MA, dissertation and research. The campus is so unique with cracking students and staff. It’s going to be a wrench to leave and I am not enjoying the countdown to the end of February.

The late and unstructured ramblings of an old(ish) library school student attending CILIP Conference 2019 in receipt of the PMLG bursary

I suppose I’ve used this subheadline as a warning of sorts…

When I sat down to write an article to sum up my experiences of CILIP’s 2019 conference, I thought I would tackle it traditionally and chronologically by taking the reader on a journey session by session. A logical and systematic approach.

Then I opened my conference notebook…

Wow. Conference-me was neither logical nor systematic. My notes are all over the place and reflect the fact that much of the conference content resonated with me on both a personal and professional level. I am a (shhh) year old PhD student who has left teaching and embarked on a second career in library and information services (LIS). So, if you fancy an emotional and slightly loquacious take on what it’s like to attend CILIP Conference as a first-time delegate and LIS newbie, read on. Equally, if that puts you off, I won’t be offended.

PhD and public library goodness

One of the main reasons I applied for the PMLG bursary was the focus of my PhD proposal. I’m continuing my studies at the University of Sheffield’s Information School, under the supervision of the inspirational Dr. Briony Birdi. At this early stage, I don’t want to give away too many details but the remit covers public libraries, perceptions and legislation.

There was a great deal of information and knowledge at conference that tugged on the thread I intend to pull with this research and which served as a reminder of all the good public libraries do for their communities.

Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian at the British Library, discussed the theme of librarianship and identity. Each delegate will have taken away different concepts from her address which looked back on her impressive career. I was interested in her take on what she considers the enduring values of the profession, influenced by the work of Michael Gorman1: stewardship, service, intellectual freedom, privacy, rationalism, equity of access, democracy, commitment to literacy and learning.

There is something deeply satisfying and powerful in drawing together a unified view of public librarianship in the UK. I am new to the LIS world and some may consider my views naïve… but my own reading has led me to discover different bodies with varied and, dare I say it, conflicting dogma of what libraries and their staff do for and with the public: Arts Council England, The Libraries Taskforce, DCMS, Libraries Connected and even CILIP. Is it time, as Liz implied, to remember that we have a distinct and common role? She asserted that we facilitate, we don’t simply support.

Whilst I didn’t enjoy her question about the master’s degree route into librarianship, and whether it has been unhealthily fetishised, I recognise my discomfort relates to my own status as a recent MA student. I applaud her reflective approach to asking tricky questions and to being “open and transparent rather than closed and exclusive.”2

The last comment I recorded from Liz’s presentation, in my new, fancy conference notebook: “We need to stop pretending to be neutral as a profession.”3 I couldn’t agree more. We’re not neutral; all our actions are small p political and a great number of them are POLITICAL.

Which allows me to neatly, and almost logically, segue into the session titled Innovation in public libraries. The work of Manchester Central Library and Archives+, presented by Larysa Bolton and Neil MacInnes, documents and celebrates LGBT+ history in the North West region. It is gloriously political, emotional and historically important: “We’re here, we’re queer. Manchester’s LGBT+ story is never going back underground.”4 The collection’s narrative predates the 1950s and the archiving is being handled with empathy and tact, in collaboration with the local council. The project has even helped other organisations to catalogue their own collections.

Amy Hearn presented 100% Digital Leeds: digital inclusion matters and I was blown away by the multi-organisation approach of the project and its far reaching impact for those living in Leeds. I love the mantra of removing barriers to accessing information and digital content. Not only is the project delivering digital access and technology to individuals, it’s also helping other community groups by loaning them devices so that they can trial their use, prove their benefits and then use this evidence to apply for bids to purchase their own. Obviously, the digital foundation of the project is of paramount importance but the magic, I think, lies in their collaborative approach; like Liz Jolly said, it’s an open and transparent model.

