The re-invention of public libraries

It’s funny. The moment someone declares something as dead, chances are that whatever it is (vinyl records, fountain pens, paper books, watches, dumb-phones, bespoke tailoring, cinema, polaroid cameras, postcards, beer, butter, cider, cycling, Russia …) it reappears, often with renewed vim and vigour. I think public libraries are a good example.

Excellent article on this subject from the Guardian newspaper (thanks Corrina over in Sydney).

The Future of Bookshops

Screen shot 2016-03-16 at 11.39.36

I’m trying to write something for the Bookseller about the future of bookshops. It’s not going especially well. However, I have been doing some research into good bookshops and there are some cracking ideas out there, most of which, incidentally, could easily be borrowed by other bookshops or indeed libraries. BTW, why don’t more libraries have bookshops in them? Conflict or compliment?

A very quick list of good bookshops

The Society Club in London – quite possibly the bookshop model of the future
Wild Rumpus Books in the US with its kid-sized front door
Herne Hill Books, the bookshop embedded in the local community
Reading ‘Spa’ at Mr B’s Book Emporium in Bath
Selexyz Books in Masstrict.
Plural Bookstore in Bratislava
Cook and Book in Brussels
Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires
Atlantis Books in Santorini
The Tiny Bookstore in Rye

Future Library


I do love this. A Future Library project, created by a Scottish artist called Katie Paterson, has started with the planting of 1,000 trees just outside Oslo in Norway. They will slowly grow and while they do a writer will be invited to contribute a text to the collection each year – for the next 100 years! In the year 2114 the trees will be cut down and will be used to create the paper for the books.

I especially (and obviously) like the idea that someone else thinks that paper will endure another 100 years and also the thought that some of the writers that will contribute works haven’t been born yet.

Some links here with the Clock of the Long Now. Also links with a story (probably untrue) about an New College Oxford planting some oak trees 500 years in advance.

Artist website for future library  here.

Article on future library  here.

Idea of the month

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 17.03.53





This is interesting. Text streaming technology. Not sure if I want to do it, but it’s certainly radical. Interesting implications for libraries, publishing, education and, of course, reading.

What is it? The company explains it this way:

“The time consuming part of reading lies mainly in the actual eye movements from word to word and sentence to sentence. In addition, traditional reading simply takes up a lot of physical space. Spritz solves both of these problems. First, your eyes do not have to move from word to word or around the page that you’re reading. In fact, there’s no longer a page – with Spritz you only need 13 total characters to show all of your content. Fast streaming of text is easier and more comfortable for the reader, especially when reading areas become smaller.”

Thanks to Luke who put me onto this.

(Update) On the Future of Public Libraries

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 08.55.55

I’ve done an update to my thinking on public libraries called ‘Novel Spaces: The Future of UK Public Libraries’, which can be found here. It’s for Quadrapheme, an online literary magazine. Apparently, the next issue features an essay arguing that public libraries are dead – or should be. Can’t wait for that!  Also on the site at the moment is a lovely essay about the importance of paper called ‘Surface Matters: Why I Buy Books‘ by Alexander Monro.

Out and About


Here’s a first. I just had an email from Jesus! I could be making a giant mistake, but I put him in my spam file. On a totally unrelated note (unless Jesus is lying low in the Netherlands) I’ve just been to Amsterdam for the second time in a month and found some great graffiti. I also love the art gallery and library in the airport.

BTW, if you are planning a visit I can highly recommend an Asian fusion restaurant called Momo and the best steakhouse this side of Texas called Julius.


Things you should be able to do in your local library

Sorry, got caught up with some work and then somehow managed to open the car door onto my head, which confused me a bit. How is this even possible? Still rather sore 3 days on. Anyway, libraries…

Following on from my lecture in the Netherlands, here is a list of things that I feel you should be able to do in a local library. With acknowledgement to Thomas Frey from the Da Vinci Institute in the USA, who also spoke at the conference.

Borrow books
Read books
Borrow music
Listen to music
Borrow films
Watch films
Borrow toys
Donate toys
Borrow a meeting room
Borrow clothes (especially work clothes for interviews)
Donate unwanted clothes
Borrow a pet
Borrow a heater
Borrow a fridge
Borrow a computer, iPad, Kindle etc.
Borrow an expert in something
Eat a meal (especially if you can’t afford to eat)
Sit quietly all day without being asked to leave or buy something
Play with a 3D printer
Build Lego
Learn a language
Learn how to use technology
Find yourself
Improve yourself
Photocopy or scan things
Meet people
Engage in conversation with people that live alone
Exchange knowledge, information and wisdom
Get out of the cold and wet (sun in Australia)
Gain access to pay-walled information – for free
Look up your family history
Access government services
Have a health check
Learn to read
Listen to stories
Ask questions
Use a telescope (yes, at night)
Use the (very clean) bathroom
Attend a local event
Paint or draw
Swap plant seeds
Exchange recipes

Please add some more things under comments…

Why people use libraries

So it turns out that one of the most popular questions asked of public librarians in the Netherlands is….”where are the toilets?” Joking aside, the cleanliness and quality of bathrooms isn’t a bad USP. With McDonald’s it’s one of the major reasons women with small children visit. Showers? Why not. If public libraries are becoming freelance spaces this would not be a bad thing to add. Off to the airport – where there is apparently a library. More on what you might be able to do in a library in the future tomorrow.