Our Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library display for October marks Black History Month with a showcase of writers from around the world. From literary giants like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes to unjustly neglected writers like Bessie Head, our display is a starting point from which to explore black voices.
Among many from the Americas we have: Zora Neale Hurston, who portrays the harsh realities of life in the Deep South in nevertheless rich poetic language; Ralph Ellison whose prose urges the reader to confront the painful truths of political struggle; Maya Angelou and Alice Walker whose appearance on the literary scene in the 1980s offered a view of black women’s lives written from the inside.
African writers like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and more recent British voices like those of Aminatta Forna, Colin Grant and Jackie Kay investigate cultural dislocations and rediscoveries of heritage across continents.
We have interspersed our biographies this month with the works of some of these writers and hope you will enjoy both.
We are inaugurating a new strand of our displays this month, which will link some of the books in our Biography Store Collection to current film and TV, and also commemorate those famous people who have recently died. So this month, as the film “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” comes out, we have books on A. A. and Christopher Milne, and on Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe who are portrayed in the film “Borg vs. McEnroe”. Sad news of the death of Liz Dawn prompted us to display her autobiography.
The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library
While many of us will be familiar with major actors such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Mountbatten, and Nehru, staff researching for the display this month discovered that, for example, in 1905 Curzon, as viceroy, divided Bengal into two administrative divisions along roughly religious lines, though the resulting political crisis led to re-unification in 1911.
Also on the British ‘side’, a new viceroy, Minto, took over in 1906, and Kitchener was also involved in events around this time as British military chief in India.
Edwin Montagu, as Secretary of State for India, was responsible in 1919 for several reforms that gave Indians more influence in India.
Atlee and Cripps of the post-War Labour government were also involved, the former having been a supporter of Indian independence for years.
There were also many less well-known politically active individuals from the Indian ‘side’ at the time, including one woman, Sarojini Naidu, a poet, and the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state (United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, 1947-49).
Maulana Azad, the senior Muslim leader of the Indian National Congress, promoted Hindu-Muslim unity, secularism, and socialism, and was prominent in the development of education in India after independence.
Subhas Chandra Bose, another senior Congress politician, later fell out with other Congress leaders and tried to end British rule in India with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.
The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library
To get us in the mood for next month’s Wimbledon Tennis Championships, our Biography Collection display for June (in the foyer of the Lending Library at Kensington Central Library) features stars of the Wimbledon courts from the distant and more recent past.
One of the most interesting features of our unique collection is that its huge breadth and scope (over 80,000 volumes spanning more than two centuries) allows the opportunity to rediscover names that have receded over the decades, as well as those we grew up with (who in the 50-ish age group can forget the flowing hairstyles and theatrical tantrums of Wimbledon in the 70s?!) and those we’ll be hearing a lot of again over the next few weeks.
So, we’ll be displaying a fascinating book on Maud Watson, who was the first ever Ladies’ Singles champion in 1884 (though the MBE she eventually received was not for her tennis glory but for her work as a nurse during the First World War). Victorian modesty prevailed even on the courts, and it is difficult to imagine how she played at all in a floor length skirt over corset and petticoats. Alongside her will be much more recent, glossily illustrated books on the likes of Andy Murray and Serena Williams.
I have to admit my knowledge of tennis could be written on a ticket for Centre Court, but the stories in these books cover universal themes of ambition, glory, struggle and how emotions and relationships are managed in the glare of publicity and the rigour of remorseless training from a very young age. And that thwack of ball on racket, against the cheers and groans of the crowd, must be one of the most evocative sounds of this time of year.
If you would like to learn more about our special collection of biographies, we will be having an event on Wednesday 14 June, from 2 to 3pm as part of the Festival of Learning. We will be giving an introduction to the collection and then a chance to look at some of our most interesting books. Book a free place at your nearest Kensington and Chelsea library.
Did you know that Kensington Central Library is home to the Biography Collection? It contains approximately 80,000 books with over 1,000 new titles added each year. One of our readers has said that it ‘equals the British Library.’