Similarly, the work at Kirklees to engage vulnerable teens and young adults through the power of rap and music is creative and fun but it’s also political. Kirstie Wilson’s presentation, Creative engagement in library services development, clearly demonstrated that the project has helped to re-engage some of the most marginalised young people in the library’s locale as well as raising the profile of the library through partnerships with schools and the University of Huddersfield.

Equality, diversity and INCLUSION in the world of LIS

I work at an FE college with multiple sites and libraries. I am the only LGBT+ member of the library team. My fantastic, motivational and empathetic boss, the site librarian, is the only staff member of colour in the team and on campus. We often joke, in that unamused way that marginalised people do, that we tick many of the employment equality “boxes” between us.

My boss and I have spent much time over the last year trying to better understand one another’s intersectional, lived experiences and endeavouring to apply that learning to the students we support. For instance, I identify as a gay, working class woman whose childhood was framed by social welfare and Section 28. We are both acutely aware that our experiences are not a catch-all reflection of those who are forced, or choose, to share our labels. Would I say there is a problem in our workplace with how those who are other are treated? That’s a difficult conversation. But, aye, there’s the rub… I’d say that until very recently the conversation has been absent. There was silence. She and I, with the support of others, are beginning to start that dialogue. I could write about how the weight of that responsibility shouldn’t always fall onto our shoulders but I’d rather talk about how delighted I was to learn that CILIP Conference 2019 was offering a number of opportunities to explore equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in LIS.

I hate mornings but I over-caffeinated myself so that I could attend the breakfast seminar, BAME Network: what it means to be an ally. I thought Shirley Yearwood-Jackman, chair of the network’s steering group, was an incisive and motivational speaker, from whom I learn a great deal. Who are allies? They’re not just people who don’t act with prejudice; this ambivalence and lack of racist output is insufficient. An ally actively promotes rights, individually and institutionally. An ally takes responsibility for learning about themselves and their own privilege. An ally seeks to learn about the lived experience of marginalised groups, rather than putting the onus on those groups to educate. An ally reflects, seeks knowledge and takes action. Shirley also warned that preaching to the converted doesn’t mean you are reaching out more widely; in our LIS settings, we need to start the conversation and build in on a foundation of empathy. Racist and prejudiced ideas and perceptions do not appear from nowhere. People have rationalised their beliefs and actions, underpinned by a historical legacy.

Hong-Anh Nguyen’s keynote address, Questioning diversity, was equally illuminating and echoed many of the insightful points addressed by the BAME Network breakfast session. She cautioned that equality and diversity strategies often pay lip service to the idea of diversity but they are shallow. A strategy is not synonymous with action and it won’t achieve anything on its own. Organisations may know they have a problem without understanding its scope. Institutionally, we should be asking:

  • Why do we do things in a certain way?
  • Can it be done more inclusively?
  • Can we celebrate others?
Hong-Anh Nguyen made many profound comments which are still echoing in my brain months later

Following her clear and inclusive message, imbued by her own lived experiences, I was horrified when one delegate chose to use the questions from the floor as an opportunity to interrogate Hong-Anh on her choice of Twitter handle. It is a play on words involving Dewey – we all know about his abhorrent, abusive actions.5 What I can’t understand, nor will I probably articulate it very clearly, is why someone would choose to spotlight that, in front of a primarily white delegation, when Hong-Anh had been invited to speak on inclusion? Because we all recognise inclusion is an issue in the LIS world. She had generously drawn on and shared her own experiences, individually and within her organisation. Was it to undermine her? To wrestle back some power? To accuse her of letting down the sisterhood? To score some mundane points? It left me feeling frustrated…

Following this address, Hong-Anh went on to chair Diversity in the profession, with four panellists: Binni Brynolf, Natasha S. Chowdory, Heena Karavadra and Tom Peach. I won’t be discussing what was said, directly, as the session obeyed the Chatham House rules. It was billed as an opportunity to hear, understand and value the lived experiences of LIS professionals from under-represented groups. Quite literally a chance to enact the promise we had made to the BAME Network in the earlier breakfast session to educate ourselves and to listen. I am grateful to this group. It is a raw, emotional and painful process to explain your experiences in a world and profession that sees you as other. Yet again, it transpired that a delegate did not respect or understand the nature of the session – not my story to tell – but I do find myself wishing that some of CILIP’s most senior people had been present and had stayed to check on the panellists. If the difference between diversity and inclusion is moving from visibility to the embedded inclusion of people at all levels or from liberal, well-meaning kindness to radical, active inclusion… I feel that CILIP may have paused at diversity.

