Refer Spring 2015: Special Issue on Discovery and Discoverability


Table of Contents

 Databases Are Scary! Odile Harter, Harvard University

 How Useful are Library Discovery Tools? Helen Edwards, Editor Refer

 Face2Face=Traction Barbara A. Williams, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 Introducing LibrarySearch at the University of Kent Lynsey Blandford, University of Kent

 Discoverability of the Blitz in Bloomsbury Ruth Hayes

Discovery at The National Archives Gavin Walsh, National Archives

 Access to Research in Public Libraries Jonathan Griffin & Julie Oakley

 CILIP Debate: The role of the Librarian should be that of Teacher, Information Literacy Group – 10 Feb 2015 Birmingham

Report of the SCOOP Meeting held on Wednesday 11th February 2015 Steven Hartshorne, Bolton Central Library

 Short Notices: Ministry of Justice, Library of Birmingham, Gavin Broughton

Refer, the journal of the Information Services Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), is published three times a year and distributed free to members of the Group.

Editor: Helen Edwards
Editorial team: Lynsey Blandford, Ruth Hayes
Cover layout: Jonas Herriot
Contact: Helen Edwards 07989 565739; Copyright © The contributors and the ISG 2015
Online edition

Reference Awards 2015: Call for Nominations

Did you spot the best reference work of 2014?

If you believe you did, why not nominate it for the Information Services Group Reference Awards 2015

The work, in print or electronic format, must have been published between 1st January and 31st December 2014. It needs to be available and relevant to the library and information sector in the UK

Closing date for nominations is 30th June 2015

Information Resources for Young People

For the Information Services Group Special Reference Award 2015 we are looking for any work, in print or electronic format, that can assist young people in their search for information.

Titles must have been published between January 2009 and December 2014 and be available and relevant to the library and information sector in the UK

Closing date for nominations is 30th June 2015

Do you know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the world of reference and information services?

If you do, why not nominate them for the Information Services Group Walford Award 2015
Nominees can be anyone who has made an outstanding contribution to the world of reference and information services. Nominations are welcome from anyone who knows and respects the work of the nominee.

Nominations close on 31st July 2015


Databases are Scary

Odile Harter, Harvard University


A student arrives at the reference desk, slightly cryptic citation in hand, for help tracking it down. After hitting a couple of dead ends, I explain that the next step is to figure out the appropriate subject database and search there. Her face brightens: she knows the one! Her course had a library session on it. Has she already looked there for the citation? No, she says, “I tried, but I just couldn’t figure out how it worked.”

The colleague who’d led the session is an excellent and engaging teacher. The student herself seemed resourceful, intelligent, and eager to learn. So this was a bright and motivated student who had a citation, knew the name of the best database for finding out more information about it, had seen an informative demonstration of that database, and yet was unable to use the database to fill out the missing information.

A library search interface can be extremely challenging, especially for students who spend all day in interfaces that are geared toward full-text searching. A print phone book forces you to think about what category a certain business might be under, or to think alphabetically by last name. By contrast, Google and other commercial search engines have conditioned us all to use simple queries and trust the algorithm to deliver the “best” options at the very top of the results list. When we encounter a system that is not organized in a way that immediately makes sense, there is usually a search box we can turn to, or we can find a good-enough alternative in a site that is searchable. Rarely do we have no choice but to read through a list of menus until we’ve managed to figure out how to navigate them. (Store aisles are one of the few examples that come to mind.) There is a subtle but important difference here: when we use a search box, we’re usually thinking about a vernacular rather than a controlled vocabulary. With Google, the fastest way to a satisfactory result is to predict what other people would type in.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that students have trouble choosing appropriate databases and constructing optimal search strategies. One particularly troubling finding is the degree to which students depend on relevancy ranking algorithms to do their cognitive work for them. Framed in terms of the “anthropology of algorithms,” Google’s deceptive simplicity takes on a sinister aspect. The phrase is from Andrew Asher, one of the lead investigators in the ERIAL Project, who notes that the secrecy around search engines’ precise recipes for determining relevancy “makes it difficult for students to fully understand the embedded politics of how information is organized and retrieved.”[1] Lucy Holman’s study of the mental models of first-year students at the University of Baltimore similarly revealed a great deal of fuzziness in students’ understandings of how a search engine processes their query. One participant admitted “I don’t know what it does because I’ve never thought of this; I just type my words in.” Some participants anthropomorphized the search engines, assuming they intuited the user’s information need and reformulated the query accordingly: “None of [the search engines] connect all the words together… they just kind of pull out whatever they feel is the most important word.”[2]

Some of the poor search results our students see are the direct result of their poor search skills, exacerbated by their own unawareness of the deficit. (How often have you seen a student take the first page of search results as proof that his topic is obscure or unstudied?)[3] And the cognitive leaps required to imagine structured data and engage in algorithmic critique present significant obstacles to developing more sophisticated search strategies.