It began as part of the Metropolitan Special Collection which was set up among the London boroughs in the 1950s. Every title in the collection is available to view and borrow.
Every month, the library staff put together a display from the collection; this month’s display features the Kennedy family to mark the centenary of the birth of the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy on 29 May.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century. It is free for library members and now includes biographies of 59,003 men and women who died in or before the year 2010 — plus 504 ‘Theme’ articles for reference and research.
No living person is included in the DNB; it currently covers those who died in or before the year 2010.
To have an entry in the Dictionary is not an ‘honour;’ rather it’s an acknowledgement that an individual has shaped an aspect of national life (for good or ill), and is duly recorded for today’s, and future readers and researchers with an interest in the British past.
Includes over 11,500 portraits covering 2000 years of British history, the portraits include a wide range of forms—busts, medals, statues, effigies, death masks, and silhouettes, as well as more ‘conventional’ paintings and photographs.
Accessibility: Free to use and available 24/7!
Below is an example of a typical entry which includes wealth at death, sources and referencing at the very bottom;
In case you’re interested, Sir Bobby Robson’s wealth at death was £3,552,430!
This is a guest blog post from Sutherland Forsyth from Kensington Palace. We regularly work with staff from the palace on events for adults and children in our libraries.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day Sutherland tells us about one of the greatest love stories in history.
‘My dearest Albert put on my stockings for me. I went in and saw him shave; a great delight for me.’
Queen Victoria, 13 February 1840
Oooh-er – that’s a bit racy! A gentleman running his hand up a lady’s leg, her sneaking in to watch him as he gets ready….can this really be the prim, proper, grand old Queen Victoria – dressed in black with a scowl on her face – with whom we are all so familiar?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Queen Victoria was always a woman of passion: strong-willed and spirited as a girl, confident in her role as monarch, and loving as a wife to her husband Albert. The relationship between Victoria and Albert was one of history’s great love stories, and it started on the Stone Staircase at Kensington Palace on 18 May, 1836 when her cousin Albert arrived to visit her and her mother. She felt an instant attraction to him, and over the next few years they corresponded regularly.
After marrying in 1840, Victoria and Albert went on to have nine children, 39 grandchildren and over 1,000 other descendants. There was deep affection as well as mutual respect between this royal couple, and when Albert died at the age of 42 from typhoid fever in 1861, it left Victoria devastated, plunging her into a state of mourning which would last until her dying day, over four decades later.
People remain fascinated by Victoria and Albert’s love affair. When I speak to community groups, run projects with them or take them to Kensington Palace as part of my job as an Outreach & Community Involvement Officer at Historic Royal Palaces (the charity which looks after the public side of the palace), it is striking how some of the small details of their story really strike a chord. There may be well over a hundred years separating us from them, but the emotion of their story still resonates today.
Sutherland Forsyth is the Outreach & Community Involvement Officer for Adults at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity which cares for the State Apartments at Kensington Palace
If you want to find out more about Victoria’s life you can visit Kensington Palace and see her story told in her own words and through objects which once belonged to her – from her wedding dress to her stockings, her paint set to her jewellery in the Victoria Revealed exhibition.
Kensington and Chelsea libraries holds a nationally renowned biography collection at Kensington Central Library (we’ve blogged about it before). There are over 80,000 printed works with over 1000 new titles added each year.
As part of our celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Lindsay Robertson, Senior Customers Services Assistant has looked into how Jane Austen features in our biography collection.
Revisiting Pride and Prejudice is a bit like meeting up with old friends. Characters like the scoundrel Mr Wickham, silly old Mrs Bennett and her sarcastic husband and, of course, our heroes Elizabeth and Darcy have been cherished by readers for two centuries. But how well do we know the lady behind the book?
Jane Austen presents biographers with a challenge, as very little is actually known about her. Despite being a successful novelist in her own lifetime she enjoyed her privacy, which her family dutifully kept even after her death in 1817. This hasn’t stopped our curiosity as Kensington Central Library’s biography collection holds over sixty titles dedicated to the author.