I MET ONJALI Q RAUF AND SHE HUGGED ME. Yes, I have been fan-girling about this ever since. It was fantastic to listen to the panel of Diversity, books and reading, including Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Sharmilla Beezmohun, Olivia Danso, Sita Bramachari, Peter Kalu and Onjali Q Rauf (I may have mentioned her already). The work by BookTrust to improve the under-representation of books written and illustrated by people of colour form the UK was inspiring and alarming: “Over the last 11 years, fewer than 2% of all authors and/or illustrators of children’s books published in the UK were British people of colour.”6 What happens to young people in Britain when they don’t see themselves represented in the literature they’re reading? What happens to their aspirations for further education, higher education or careers in the creative arts?

The panel stressed that the role librarians play in connecting children and young people to books created by people of colour cannot be understated. In his keynote address, preceding this panel, Patrick Lambe argued that books and collections have shape, tell stories, change minds, take people on journeys and capture diversity. His call to arms: when a society is in crisis, attend to the margins; the centre is well able to look after itself.7

Speed dating and AI

Conference also allowed me to broaden my understanding of LIS related fields of which I have no experience and little comprehension! For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed the Knowledge and Information Management round table discussion, chaired by Alison Wheeler, as an opportunity to meet professionals with very varied roles. As a library student, it reminded me of the scope of opportunity out there when I’m ready to leave academia and join the workforce again. The speed dating approach was genius as it meant delegates met different people and chose which fields they wanted to explore; in my case, managing upwards and maximising the value of spend on content.

The opening address from Kriti Sharma was dazzling: Can Artificial Intelligence create a fairer world? I’d never thought about the fact that household AI devices are given female voices and the implications of that: Alexa, Siri, Google Home. I know algorithms exist that mean Amazon pushes adverts at me depending on my Facebook content (I find it disconcerting) and that I receive different news notifications to the others in my household because of my click history… but I didn’t know the extent to which bias and stereotyping is embedded into the design of these algorithms. For example, it affects the jobs and education opportunities you’re shown online. It literally helps to hold the glass ceiling in place. Kriti is positive it can change. Not by signing up to do the right thing but by making it a part of the DNA: designing algorithms and AI which are human-centric rather than focussed on sales, click ads and digital addiction. After all, “When the robots take over, we want them to be nice!” 8

Kriti Sharman both entertaining and terrifying the delegates!

Surprise bonuses

As a distance learner, I spent two years studying with some wonderful people from all over the world without actually seeing them in person. Attending conference meant that I was able to meet staff from the Information School and fellow Sheffield students, all with the utmost professionalism on my part. Obviously.

Eugenia Fernández-Almirón and I actually finding the venue after asking for directions
Cathy Bell fixing the water fountain after Eugenia used it
Me spotting a lecturer in the flesh: Sheila Webber, Information School, University of Sheffield

As someone who never wins anything, not only did I secure the fabulous PMLG bursary, I also won something else at conference. Whist other (I might argue, less fortunate) delegates won books, vouchers, Kindles and iPads, I was the ultimate winner… The Design Concept are the UK office of Lammhults Library Design (@designconceptuk) and, living up to their brand, they had a gorgeous stand at the conference where you could win a canary yellow elephant. It was love at first sight and I had to get him. Delegates were challenged to name the elephant and the best name transformed into ownership. Twirly is named after a keynote address by Liz McGettigan (@lizmcgettigan) at CoLRiC conference earlier this year. She declared that those in the LIS world should “turn whispers into roars;” and, so, Twirly was born.