To make matters worse, library systems tend to be really, really complicated. Vendors continue to increase the number of resources included in their aggregated databases, making it even harder to locate appropriate and relevant material in a results list.[4] Compounding this overload of information in individual databases is the sheer number of different interfaces a university library offers up for patrons to navigate. Even something as simple as identifying the link to full text stumps an alarming number of users.[5] I spend all day with structured data, and yet when I want to remember just how confusing the library ecosystem can be, I need only think about how I feel when a research consult takes me into a database I don’t often use. How does this thing work again? What does this one mean when it says “article”?

 In other words, databases are extremely challenging. However difficult and foreign we imagine library research to be, it is in fact even more difficult and foreign to the students.

To learn something difficult and complicated, one must be strongly motivated. And yet, there is often a mismatch between the research effort librarians expect of students and the research reward they receive from the professors who grade them. If the assignment asks for, say, 10-15 sources, then a few simple keyword searches in JSTOR, or consulting a professor or other expert, will create just as impressive a works-cited list as a search conducted with low to moderate expertise in the appropriate database. It will also leave the student more time to work on critical analysis of those 10-15 sources, and may ultimately reward the student with a higher grade. The student who came to the reference desk with her partial citation had chosen an efficient strategy.[6]

This is not to say that faculty don’t push students to find better sources, or that there aren’t fantastic partnerships in which the tasks assigned are perfectly calibrated to the actual difficulty students experience with library databases, and in which the course’s learning goals and assessment criteria give students a strong understanding of the worth of the enterprise. Rather, it’s to suggest a shift in emphasis toward the cognitive leaps themselves. Most of the students I teach will never look at the MLA Bibliography again after they’ve left college; it may not even be necessary for their current project. But they will face a lot of complicated interfaces, obscure indexing, and mystery-shrouded results ranking. Perhaps the most useful thing they can learn from me is to be unafraid of the interfaces, deduce the indexing, and question the ranking. Not to balk at a failed search; to locate the help file. And perhaps these skills are more important than the particular database they train on or the sophistication of their first few search queries.


[1] “Search Magic” ( 5 Dec 2011). See also “Searching for Answers: Student Research Behavior at Illinois Wesleyan University” (co-written with Lynda Duke, in College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know [Chicago: ALA, 2012]).

[2] “Millenial Students’ Mental Models of Search: Implications for Academic Librarians and Database Developers” (Journal of Academic Librarianship 37:1 [2011]).

[3] See, for example, Asher and Duke p. 77.

[4] Barbara Fister, Julie Gilbert, and Amy Ray Fry noted this alarming trend in 2008: see “Aggregated Interdisciplinary Databases and the Needs of Undergraduate Researchers” (portal: Libraries and the Academy 8:3 [2008]) for their arguments in favor of the small and intensely curated general-interest index of yore, as well as their surprising findings on librarians’ uncritical attitude toward the quantity of material included in aggregated databases.

[5] See Emily Singley, “Top 5 problems with library websites – a review of recent usability studies” ( 1 Oct 2014). Helen Anderson and Sarah Sexstone remark that the “whatever works” method used by students, faculty, and librarians alike is complicated by interfaces that “multiply and change almost daily” (“‘Whatever Works’: Finding Trusted Information,” in Studying Students: A Second Look, ed. Nancy Fried Foster [Chicago: ACRL, 2013]).

[6] For students’ intentionally “small compass” as well as common pitfalls of assignment prompts, see Project Information Literacy’s 2010 reports, “Truth Be Told” and “Assigning Inquiry.”

How Useful are Library Discovery Tools?

