A witness in the archive: Paris, May 1968

From the archives: 1968 has become synonymous with radicalism. 


1968 around the world

Around the world, in 1968, people began protesting. Several countries in Eastern Europe experienced major unrest. In Czech, the Prague Spring was a hopeful period of liberalisation, artistic exploration and democratisation.

The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements in the US ramped up, following the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. West Germany experienced the 68er-Bewegung which saw protests against the Vietnam War, ex-Nazi officials still in positions of power and universities. London itself saw rioting in Grosvenor Square. The reporter calls it “a vicerage teaparty” in comparison to events in Paris.


1968 in Paris

Paris was the centre of this whirlpool of revolution and it began with the students. On 2nd May 1968 the authorities shut down the Paris Nanterre University. On 6th May a protest was called by the French NUS. Events developed from this and barricades were thrown up. Heavy handed responses from the authorities led to further action and mass sympathy.

Following more protests and more violent responses, a general strike was called on 13th May. After this day workers began strike action and by one point in May around two thirds of French workers were on strike. There were demands for a new government. On 29th May, President Charles De Gaulle had (briefly) fled from France.


City and 1968

Published in June 1968 in the Beacon, a eye witness account offers a clear sighted report on the events. It describes the violence of both sides, but also the solidarity and optimism of the students: “It seems that nothing less than social revolution will satisfy their desires”.

Paris in May, Beacon June 1968


The legacy of 1968

1968 is sometimes called a political failure for the protesters. Following events in May, France held a general election which De Gaulle’s party safely won. Czech was invaded by Russian Troops in August and American involvement in Indochina expanded under Nixon.

Perhaps the greatest legacy of 1968 was the social liberalisation which we are still enjoying today. Reading firsthand accounts like this however, remind us that we all have a duty to protect everyone’s rights and to support peaceful engagement that questions society.



Bookable Individual Silent Study Desks return for 24/7 Opening

As part of our exam season offering, Bookable Individual Silent Study Desks will return to Northampton Square Library.

To help you plan and organise your exam preparation, Library Services are offering Bookable Individual Silent Study Desks on weekdays from 30th April – 8th June. Sessions of two or three hours are available from 9am to 9pm. You can book one session a day, with a maximum of two sessions per week. Each session can be booked up to one week in advance. Full terms and conditions are outlined on the bookings page.

The bookable desks are for individual silent study and you can find them on Level 5 (on the right hand side as you enter, just behind the Library Help Desk). Each of the bookable desks is numbered and adorned in the unmistakable and handsome livery of Library Services.

A student surrounded by books and able to concentrate in silence

Do a good deed on World Earth Day

UN International Mother Earth Day (sometimes called World Earth Day) is on the 22nd April. This day celebrates planet earth and its many interdependent ecosystems. The day reminds us each that we have a collective responsibility to live in harmony with nature and achieve sustainable balance.

The UN have developed a series of Sustainable Development Goals. These range from ensuring there is no poverty and zero hunger to protecting the seas and supporting clean water and sanitation. Following these will mean that everyone can enjoy and prosper in the world.

Good deeds

You can support International Mother Earth Day by making a few simple changes or doing some good deeds.

1. ABC  = Always be carrying, whether it’s a reusable water bottle, a keep cup for take away coffee, or an extra bag for those last minute shopping trips. Don’t use single use plastic. It will end up in the ocean even if you bin it after use.

2. Plan meals carefully to avoid food waste or reuse uneaten food the next day.

3. Walking a few minutes each day is good for your physical and mental wellbeing. It can also support sustainability.

4. Grow a plant at home. Plants are good for clearing the air and it could also produce food. A chilli plant is easy to grow from either seeds or seedlings.

5. Switch off lights or devices when not in use. This is an easy one that any one can do.

bee team around hive
The City Bee Team examine one of the hives on top of Innovation Centre


Head to the City website to read more about the variety of schemes which City organises to ensure sustainability at City and to promote sustainable development in the community.

From the archives: Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

One of the gems of our rare books collection is a complete copy of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which was published in 1789.

12 beautiful leather bound books
Twelve books of Decline and Fall

It’s a six volume work. Each volume is split in two making twelve books in total. The complete work covers the story of the Roman Empire from the second century CE (the time when Gladiator was set) to the fifteenth century. It’s not just a history of the Roman Empire but the history of much of Europe, Africa and Asia during this long period.

The first volume was published in 1776, the same year when the United States of America declared Independence. The final volume was published in 1788 (the year before the French Revolution). This was a time of both great change and disruption, but also continuation and tradition.