Twirly has been living his best life

Now what?

Leaving conference, I was buzzing and felt equally angry and re-energised. I wanted to discard the passive-sofa-moaning (you know, where you watch the news, rage at the TV but do nothing) and turn my thoughts into actions by heeding the rallying cries of all the speakers and panellists I’d been privileged to hear. Below is a list of conscious actions I’ve undertaken because of my experiences and learnings at conference.

  • I’ve signed up to join CILIP’s BAME Network as an ally and passed on the details to my boss.
  • I’ve added a series of pins to my lanyard (and my boss’ lanyard) that demonstrate we are allies. We’re hoping our students and staff ask us what they mean or why we’re wearing them so we can start the dialogue.
  • I worked hard to diversify our fiction collection last year, with non-existent funds! Moving forward, I am committed to continue with this, mindful of BookTrust’s statistics on British book creators of colour. I will also continue the impassioned dialogue, with my organisation, about increasing the visibility of diverse fiction.
  • I’ve re-arranged our fiction / reading for pleasure collection to enable a half-termly surfacing of stock related to a theme. The first theme, celebrating difference, tied into September’s International Day of Peace. The books are written by authors or feature characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and cultural heritage. As the year progresses, we will use the display to highlight equality, diversity and inclusion in different ways.
  • I created a display focussed on International Day of Peace, including the UN’s sustainable development goals9. They turned them into achievable actions for individuals, so I added these to the display and challenged our students and staff to think about which they will pledge to undertake.
  • I’ve spoken to everyone I know about the lessons I’ve learned from conference – regardless of their level of interest!
  • I’ve started to call out micro-aggressions, both those I receive (last month: who is the husband and wears the trousers?) and those I see others receive (a shopper pushing a stranger’s occupied wheelchair so that he could reach a shelf). In the case of the latter, I always seek the receiver’s express permission because I don’t want to disempower anyone.
  • As a household, we’ve continued the tradition of refusing to buy or receive Christmas gifts; instead, we donate much needed items and cash to a homeless centre in Portsmouth. I’m delighted that the business support staff at work are getting behind this cause in lieu of a Secret Santa, this year.
  • I did some voluntary work for the Trussell Trust and I’ve been adding items to the supermarket collection point every month.

I know that I will get things wrong and, in trying, I could very well offend the people I’m trying to include. I need to be receptive to criticism and I must reflect on what I learn. As Shirley Yearwood-Jackman argued, many people fear that questioning the status quo will reflect poorly on themselves10; I won’t allow my worry of getting it wrong to transform into cowardice or inaction.

This is just the start…11

References (And, yes, I’m combining Harvard APA 6th with end notes… the horror!)

1. Gorman, M. (2015). Our enduring values revisited: librarianship in an ever-changing world. Chicago, USA: ALA Editions

2. Jolly, L. (2019, July 3). Librarianship and identity: professionalism in a changing world [keynote address]. Manchester, UK: CILIP Conference 2019

3. Ibid.

4. Bolton, L. & MacInnes, N. (2019, July 3). Never going underground: LGBT archive collections at Manchester Central Library [seminar presentation]. Manchester, UK: CILIP Conference 2019

5. Blake, E. (2017). The father of modern libraries was a serial sexual harasser. Retrieved July 31, 2019 from https://www.history.com/news/the-father-of-modern-libraries-was-a-serial-sexual-harasser

6. BookTrust. (2019). BookTrust represents. Retrieved July 31, 2019 from https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/booktrust-represents/

7. Lambe, P. (2019, July 4). People of the book: knowledge in our society and our role in it [keynote address]. Manchester, UK: CILIP Conference 2019

8. Sharman, K. (2019, July 3). Can Artificial Intelligence create a fairer world? [keynote address]. Manchester, UK: CILIP Conference 2019

9. United Nations. (2019). About the sustainable development goals. Retrieved July 31, 2019 from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

10. Yearwood-Jackman, S. (2019, July 4). BAME Network: what it means to be an ally [seminar]. Manchester, UK: CILIP Conference 2019

11. The Trussell Trust. (2019). Logo. Retrieved July 31, 2019 from https://www.trusselltrust.org/

Things students have said to / about me this summer…

Student: Why aren’t you a teacher? You should be a teacher!

