Developing a library in an historic building

Until I came to WEST most of the libraries I worked in were in modern (i.e. mid-20th century onwards) buildings. Even if the space hadn’t been designed as a library it was generally large and adaptable. WEST however is largely housed in a mid-19th century mansion, and consequently the library has to be accommodated in a series of rooms, requiring a degree of invention in terms of layout and arrangement! Admittedly there are benefits, the rooms have interesting architectural features such as the ceiling details.

                                 Image       Image

The rooms also boast large south facing windows which ensure plenty of natural light, and the high ceilings give an airy feel. But there is no escaping the fact that these rooms were all originally designed for domestic purposes and consequently there is far more division of the space than is desirable, with odd nooks and crannies affecting the position of shelving, study spaces, etc. The following photographs illustrate how space has been adapted.

Image   Library Reception

Image  General shelving with IT beyond – sometimes the layout gets cosy!

Image                                           Special Collections – On the plus side the division of the space allows the creation of special collection rooms where valuable items can be securely housed these images show the David Wright and Weslyan Collections. Note the antiquated equipment for using microfilm that forms part of these collections.


More modern parts of the building allow more open arrangement as the newly completed study area demonstrates.



Lessons learned –

  • Think about function – what do you need to do in the space, storage, access, study, equipment, creative commons (and therefore, power and data requirements)?
  • What does the space force you to do?
  • Traffic flow.
  • Service areas
  • How to make it look attractive?
  • How to make the areas self-policing – particularly important with limited staffing.

Th process is ongoing, exciting, and I’m still learning!


New Semester – thoughts on Christian Unity

At the start of the new semester I am struck by the plethora of divisions within the Christian Church. Whilst in some areas we need to make clear stands, as for example against Roman Catholic doctrines, or the heretical views being espoused by Steve Chalke, too often Christians are not merely maintaining doctrinal, ecclesiastic distinctions, but actively engaging in trench warfare, seeking to prove themselves more Reformed, more Calvinist, more true to scripture than anyone else. Weblogs from churches and Christian leaders are full of attacks on different leaders for what are often secondary matters. The command of John 13:35 seems to have been forgotten, and in the rush to prove the soundness of our credentials, I fear that many churches, whether denominationally based or independent who could, and indeed should work together are too busy separating on matters where scripture allows difference. We would all do well to remember that orthodoxy in doctrine can still lead to rejection by our saviour (Rev. 2:1-7; Matt. 25:31-46). Paul also points us away from worldly division (1 Cor.11:19), and whilst the context was the communion feasts, the wider principle applies that divisions should only be promoted to avoid subverting the gospel.

One of the great strengths of working at WEST is that although firmly committed to the Reformed doctrines, both staff and students are drawn from a range of of perspectives under that umbrella, and through the discussions arising from our differences we sharpen one-another as we debate those matters that might rightly be deemed secondary. Cromwell’s appeal to the General assembly of the Church of Scotland (August 3, 1650), “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken”, seems to me to be an appropriate attitude to hold on such secondary issues. As we start the new semester I look forward to being challenged, rebuked, exhorted and encouraged by brethren from traditions different from my own, but all equally debtors to the amazing grace we receive through the Son of God by which we are become, “… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pt. 2:9, NAS).


Going to Hell in a handcart?

Following multiple Christian bloggs is both informative and depressing. Inevitably they focus on the newsworthy, which often as with secular reporting is the outrageous or spectacular, and theologically usually where “gurus” are going off the rails. The appearance they give is of a church in terminal decline, the abandonment of “sola scriptura”, the invasion of world based cultures, and the idolatrous elevation of self-focused egos. Are we indeed going to Hell in a handcart?

But wait a moment – hasn’t the Church in the West been here before, and infact is it not the case that the greatest membership of the church is in the non-western world. (After all the church is the sum of individual believers, not buildings and structures). Above all else is God not sovereign – the one who said “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

So deep breathe, pause, reflect on God, on the history of His dealings with the church. What we see might in that light be termed little local difficulties, resulting from the discipline of a God who is holy and not mocked. Should we be demonstrating in the streets, arguing about the loss of a Christian nationhood co-terminal with the political state (a highly unscriptural position)? Or do we as repentant children return quietly to our God, pray, if necessary fast, examine ourselves, and look to God to act… Oh and rejoice that in Africa, Asia, South America the redeemed are daily being added to the Kingdom….

How are we defined as Christians?