Helen Edwards, Editor Refer


At the OCLC EMEA Regional Council Meeting The Art of Invention (February 2015), at least three speakers used the image of a black hole to describe the problem of finding resources on the web. David Weinberger, Senior Researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, likened libraries themselves to black holes, pointing out that while it is possible to find out all about any film ever made on the Internet, there is still no reliable way of linking to a book – if you don’t count Amazon. Technology providers have been keen to promote their discovery tools as the answer for librarians, the way out of the black hole. Now that discovery tools have been in use for several years, there is the opportunity to step back and look at their impact and usefulness in libraries. This paper gives a brief overview of the evidence for and against.

Library based web discovery engines – such as Primo from Ex Libris, Summon from Serials Solutions and EDS (EBSCO Discovery Services) from EBSCO – first came into use in 2009 and are now in place in many university libraries worldwide. They are capable of supporting concurrent searching of very large datasets, either licensed or open access. Unlike the federated search tools which preceded them, the web discovery engines work by compiling their own indexes to the major library content sources and then configuring them to match the holdings of the individual library customers and additionally incorporating some local content. This enables them to return a consistent result set neatly in their interface, covering content in multiple formats (books, articles, media etc.)

Introducing discovery tools at the UCL seminar on Discovery and Discoverability in December 2014 (from which this issue of Refer borrowed the name) Professor John Ackroyd identified their key features:

  • Simple interface including a Google like search box.
  • Ranking algorithms to organise results.
  • Use of facets: authors, formats, main topics.
  • Enhanced searchability: fuzzy searching, concept searching.
  • Click through to full text content.
  • Branding and customization opportunities for the library.
  • Some personalisation features – saved searches and email – and social discovery – integration with Twitter, tools for sharing and discussion, recommender functions.
  • Single sign on to all databases.


Those libraries that have implemented discovery tools generally report increased use of library resources. Statistics also show a more even use of resources by exposing more specialized / lesser known products to more users. This is especially so at undergraduate level and especially also when users are looking for known items, ie where the user has the reference for a specific book or article.

Speaking at the Discovery and Discoverability seminar Dave Pattern from the University of Huddersfield finds that many students take the “fast food” approach to research. They use the most convenient method to search and stop when they reach minimally acceptable results. Pattern’s experience of Summon at Huddersfield reflects the general trend of search volumes increasing and a more even spread of database use. However it is also possible for usage for a specific database to fall. This is often because students previously confined their research to a single key tool – recommended by their teachers – and now are getting their content from a wider range of sources.

Matthew Reidsma, Web Services Librarian at Grand Valley State University Libraries Michigan and the very first customer for Summon in 2009, describes how he believes discovery tools alleviate the friction libraries have traditionally added to the search process: The library with 1000 databases. He thinks the problems users often have using library resources is more about familiarity than complexity, which is why the single search box offered by discovery tools can be less daunting than a list of options. He concludes, based on several years experience with his users: Web scale discovery isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s an effective way to help patrons feel more comfortable and to keep the focus on what they really need to do.


However many libraries are finding that, while useful, discovery tools have not reached the inflated expectations of early adopters and replaced all other methods of searching for information.

Research quoted by Aaron Tay from the National University of Singapore shows that on average about 40% of hits of databases come from discovery tools, meaning that 60% come from other routes. Faculty and research staff are also much less likely to use discovery tools, often preferring either open web sources such as Google Scholar or Mendelay or searching publisher databases directly. and indeed Tate quotes recent research to show faculty use is actually falling in recent years. Tay identifies four possible scenarios for the future of library discovery tools:

Discovery Dominant – Web Scale Discovery continues to grow and become the prime source of discovery displacing Google, Google Scholar and other external sources (Unlikely)

II Discovery Deferred – Web Scale Discovery continues to be used alongside other non-library tools. Most often it will be used as a secondary source after looking at other places first (Possible)

III Discovery Diminished – In this scenario, Web scale discovery services have been displaced in their discovery role, and are used for known item search only. Kind of like a glorified catalogue, except it includes article, conference etc. titles (Perhaps)

IV Discovery Decommissioned – This is the most extreme scenario, where the whole system is removed and doesn’t even play a role in known item searching. (Unlikely) (7 December 2014)