Me: Well, lovely student, funny thing… I am a teacher.

Student: Why you doing this, then?

Me: Because I love this. Because this is as worthy as teaching. Because I think I can help people doing this. More than I helped them when teaching. Because I also still get to teach in this role. Because… Michael Gove.


Student: Jo, it’s June.

Me: Yup, I know. It’s come around quickly, hasn’t it?

Student: What? Yeah. No, I mean, you haven’t changed the Riddles of the Month. Where are this month’s riddles?!

Turns out things you think aren’t gaining traction have actually taken root.


Student: Can we play [insert name of game] again?

Me: Sure. I’ve got 5 minutes.

Student: Can you let me win this time?

Me: Awwww. (Sympathetic noises). No. It’s not in my DNA.

Student: Right. We’re playing chess, then, because you don’t win that.”


Student: Is it safe to talk?

Me: (Concerned and receptive face and body language). Of course. Are you ok?

Student: Eh? Oh, yes. No, I meant have you seen episode [insert number relating to Game of Thrones season 8] yet? I need to talk about it; there’s so many things I need to get off my chest.


Student: (Walking into library) LA LA LA LA LA LA LA! (Jamming fingers into his ears) LA LA LA LA LA LA!

Me: (Yelling) What are you doing?

Student: I haven’t seen Endgame or Game of Thrones episode [insert number] yet so the library is dangerous. Don’t ruin them for me.

Me: I would never (absolute horror registered on my face and appropriately melodramatic hand gestures).

Student: No, I know you wouldn’t. It’s all the other [naughty word, rhymes with cluckers] I don’t trust. LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!


Me: (Helping out a series of students with chargers, Sharpies, laptops, punched pockets – also called, slippery fish – books, stapler remover, scissors, glue, every ramification of paper and a drink…)

Student: Jo’s the plug (to the room, very loudly).

Me: Eh?

Really wasn’t sure what to make of it. Initially, my mind wandered to the cute Christmas advert by Sainsbury’s… Was I like the little plug-boy, bringing joy and light to all?

That thought didn’t last long. I was suspicious but I did not want to Google it at work in case it breached our appropriate use of IT policy and set off sirens, triggered flashy lights and angered the Computer Services team. So I waited until I got home.

Apparently, it means someone in the know who can connect you to what you need. I quite liked it – seems like a pretty accurate description of librarianship. That was until I checked further sources (I am a nearly-librarian, after all) which stated the plug hooks people up to drug dealers.

No. No. No. Dislike. I also didn’t enjoy that I’ve become that old, I had to verify colloquialisms.

More than a display (part 1)

We’ve spent a lot of time this year working on displays in the library. My brilliant boss and I both herald from careers in the classroom so we may have a different outlook on displays from others in the library profession? Or at the very least different experiences?

I would contentiously argue that a display is pointless: in itself it has no meaning. It is merely the hook or outside shell for what you’re really trying to achieve. Any display that is purely for display’s sake will fail (of course it will… because it won’t have an aim).

Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship were written nearly a hundred years ago in 1931 but I feel they are still relevant today. I also believe the most effective displays are related to at least one of his laws. The brackets below show how his laws can be modernised.

1. Books (information / materials) are for use.

2. Every person their book (information / material).

3. Every book (Information / material) its reader.

4. Save the time of the reader.

5. A library is a growing organism.

The best way to prove show my point is with some examples.