This period is sometimes called the Enlightenment. During this time scholars around the world (especially in intellectual centres like Birmingham, Edinburgh, Paris, London and Boston) wrote books and articles which challenged previous ways of thinking. Gibbon was part of this movement. He  believed that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by, and caused, the growth of medievalism. He thought this was a bad thing and that the Roman Empire was a good thing. The Roman Empire was built on colonialism and slavery and saw massive inequality.

Decline and Fall is both an epic work and a piece of sustained scholarship, however it is of its time. Some of Gibbon’s conclusions are not necessarily followed today, but he is still praised for a fine and vigorous prose style.

frontispiece image
The frontispiece

The state of scholarship

This map shows the relative knowledge of Italy and Egypt. Italy was a stopping point on the infamous Great Tour and many rich Britons would have visited it. Very few Europeans had traveled to Egypt at the time Gibbon was writing his work. Now a days a lot more is known about Egypt, almost more than Italy or Greece, due to discovery of extensive papyrus records.

A line drawing map of Eastern Mediterranean
A map of the Eastern Mediterranean
Greece and Italy map line drawing
A map of Greece and Italy
Egypt map line drawing
A map of Egypt

The author

Gibbon was briefly an MP in parliament but his greatest achievement was this history. He was noted for the critical use of primary sources and was a great example of the value and importance of a solid underpinning of information literacy.

He was also a very well traveled man and a part of that great European Republic of Letters which has survived even to this day in places like City, University of London which value and support the importance of internationalism.

Author portrait from frontispiece

For many people, perhaps, Gibbon’s legacy can be summed up in the apocryphal words of King George III ”Another damned big black book, Mr. Gibbon. Scribble, scribble, scribble – eh, Mr. Gibbon?” It’s certainly a big book, bigger than anything by Tolstoi, but just as readable.

In the 240 odd years since its publication, even though few have read it and the world has changed, many of Gibbon’s presumptions and ideas have become commonplace. Returning to the beginning and learning good information literacy, we can learn to challenge many of these ideas and begin to write our own histories.

Fairtrade Fortnight

This year Fairtrade Fortnight takes place from Monday 26th February to Sunday 11th March. 
This is an opportunity to celebrate the great work which Fairtrade does around the world to make a difference to the lives of the people who grow the things we love: chocolate, coffee, wine, bananas, gold. 

How does Fairtrade work?

Fairtrade change the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fair deal for farmers and workers in developing countries. 
The Fairtrade Premium is a small increase in the cost of some goods which goes directly to the farmers and farming co-ops. This allows them to invest in their communities.
This small price can support things that have a massive impact on communities around the world: education and healthcare for children, or building infrastructure such as roads.

19 International books you really must read in International City Week

As part of International City Week we asked Library Staff for their favourite books written by international authors or with an international theme. Check out their recommendations below.

Tove Jannsson, Moomins series*

“Moomins are adorable, and very gentle, and mostly kind”.


Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

“One of my favourites would definitely be the blind Argentinian librarian Jorge Luis Borges. It’s hard to select one specific book by him; I’ll go with Ficciones, which is a selection of stories. Borges’s oeuvre is a world of its own: a mesmerising rumination on life and the limits of our thought and logical reasoning; plays with permutations and time; human life viewed from above like in the paintings of Bruegel the Elder or Hieronymus Bosch. It’s literature that demands intellectual involvement – which certainly pays off.

For anyone interested in getting more insight in the thought and (sometimes humorous!) personality of Borges, I would also recommend reading his conversations with Richard Burgin in the “Last Interview” series published by Melville House ” says Dita.


Elsa Morante’s House of Liars†

“A very unknown book, written by one of the best Italian authors of the 20th century. It’s a family history, taking place in Southern Italy. All the characters are vivid and full of flaws, an aspect that makes them very relatable (if not always likeable)”, says Martina.


Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children or Ben Okri’s The Famished Road

Both books taught me much about the countries in which they are set. They actually create language”, says Jonathan Winter.


Haruki Murakami

“Set in Japan all of his books have great characters and his love of music, cooking and cats are always involved. I always look forward to his new books coming out. Some of short stories were adapted to the theatre by Theatre de Complicite and shown at the Barbican. I would thoroughly recommend giving his books a go” says Lisa


Maria Turtschaninoff’s Maresi                  

“A dark, feminist fantasy with fairy tale elements that is an engrossing read.”


Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard*

“Favourite book ever.  This is a real masterpiece and Lampedusa’s only novel. I have only read the translation. It is set in Sicily, the closing chapters are very moving and I’ve not read many other novels which give the same feels. I don’t think we have it in the Library but the book is quite famous for it’s evocation of sumptuous food.

I also recommend Carluccio and the Leopard,  where Carluccio – the gorgeous giant of Italian cooking – recreates some of those recipes in the book”.


W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz

“This book tells the story of a young man who fled Czech in 1930s on kindertransport. It’s very sad in a quiet devastating way. I read this on the way to work. The same train route is mentioned in the novel. I am not sure what the translation is like, but if it’s like the original it will be very good.”