Tay’s views about the limited utility of discovery tools also seem to be shared by many members of faculty, especially in the sciences.   The most public stance against discovery tools has been taken by the University of Utrecht Library, which decommissioned their OMEGA discovery tool in 2012 stating: At Utrecht University we strongly believe that academic libraries have lost their role in the discovery of scientific information and should focus on delivery instead. The Utrecht librarians found that while usage of Google Scholar and Web of Science / SCOPUS increased rapidly year on year, usage of the discovery tools remained steady and did not justify continued investment. Instead they focus on making sure that users can access the full text of content the library pays for.   They offer the library’s SFX Open URL knowledge base to Google Scholar so that it knows to which journals users have access to full text and thus links to this rather that a pay wall. Utrecht has also developed a Javascript bookmarklet which can be added to a browser so users can enter their username and password to access the databases without having to go through library pages


The art of invention: culture, technology and user engagement in the digital age

OCLC EMEA Regional Council Meeting 2015, Florence, 10–11 February 2015.

Discovery and discoverability

UCL Department of Information Studies, 3 December 2014.

 Thinking the unthinkable: doing away with the library catalogue

  1. Kortekaas and B Kramer

Insights 2014

Face2Face = Traction

Barbara A. Williams, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

How do we get students to come in and talk with us about their research? I am sure many librarians on the instruction frontlines have contemplated that question. The purpose of this discourse is to explain how face2face instruction sessions on controlled vocabulary leads to opportunities to introduce other research tips and tools. The allure of finding that one special single search box that will explore multiple databases, at the speed of light, is enticing to the rookie academic researcher. There are a number of vendors trying to fulfill the single box expectation evidenced by the rush to create more and better discovery tools. Yet, the results of a given search are only as fruitful as the relevant terms used in the query. Thus guiding users to understand and be able to identify a databases’ controlled vocabulary, in addition to producing better searches can pave the way to introduce and teach other useful library resources.

Graduate advisors in the Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are encouraged by their department to introduce their new students to the term, controlled vocabulary. In some instances the introduction of controlled vocabulary as a search method is referred to the AeroAstro librarian to explain and demonstrate. These one-to-one instruction and demonstration sessions are scheduled in one-hour slots. However, it does not require an hour to explain the ins and outs of controlled vocabulary as that can be successfully done in about fifteen minutes, and when it is done well the result is a positive learning experience. Positive learning experiences seem to peak students’ curiosity about other research tips, which usually accounts for the other forty-five minutes.

My one-to-one instruction sessions on controlled vocabulary begin with a conversation about the term, designated driver, which in 1991 “became a household phrase in the United States” according to the Harvard Alcohol Project1. The discussion begins with a question that aims to find out what parents told their teenagers about drinking and driving in the 1950’s. Inevitably while answering the question, the term “designated driver” is mentioned to which I say, “although the concept existed in the 50’s the term was not in America’s vernacular.” The ensuing discussion usually consists of how people find information in budding fields when they are not privy to the lingo specialist use. After such a discussion I follow up with a hands on activity with the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

In my office I have two volumes from an old edition of LCSH, one covers the A’s and the other covers the S’s, and yes I routinely use them. I also let the students take a gander at the books too, and to their surprise the suggested list of search terms under their various topics and subject headings are more extensive than they imagined. Next, without fail, the students pull out their cell phones to take pictures of the list of suggested search terms, which is so efficient.   Searching the Library of Congress Subject headings may seem somewhat outdated but students appear to find it extremely helpful, often inquiring about other such research game changers.

Needless to say, by the time we start poking around in the thesaurus of a particular online database, students are already on board, in terms of when it is to their advantage to search using controlled vocabulary. This activity is usually followed up with a brief conversation on precision searching versus free-text searching.

I often find that the “researcher’s story” of why they are looking for specific information, gets in their way of constructing useful search terms. So while the initial invitation is to come in and learn about controlled vocabulary, in the first few minutes it becomes apparent that we need to spend some time reviewing how to eliminate the “noise” in their “story” by which I mean eliminating unnecessary verbiage. Typically, the student brings in a paragraph explaining their research but once we get to the heart of the matter we end up with one sentence in which we can isolate useful key terms to search.

Of course once we start to plug in terms and the student starts to find information I ask, “what citation package will be used to store, sort and organize the information captured from your search?” As you can see one thing leads to another e.g., will you be using figures in your document? If so, this is what you need to know… Helping users understand how to identify a database’s controlled vocabulary typically can lead to a brief overview of a library’s resources and services. More importantly it begins a necessary conversation, which looks at gathering information as an informed process.