Purpose: showcasing the stock

As part of our push to get more students reading for pleasure, behold… Bookflix. An idea pinched from the Twitterverse. We spent a long time accruing the right books: some purchased, some donated, some pulled from existing stock, some borrowed from our other campus. It was also important that we included a range of authors, content and genres: women, LGBT, BAME, drama, fantasy and so on. This theme has worked brilliantly as a book because students have been able to talk about and recommend the books based on their viewing experiences. We plan to use it on alternate years.

Anecdotally, this display has had more stock borrowed from it than any other stock-based display; hence this update which at least amused me. Since its creation, five or six books have been consistently on loan.

As part of our Christmas display, student and staff were encouraged to write to the library elves to recommend new books for us to source. This resulted in 20+ new items, each of which has paper sash to indicate who recommended it.

(Related to Ranganathan’s laws 1 – 3).

Purpose: stakeholder engagement

A member of staff said this would be a fun regular feature so we enacted his suggestion and visitors to the library or our Twitter feed have a go. We’ve also link it to English and Maths skills some months to support the GCSE team. A monthly turnover is achievable and it’s often a talking point when the new riddles go up.

(Linked to Ranganathan’s fifth law).

Purpose: managing social use of the space

Each of these displays is focused on giving our students something to do when they have down time: break, lunch, free periods, waiting for the bus. Lots of them play games or ask me to join in (I’m very competitive and offer no free passes!). Staff have also engaged with the games, using them as lesson warm-ups or as part of personal and social sessions. Lots of the materials have come from our personal collections because my boss and I both have lofts and cupboards full of junk useful items from our teaching days and the horror that was wet play.

Our Creation Station has proved that students are origami and Lego obsessed. We’ve often used the colouring in to help a student calm down or to distract them from issues. It’s also easy to make the Station reflect college or national events and holidays.

Essentially, these displays have really helped to forge healthy relationships between the library team and students but they’ve also been integral with behaviour management.

I also want to point out that only three people have beaten me at Boggle in the last year.

(Related to Ranganathan’s fifth law).

Purpose: supporting learning outcomes

Granted, this Maths and English display is not the prettiest but it is an example of how we support curriculum teams with student outcomes. It changes monthly to reflect the teaching content of GCSE English and Maths and advertises support and revision activities. We also display our revision stock and this is very specific: we choose guides that cover the monthly themes and also indicate which pages have relevant activities. I’ve recently learned that this process can be called surfacing – bringing some of the stock out of its normal place and putting it in the foreground.

(Related to Ranganathan’s fourth law).

This display was focussed on our Horticulture and Arboriculture students. The plant matter was from around campus and we coupled it with the plant and animal pamphlets specifically used for identification. Not only did it demonstrate the stock (Ranganathan’s first and third law), it also supported students with learning outcomes as this was the time of year their coursework entailed identification work.

(Ranganathan’s second and fourth laws).

Purpose: promoting services and guerrilla marketing!

There are many spaces around campus that attract students or offer them somewhere else to study; the HE room is one such space. I now visit regularly to tidy it up and display our services. The examples above include support leaflets for our digital content and what the library does over the exam season to help students.

During our Love Your Library campaign and Reading Ahead (national promotion of reading for pleasure), we delivered materials to many public areas: Costa, English classrooms, photocopier room, toilets and the post room. We also delivered paper flowers and signage to reception when the reception staff were at a meeting so that they returned to decorated desks. Slowly but surely, we’re trying to take over the campus. In a good way, not like a virus.

(Supports Ranganathan’s fifth law).

Purpose: engaging with our community.

A stunning display by my colleagues at the other campus. These books were made by students as part of their level 3 art and design course. The library then exhibited them and integrated some of our own stock. It was a brilliant way of supporting students and academic departments, at the same time as driving up footfall to the library because people came to see them.

(Ranganathan’s second, third and fifth laws).

Purpose: promotion of services

Rather than telling the staff and students all about what the library can do for them, we ran a month long campaign in February called Love Your Library. Staff and students were encouraged to participate in various ways, including by leaving us love notes! The whole library was saturated with homemade paper flowers and love hearts – it was a display that visitors couldn’t fail to notice.