Elif Şafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice*

“A gorgeous, rich novel which instantly transports you to 16th century Ottoman Istanbul.   “But Istanbul is a city of easy forgettings. Things are written in water over there, except the works of my master, which are written in stone” says Hannah.


Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

“What a charming book. Packs a punch and you learn something.”


Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian         

“I have happy memories of being sat reading this on the bus, laughing out loud so much my sides hurt and being stared at by other passengers wishing they were having as much fun as I was.”


Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes (AKA The Lost Estate or The Lost Domain or Der große Meaulnes)* 

“Written in France just before the First World War, it is a poignant coming of age novel that I first read in my late teens and it has stayed with me ever since.  John Fowles described as “the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature”, which I agree with.  I may have been a teen 86 years after it was written, but it still struck home, representing the emotions of adolescence and what you lose when you grow up.  Tragically, it was Fournier’s only book as he was killed in the first few weeks of the First World War a year after its publication”, says Rachel.


John Dos Passos*

“Not read much these days, he sums up Paris and New York for me in a way no other author does”.


Leo Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina  

“Tolstoi definitely knew what passions and love were about. I read this book in about two weeks. I was literally flying through it every time Anna was on the scene. I’m not sure whether Tolstoi wanted to show her as a sinner or a heroine, but for me she is definitely the latter.” says Martina.


Karl Ove Knausgard* or Dostoyevski

“Karl Ove Knausgard – at the moment. One of my whole time favourite is Dostoyevski.  Knausgard’s writing is not literary but his story telling is very engaging and his descriptions are amazing. The subject matter, describing his family history is also fascinating. Dostoyvski’s writing is simply amazing. In Crime and Punishment he describes brilliantly the mind of the criminal and the suspense is intense.” says Lenka.


Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

“It opened my eyes to serious issues at an early age, much to the embarrassment of my parents.” says Lynn.


Eli Goldstone’s Strange Heart Beating*

“Seb’s wife beautiful Latvian wife Leda is killed by a swan and Seb ends up searching more to find out about her background. A very moving examination of longing, grief, love and international themes. I highly recommend it”.



* Held by Islington Libraries
† Held at Senate House Library


What’s your favourite international book or author? Tell us in the comments below:


Love your planet/Love our oceans

You may have seen the increased media attention around the damage plastics are doing to our planet, in particular our oceans.  But did you know there are simple steps you could take to reduce your plastic use:

1. Rather than buying bottled water, make use of the water fountains around campus. We have one on Level 3 of Northampton Square Library.

2. Purchase a reusable cup and get a discount on hot drinks on campus and at many high street stores.

3. Say no to plastic straws and disposable cutlery. It is possible to buy sets of travel or camping cutlery that you can store in a small case that easily fits into the pocket of a bag.

4. Take a bag with you when you go shopping. This will not only reduce your plastic use but also save you paying 5p for a new one. If you regularly buy loose fruit and vegetables, you could cut the waste even further by reusing plastic bags for your fruit and vegetables!

5. Avoid excessive food packaging. Record how much plastic you use over the course of a week and consider whether there are alternatives. If you are unable to avoid excessive food packaging when shopping and are feeling brave, then take it off and leave it at the till. This becomes feedback to the supermarket that excessive packaging is not welcome.

The Homeless Period

This winter Library Services raised money to donate sanitary products to Hackney Foodbank.

William, the Hackney Foodbank warehouse manager weighs our donations.

Currently homeless shelters are not provided with money for tampons and towels.  With limited or no access to sanitary products, homeless women are often forced to go without. Homeless Period believes that tampons and towels should be made available through homeless shelters, the same way the government provides condoms. This charity encourages individuals to donate sanitary products to local homeless charities or food shelters.

You can support this great initiative by visiting their website, signing their petition, or donating a tampon.

For homeless women, it really is that dreaded time of the month.

Donations from staff

Staff from Library Services organised a series of events to raise money. They set up a festive bake off, a drop-in Christmas decorations making event, quizzes and  donated money that would have been spent on Christmas cards across all four library locations. Over £100 was raised for sanitary products and other items which Hackney Foodbank needed.

Homeless Period

Hackney Foodbank

Sustainable Libraries

Library Services are keen to support sustainability and the local environment and community. In the past year they have collected books and lent their expertise to growing a children’s school library, pledged to cut non-reusable plastics wherever possible and promoted recycling.

A bake off


The most wonderful films of the year

Christmas is a great time to bring together everyone, to wrap up warm, open a big tin of sweets and enjoy a cracking film. Whether you like modern comedies or classic weepies, we’re got something for you.

shooting star

Elf [BoB]

“Its hilarious”


Muppet’s Christmas Carol [BoB]

“It’s just so jolly! Love the songs… love Gonzo and Kermit, generally… it gets me in the spirit!”