Dear Aunt Jane
Though she never married, Austen was a devoted family woman. The biography collection owns a memoir by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh composed from various family recollections. The second edition contained Jane’s previously unpublished material, including Lady Susan, a cancelled chapter of Persuasion and extracts from her unfinished works Sanditon and The Watsons. We also own several titles on the Austen family including Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family through Five Generations and J C & E C Hubback’s Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers.
“Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?”
The biography collection has books of Jane’s collected letters, with some reproduced in her own handwriting. The majority were written to Cassandra Austen, Jane’s only sister and closest friend, though many more letters were burned after Jane died. Those left tell few secrets yet they capture Jane’s delightful turn of phrase, even when describing the dullest everyday activities. Cassandra once summed up her relationship with Jane in the words ”I had not a thought concealed from her”, so we can only imagine what her famous sister might have written in return.
The whole story?
The family accounts have been criticised for censoring details of Jane’s life. We can’t help but wonder what she truly felt about her writing career or her real life love affairs. There was a ”youthful flirtation” with Tom Lefroy (later Chief Justice of Ireland) and she once accepted a marriage proposal from a friend’s brother only to withdraw it the next day. According to Cassandra, Jane fell in love on her travels, however the gentleman in question was never named and apparently died before he and Jane could meet again. Much as we regret losing the chance to know her better, we can appreciate the Austen family’s wishes to keep Jane’s personal life private.
A novel life
Readers discover the real Jane Austen through her books. Judging by our collection, it seems that several biographers have done likewise. There’s Jane Austen and her Art by Mary Laschelles, Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds by Oliver MacDonald and Introductions to Jane Austen by John Bailey, which focuses on each novel in turn. She also appears in a book by Francis Warre Cornish in the series “English Men of Letters” – I’m sure the irony would not have been lost on her!
We see the author’s rational and romantic sides in the Dashwood sisters of Sense and Sensibility, the loving aunt in Emma and the older Jane in Persuasion’s complex and composed Anne Elliot. Most of all, we find her in Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. Like her heroine, Jane was independent, strong-willed and didn’t suffer fools gladly unless she found humour in them. In Lizzy’s words “Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can”.
Perhaps this is why Elizabeth is one of the most beloved heroines in literature – her creator’s wit and vivacity can’t help but shine through.
We’re starting to feel Christmassy at Kensington Central Library- hence the picture of the library in the snow!
The decorations are up in the library and we have Christmas books on display in the adult and children’s library. Pop in to take a look- they may help if you’re lacking in inspiration!
We’ve also had some Christmas events with the help of the fantastic staff from Kensington Palace.
On Saturday 10 December there was a Christmas event for our readers at Kensington Palace in Queen Victoria’s bedroom! Everyone had an excellent time listening to some classic Christmas poems and readings whilst munching on mince pies and Christmas cake.
On Monday 10 December the palace came to our children’s library to make Victorian Christmas cards and decorations. 25 children came along and had a fantastic time with ribbons, lace and Victorian pictures!
We thought for this month’s blog post we’d introduce you to some more of the staff at Kensington Central Library and what they do. Before I hand over to them let me wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from everyone at Kensington Central Library!
Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
All Change at Kensington Central Library
The recent re-opening of our children’s library now means that our customers, young and old, are now able to fully utilise the lending library once more.
Self service equipment has been installed across all service areas bringing us into line with all other Kensington and Chelsea libraries and it has proved a hit with the public, even self-confessed technophobes are being won round to the convenience of being able to issue and return books themselves.
The layout of the library is the most striking difference when you consider the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of the work that has gone into the refurbishment. Gone is the monolithic issue and return counter and the confusing maze of entrance and exit gates, instead Self service kiosks and a book sorter for returns are directly accessible as soon as you enter the library, flanked by attractive shelving for our new book stock as well as current displays.