(All of Ranganathan’s laws).

I’ll have some additional examples for part 2.

Strange stuff I’ve learned from students this spring

*** GRIM IMAGES at the bottom of the blog: you have been warned. ***

I fully appreciate that most of this won’t be strange or novel to many of you but here are a few of the things students have taught me over the last term.


A term to describe mammals in the horse family and this includes donkeys. Sounds like a Dr Who villain to me.


There are four types of injections: intravenous (into the vein), intramuscular (into the muscle), subcutaneous (into the tissue) and intradermal (into the skin, specifically the dermis).


Parasites that can transfer from animals to humans. They might act differently when living on or in their human host compared to their animal host. This makes me feel very itchy.


You can buy a ruler with scaled measurements already printed on it to help you with engineering, architectural drawings and landscape gardening.


You take a dog’s pulse on the inside of its thigh – or as we call it in this household, its chicken-leg. For an explanation of where the chicken-leg nickname came from, please refer to my model, Maggie: she’s posing to show you what I mean… None of these shots are the aforementioned grim photos; you still have that joy to come.


A shrub is defined as having multiple stems and being under 6 metres in height but mostly a shrub is a shrub because it’s not a tree. But a shrub can also be a tree. This is about as clear as the rules for cricket.


I cannot believe this actually has a real life purpose beyond tricky GCSE maths questions. I helped students to use tan to calculate the gradient of run-offs for garden designs. That’s quite possibly the first time I’ve used it in twenty years.

CARBURETTOR (or carburetor)

An engine gizmo but not used in modern cars because they were replaced with fuel injection systems. A carburettor mixes air with fuel – described to me as the French Shaker of a car engine. I did question the choice of metaphor given that drinking and driving is (rightly) a no-no. The response was that, just like a cocktail, the right mixing leads to magic.


The ruminant digestive system appears in creatures such as cows and deer to help them consume plant matter. They have four, yes FOUR, stomach chambers to help break down their food. Please note, I have three: food stomach, cheese stomach and chocolate stomach.


This is the proper name for those forged iron tools you use to poke and prod a fire. I like it because it sounds a little quaint.

And finally…


Self amputation. No, really. Some creatures can shed or discard an appendage to evade a predator or due to injury.

I was shown the photos of Lexie, a student’s lizard, who had dropped her tail the night before due to a miscommunication with the family dog. Dropping the tail sounds swift and accidental – the process is neither. Lexie spent some time with the tip of her tail clamped in her jaw, tearing it away from the main bulk. After this tale (you may laugh, that was a pun) and the shock of these photos, I chose to skip my lunch. This function is simultaneously genius and gross.


Are you sure?

Brace yourself…

Blagging it or is that the point?

I work for a large college group. Each site is relatively specialised and the campus I’m on features a lot of land-based and industry courses. This makes it absolutely the best place to work; it’s such a beautiful setting.

Some days, when I amble across campus, I’ll see a horse or two, someone carrying a ferret, a tractor, students swinging from trees with chainsaws (it’s alright – it’s part of their arboriculture course), nursery school students in a neat walking crocodile as they collect pinecones and horticulture students building bug hotels. All this against a soundscape of clanging from the forge, revving from the garage and sawing in the carpentry workshop.

Naturally, this range of courses means we receive a myriad of information requests each day from students and staff, with needs spanning learning, research, professional development and teaching. We run courses on a very wide spectrum from level 1 BTECs to level 6 HNDs. My degree is in English and Theatre Studies and I spent the first 14 years of my working life teaching English. My area of expertise includes pathetic fallacy, spliced commas, anthropomorphism and the semantic field. I can spot synecdoche and allegory from ten paces. Do I know anything about swim bladder, the diagnostic processes for feline renal failure, bombproofing horses (nothing to do with body armour), destructive testing methods, animal welfare legislation, butt joints (raise a single eyebrow here), carburettors, upsetting metal (not making it cry) or ascertaining soil PHs? The answer was* an emphatic no.