1Winsten, Jay A. (2000). “The Harvard Alcohol Project: Promoting the “Designated Driver””. In Suman, Michael; Rossman, Gabriel. Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry.




Introducing LibrarySearch at the University of Kent

Lynsey Blandford, University of Kent


There has been a recent upsurge of university libraries upgrading their catalogues to resource discovery tools. The University of Kent has introduced LibrarySearch, ExLibris’s Primo, to enable library users to search all resources via one Google-style search box. The increase in distance learners or students living off campus has increased demand for access to information online. Google has also had an impact: ‘the web has raised people’s expectations; many now expect that every bit of information can be obtained through the web easily and usually with no cost’ (Chowdhury, 2010, p. 473). Spezi et al.’s (2013, p. iv) research on library discovery technologies found that by May 2013, 77% of UK HE libraries were already using a Resource Discovery System RDS, 11% were in the process of implementing one, and Summon, Primo and EDS accounted for 76% of the systems in use.

LibrarySearch has centralised the search for books, journals, and e-resources in addition to the library’s Special Collections. The real motivation behind its introduction is to improve discoverability and access to library resources for study and research. LibrarySearch imports metadata to an index and applies an algorithm to search and retrieve. It can merge duplicate records and importantly for the user, it can group different types and editions of the same item (e.g. e-book and book) while also offering permanent links, ensuring the user can find the item again.

The tool was launched at the start of term, 19th January 2015 and has received positive feedback especially for its potential to search for journal articles. Feedback is currently being compiled via an online form and at service points which will help identify any issues and shape future enhancements.

The launch has included a promotional campaign to raise awareness of the change and provide guidance. Library visitors will encounter screen buddies placed on resource terminals, as well as posters, full-size banners and bookmarks all featuring key messages. The bookmark, for example, stresses the benefit of LibrarySearch and offers tips:

  • Find books, articles, DVDs, digital content, Special Collections – all through a single search box.
  • Start with a broad search – then use the filters on the right to narrow it down!
  • Sign in – to manage your loans, save searches and favourites, and find even more resources.

Support from front line staff and drop-in 45 minute workshops aimed at different users, including undergraduates, students writing dissertations and researchers are intended to ease the transition from VuFind to LibrarySearch. All staff working within the library have attended introductory workshops prior to the launch and had the opportunity to attend regular project update meetings.

Testing by library staff

The Lending Services team was responsible for testing the account functionality of LibrarySearch to ensure that users would be able to successfully manage their library accounts. Testing took the form of questionnaires with a set of task-driven questions for members of the team to try on the LibrarySearch sandbox, a testing environment for the tool. These were conducted at key points of the tool’s development and explored simple tasks such as identifying books on loan, due dates and fines, to more complex tasks such as recalling a book and viewing its status as well as understanding user blocks. Colleagues recorded any areas of concern which were then passed onto the project team.

In late summer 2014, we also arranged workshops to bring together key staff to identify problems and to agree on viable solutions. The workshops took place in training rooms with access to PCs or laptops. Group discussion was encouraged, with each member taking a turn to explore a task on the main screen in front of the group. Many of the issues that arose centred around usability; and suggested changes ranged from improving the display of fines to altering language. The workshops were critical in gaining a consensus of opinion over what needed to be changed which could then be communicated to ExLibris.

User testing

User testing was conducted in early summer and winter 2014 by the IS Publishing team and colleagues from Academic Liaison Services, Collections Management, Learning & Resource Development and Web Development. In late November ten people participated in user-testing and these included three undergraduates studying English, American Studies & English Language Teaching and Economics & History. Postgraduates were represented by four students studying Law, History, Comparative Literature and Post-colonial Studies. There were also three members of staff from Corporate Communications and the Unit for the Enhancement of Learning & Teaching. Testing was conducted on a laptop; however, there was the opportunity to use an Android smart phone and iPads. They tested a number of scenarios including ‘finding a known book’, ‘finding the classmark in the building’, ‘looking at items you have on loan’ and ‘searching for e-resources on a topic’. There was a noticeable improvement in the relevancy ranking of search results from previous testing in June. User comments led to improvements such as the change on the landing page from the option ‘Switch to Medway’ to ‘I’m based at Medway’. Following testing a link to ‘location by classmarks’ was added so that it could be accessed at point of need.