Further in you can see the result of the restoration of the listed wooden shelving and pillars which literally gleam as a result of a bit much needed bit of TLC. Newer shelving snake along the middle of the library floor replacing the older, taller, metal stands used previously for our CD’s and DVD’s.
And, arguably, our pièce de résistance is the new Children’s and Young Persons space which looks so impressive! It truly is a more welcoming and brighter space for young kids and teens to enjoy.
So please pass it on, we are well and truly open for business.
Mike Green, Senior Customer Services Assistant
Our Young Readers Recommend….
We have some keen young readers returning a much enjoyed book, are invited to share their choice with others by filling in a short review. The book is then displayed with their review recommending it. These recommened reads are very popular- they fly off the display!
If you’re a teen and you’ve read a fantastic book (or you know a teen who has) then pop in and complete a card!
Penny Girling, Customer Services Assistant
The Biography Collection
As we’ve written about in a previous post, we’ve got an amazing collection of biography books at Kensington Central Library. One of our Customer Services Assistant, Lynn Terrell tells us why she enjoys working with these books:
I love working in the biography collection. There are such a lot of books, and such a variety. My own favourites are the books written by ordinary people – not politicians or celebrities, but stories about what it was like to grow up in a village during the Great War, or how it felt to have a grandmother who didn’t believe in self-indulgence (Grandma Called it Carnal by Bertha Damon).
Part of my job includes creating displays of books from the collection, so that the public have a chance to see some of what we’ve got. Sometimes I tie this in with other things that are going on, for example, in October, we had Black History Month, and at the moment we’ve got American Presidents, following the recent election. I try to change the display about once a month, and Childhood Reminiscences will be coming up in March. (Hollywood stars in January, and great lovers and love letters in February.) It will be interesting to see if others share my enthusiasm for these slightly more obscure but fascinating books.
Because a lot of the books are quite old, and difficult to replace, I have to try to make sure that they are kept in good condition, and sometimes that includes minor repairs. (Photographs in particular have a tendency to fall out, and need to be stuck back in.) Also, it’s very important that they are all labelled correctly, or they’d end up in the wrong place, and nobody would be able to find them. Everything that gets put in the biography collection has to be relabelled first, and that’s my job too.
The Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library
Kensington Central Library is home to the biography collection, which contains an estimated total of 80,000 books. It began as part of the Metropolitan Special Collection which was set up among the London boroughs in the 1950s. It’s a very well-used resource and every title in the collection is available to view and borrow.
The classification of biography includes memoirs, letters, diaries and speeches. The works of renowned public speakers like Winston Churchill and prolific letter writers such as Queen Victoria can be found here. We also stock collected biographies (about more than one person). Many of our holdings are out of print (the earliest we have date back to the early 1700s) and difficult to find elsewhere. Over the years we’ve amassed books from other public libraries, academic institutions as well as donations from members of the public. This makes our collection as unique as it is expansive.
What’s fascinating about the biography collection is the range of interests it caters to. Many of our titles cross into other subjects with artists, scientists, world leaders and historical figures. Saints and sinners, emperors and slaves – you’ll find them all here. From works of academic research to light-hearted showbiz stories, there’s something in the collection for everyone.
As the biography collection is inaccessible to the public, we select materials for display in the library. These are often tied to events, festivals and library promotions. Here are a few we have exhibited this year…
Dickens Bicentenary: How the life of Charles Dickens inspired him to write his memorable stories and characters. With over one hundred holdings on the life of the novelist, we had plenty to choose from!
The Queen’s Jubilee: To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II we gathered together some books on her early life as well as the sixty years of her reign.
London 2012 Olympics: Our “Sporting Heroes” display documented the trials, tribulations and victories of some of the world’s most famous athletes.
All of the titles can be found on the library catalogue and are available on request. They can be issued to anyone with a valid library card.
Take a peek at the biography collection we have a video on our website. Want to see more? We will be holding tours of the collection in January 2013, keep an eye on our What’s On page for further details!