What does a library professional do when met with a request for information so far out of your remit it may as well be in another planetary system? Well, in many ways, the answer is simple: you do your job.

In a number of library settings, it is not the library professional’s job to draw upon a specific knowledge area. This is the case in an FE setting such as my own. Our sister campus does have subject librarians because the site is bigger with more staff. Our campus is smaller, ergo with a smaller team. Initially, our role is to connect the user to the information they need. To do so, we activate our information literacy skills: questioning, scanning, summarising, finding, seeking, evaluating, analysing. Thereafter, our role is to help the user to develop the skills they need to connect themselves to the information they want. In short, to develop their information literacy skills. These skills allow you to find out what you know, what you don’t know, what you don’t know that you don’t know! It is a skill set that goes beyond any single subject.

I don’t think I’m blagging it when I help a student find out how to diagnose swim bladder before they find their fish floating upside down at the top of the tank. I think I’m doing my job and using information literacy skills to demonstrate that anyone can learn how to blag research anything.

*Now, I know a little but I am by no means an expert.

Happiness level 10

Some days, in the library, the tiniest event will make you burst with happiness. In fact, the highs and lows (and highs and lows and highs and lows) remind me a great deal of the emotional rollercoaster of teaching because with the highs you know you’ve really helped someone else.

On Tuesday 22nd January 2019, at approximately 11 a.m., I experienced a level 10 happiness buzz. A chatty, bright, regular student was working in the library with the rest of her class and their lecturer. They were preparing for a looming assignment on animal disease… I can’t remember what, specifically. Our conversations went something like this.


Student: I don’t know how a library works.

Me: (Blank face) Eh?

Student: Honestly, how does it work?

Me: (Still looking confused) But… but… you’re always in here. Using it. That’s how it works. You come in and do what you need to do.

Student: Yeah… but how does a library work?

(I assume she means that she doesn’t know how the catalogue works or how to locate books on the shelves, both are common issues for our students).

Me: Right. Well, what are you researching today?

Student: We have to write about [specific topic I cannot recall].

Me: Ok. Come around here so you can see my computer. (I open the catalogue, show her how to use search terms and we write down some Dewey numbers for potentially useful books). Now we use these numbers like clues in a treasure hunt. Follow me.

(We walk around the library. I show her how the shelves are zoned and how to look for books first by locating the whole number, then the numbers after the decimal point and then the letters. We pick maybe four or five books. I’m feeling pleased that I’ve helped another student to become a more independent book seeker).

Me: Shall we add them to your account? You can do the scanning bit, if you like.

Student: Why would we add them to my account?

Me: Well, that’s a lot of reading. You might not finish it this lesson so you could carry on reading them at home. Maybe mark the useful pages with post-its.

Student: (Completely stunned, blank face).

Me: Okaaaaay. (Assuming she thought the pile looked unmanageable to lug home). Well I guess it’s a big stack; we could always leave it on the reservations shelf for you so they’re here next lesson.

Student: (A few seconds silence). You mean I can take the books home?

Me: Yes.

Student: To my house?

Me: Errr. Yeah…

Student: (Huge gasp).

Me: (Baffled). Are you okay?

Student: (Shouting and running around the library, and the adjoining computer room, addressing everyone in her lesson. Actually, even people who were not in her group). Oh my God, guys. Guys! Guys! Did you know we can TAKE THE BOOKS HOME?! This is the BEST THING EVER.

Me: (Internally). Ah. So when she said she didn’t know how the library worked, she literally meant she didn’t know how the library worked.


The student returned at lunch time and the end of the day and repeated the same public service announcement to anyone she hadn’t caught earlier in the day… all with the same enthusiasm and unbridled joy. At least half of the people she spoke to also hadn’t realised they could take the books home.

It was such a pleasure to watch someone realise one of the basic tenets of a library. Kept me smiling for several days. It also served as a reminder that I shouldn’t assume anything, ever.