The above question may seem odd, even pretentious, however, it is I think pertinent in today’s secularized western society where the church can so easily adopt the values of the world around it. This reflection was prompted by a bolg on “part-time” church attendance ( At the heart of the problem is our conception of church, and tied into that the role of the pastor/preacher/ minister. Too often we conceive of ourselves as saved individuals, rather than a saved community, yet throughout the New Testament the Acts, and letters describe not a bunch of individuals who happen to get along, but a church, a community, a body, of which Christ is described as the head, the chief cornerstone, the high priest (Acts 2:44f., 1 Cor. 3:16; 12:1-31, 1 Thess.1:1, Hebrews 1, etc). Participation isn’t optional in part because existence outside the Church is impossible. It is therefore imperative that the body is well led and taught. Continue reading

Ambition, vanity, pride and hubris.

As I prepare for a new academic year, I am doing so at two levels. As academic librarian I am seeking to ensure that the service and guidance I offer are at the highest standard I can achieve, and therefore, hopefully of real help to students and staff.

I am also preparing to return to study myself, and herein lies my problem. As things stand I will start the Grad.Dip. programme in September by distance learning. Positives are obvious, I will be more aware of what the full-time students face, my subject knowledge will hopefully increase, my mind kept active, and possibly a foundations for future ministry (within the academic environment). However, I cannot escape a nagging doubt that I am pursuing this course for selfish reasons, the ambition, vanity, pride and hubris of my title. Is WEST best served by me undertaking more advanced theological study? How will my family life be impacted? Is it more about my own feeling of self-worth, rather than the service of the Church: an unspoken competition with academic colleagues in the teaching faculty? Am I up to it anyway (particularly the Biblical languages element)?

I haven’t really resolved any of this in my own mind one way or the other, so the only thing seems to be to keep going, prayerfully, and trusting that God has a purpose in this for His glory.

Grace in mundane things

Ten days ago (Friday) I drove north to collect No. 2 daughter from Northumbria University. The plan was to stay overnight at my parents, collect daughter the following day return to parents and after morning worship and lunch head home on the Saturday. “Best laid plans ….” and all that! Car breaks down and fix the following Monday doesn’t work. Tuesday hire car – none suitable available but company manage to find one – return home with daughter and chattels, etc. Wednesday work at WEST, Thursday drive north, collect own car again, fuller fix doesn’t work, return to parents, discuss buying new car at the garage they have used for 30 yrs, long phone call with my wife, check models available, etc., and agree what we want. Friday get to garage with old car (No problems), desired vehicle still there, test drive, v. happy, pt. exchange, new car MOT’d and serviced, drive home. Nothing particularly spectacular, but every stage over ruled by God and needed provision made – lesson we are never outside God’s gracious provision!

Suffering and faith

Generally in the west we don’t face persecution, but suffering can take other forms. Health is a particular issue especially where it impacts wives/husbands and children. Colleagues are particularly affected at the moment through the loss of babies in early pregnancy, caring for a young mum dying of cancer, and other health concerns. But this has never been exceptional, Jesus warned us that in this world we would have troubles, giving the lie to health, wealth and prosperity teaching. The key question is in coming through these things is our relationship with God through Christ any better? In the extremity of need do we like Abraham, believe God, even when it feels as if He is our enemy? Often the fruit of our experience does not appear until distance and time have given us perspective. As we go through the experience our only anchor is to hold to God’s declared and proved (Christ on the cross) love for us.

Some initial thoughts

Having started a blog the question is always what do I write? There’s a lot going on at the moment, and as this blog is intended to address matters of library relevance, education, and theology this first piece will be a bit of a pastiche.
One of WEST’s ex-students jokingly (I hope) requested that the twitter account, WEST_library would not be about boring books. The question is, are books boring? Is the new world of e-information much more interesting and effective – after all I am writing this for an on-line medium, the blog. I would venture that the real picture is much more complex and exciting, a world where traditional print media combine with audio-visual, and digital sources. A simple illustration from six years ago serves. As an academic librarian I access JISC e-mail lists. One of these mentioned web casts from a US university on digital information, publishing and librarianship. Following up the link I obtained access to several hours of free, high quality lectures and other material on the subject. One speaker recommended the book ‘Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become’ by Peter Morville which I bought and read (I’ve just bought it again having lost my first copy). This in turn led me to a variety of Web pages. The point is we now draw from a range of information sources, so whilst we should not be fixed on the concept of finding a book on the subject, neither should we dismiss books as boring – you never know where they will lead! Continue reading