Christmas with the Kranks [BoB]

“It highlights commercialism and the work involved, but shows the true meaning of community and sharing at the end. We are better and stronger together”.

A Christmas Story [BoB]

“This 1983 holiday classic about a working class family in the American Midwest struggling through Christmas in the 1940s has become an institution in the canon of American films.”

Snowman [BoB] 

“A happy/cosy time with my children”.

“It’s too sad really but pretty cold”.

Home Alone [BoB]

“It’s a classic, ’nuff said”.

The Family Stone [BoB]

“Very relatable when you have to visit your OH’s relatives at Christmas”.

Anything 80 or 90s with a shopping scene at Bloomingdales or Saks

Nightmare before Christmas [BoB]

“I went to see it in the cinema when I was little and loved the songs”.

Meet Me In St Louis [DVD]

“It’s a sweet, happy film, with memorable characters and the famous song ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas'”.

The Wizard of Oz [BoB] 

“What’s not to like?”

A Chrismas Carol [BoB], Oliver [BoB], Mary Poppins, Get Santa, The Santa Clause

“Juz love em!”

Trading Places [DVD]

“It is set at Christmastime but does not focus purely on Christmas, and it is very entertaining but has a serious message that is very relevant to our current times.”

Scrooge [BoB]

“How wonderful”

It’s a Wonderful Life [DVD]

“Makes me cry”

Gremlins [BoB]

“Makes me scared”. Chosen twice.

Disney’s Christmas Carol

“It was always on during Xmas, it reminds me of my childhood!”

Love Actually [BoB]

Samantha loves this film. She “has a detailed list of reasons why”. Another member of staff loves the scene with sneaky love rat Alan Rickman buying some jewelry in a high end shop up west, “best scene in a Christmas mover ever – handsdown”.


This year (2017) the Northampton Square Library will be open 27th – 29th December 10 am – 6 PM for self-service and reference only use. Check Library Services website for more information on library opening times.

Have we missed anything? What’s your favourite festive film?

The specials’ time of year

For some Christmas means one thing: Christmas themed TV specials. Nothing brings people together better watching than sitting around the box watching emergency births, surprise reunions and timely snow falls.

You can research the TV of Christmas past with this selection of excellent TV chosen by library staff.

Christmas crackers

Black Mirror White Christmas [BoB]

“This is such a cool series about technology and society in the future, this one is especially great if you need to get away from the sugar of Christmas !!”

“It twists a dark, compelling, and unsettling story around Christmas and technology”.

Extras Christmas Special

Arrested Development – the Christmas episode ‘Afternoon Delight’ [BoB]

“Whilst not the best ever episode of the show it has the key ingredients of a dysfunctional family, a bad Christmas party, and awkward moments, all put together with the running jokes that the series is famous for”

The Blackadder Christmas Special [BoB]

“It turns Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on its head and it hilarious”.

Knowing Me, Knowing Yule… with Alan Partridge [BoB]

“Love everything about this”

Ab Fab

“I like the Christmas special, the one where Patsy tries a little Turkey”

Peep Show Seasonal Beatings [BoB]

“I love that Peep Show where Mark’s parents come to them and Superhans goes as well.”

Family fun

Thomas and friends Ho Ho Snowman

“A lot going on in this one. Very deep”

Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special [BoB]

“It’s just so nice. At first. Then it’s hilarious”

Morecambe and Wise, Only fools and Horses, Gavin and Stacey

“Just love em!”

Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special

A festive glitterball competition

Worlds Strongest Man

“Not a Christmas themed show but something we would watch every year as a family”. All them glistening, oily muscles, oh don’t.


Cold cut classics

Royal Family

“No idea if it’s still going  but I’ve always liked their Christmas Specials- mainly because it caters to the humour of both my parents, which makes it an easy one to watch as a family, which is rather lovely.”

It is still going. Recently one of the younger characters announced his engagement.

University Challenge Christmas Specials and Professor Higglespoon [sic], Ab Fab Christmas special, Only Fools and Horses when Del Boy falls down the bar, Year Wipe etc

“Just love ’em”

Morecambe and Wise

“Still find them funny even when they are repeated many times”

The Tractate Middoth [BoB]

“Have wanted to see if for a few Christmasses now but been unable to because my Christmas companions have thought of it, a funny name, but I absolutely love the book. I’m looking forward to getting a big plate of cheese, a well aired Burgundy and watching this one day”.


This year (2017) the Northampton Square Library will be open 27th – 29th December 10 am – 6 PM for self-service and reference only use. Check Library Services website for more information on library opening times.

What’s your favourite Christmas shows? Tell us in the comments below.