Conclusion – what next?

At the moment, our priority is providing our users with the search skills to use the new tool. It is all too easy to assume that every visitor to the library will be able to instinctively find a resource or information. Workshops are ideal for the library user who is proactive and aware of the potential to improve their skills, for others, help from staff at the point of need is far more effective.

Collating and responding to user and staff feedback is an ongoing task which is crucial to improving the service. Usage statistics will also be analysed to identify any trends. The University of Birmingham introduced Primo in 2012 and noticed ‘the number of visits for “resource discovery” [rose] by over 96% between January 2013 and May 2013’ (Bull and Craft, 2014, p. 52). The project will not end with completion of LibrarySearch’s implementation, but will continue by monitoring the behaviour of users and by working to enhance the tool to reach its fullest potential.


Bull, S. and Craft, E. (2014) ‘How we FindIt@Bham using Primo’, SCONUL Focus, 60, pp. 47-53.

Chowdhury, G. G. (2010) Introduction to modern information retrieval. 3rd edn. London: Facet.


Spezi, V., Creaser C., O’Brien, A. and Conyers, A. (2013) Impact of library discovery Technologies: A report for UKSG. Available at: (Accessed: 30 January 2015).









Discoverability of the Blitz in Bloomsbury

Ruth Hayes

 Ridgmount Place: bomb damage 26 April 1941 (Courtesy of Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre)

Ridgmount Place: bomb damage 26 April 1941 (Courtesy of Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre)

What is discoverability and what forms does it take in our quest for information? Although the idea for this issue of Refer was to discuss the role of library catalogues in how we make our discoveries, this article describes a search trail which has led to the creation of catalogue entries which will help in promoting discoverability and adding to our knowledge of the locality close to CILIP in Ridgmount Street.

In recent months, I have been researching an area between Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road for a new edition of Camden History Society’s Streets of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. I’d been at the Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre (CLSAC) at Holborn Library, looking through some of the well-annotated photographs from the former Metropolitan Borough of Holborn’s collection, mostly arranged by street name. I came across photographs of Alfred Place and Ridgmount Street showing bomb damage sustained on the night of 16/17 April 1941. Particularly striking were images of the “damaged beyond repair” Western Synagogue in Alfred Place, and “the Dallas Building” in Ridgmount Place which had been left a burnt-out shell. The Dallas Building was presumably a well-known landmark at the time. To find out what went on there, I consulted the Post Office London Directory (POLD) for 1939 (on microfilm); and under Ridgmount Street, west side, at no.6 is John E Dallas and Sons Ltd, musical instrument manufacturers.

A subject search for Library materials on the CLSAC Adlib catalogue ( will give you items not only on MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MAKING, but also items for narrower terms identified, namely BAGPIPES MANUFACTURE, HARP MAKING, ORGAN BUILDING, and PIANO INDUSTRY. While CLSAC’s coverage is particularly good on the history of the piano industry and organ building, information on other manufacture not identified is scattered (such as that found in POLD). When I did my original search, there had been just one item on Adlib that included banjo, but was about another firm (H J Fletcher and Co), and none at all for guitar or guitars.

To return to the Dallas building, I then tried various Google searches, starting with an unstructured John Dallas, which yielded some 238 million “hits”, including many about the long-running American soap Dallas, or the assassination of President Kennedy. Next, I only needed to get as far as typing “john e d” for John E Dallas (with or without and Sons) to be suggested as an option. The first “hit”, notes that John E Dallas originally set up as a music publisher and banjo maker at 415 Strand in 1875. It details other addresses and activities, including the introduction of the trade name Jedson in the late 1920s, and that the firm moved to Ridgmount Street in 1937. However, there is no explanation for the later move to Clifton Street EC2 on this website or others, e.g. Euroguitars and UK Drums. The webpage Defunct musical instrument manufacturers ( offers a clearer outline of the development of the firm and its successor companies. More fruitful has been a later search, Dallas Ridgmount banjo. The first hit, British Banjo Makers Part 1 (, has information abstracted from The banjo story, by A. P. Sharpe, serialised in the B.M.G. Magazine 1971-1973. This and Parts 2-4 give some indication that there had been other banjo makers close to Charing Cross Road, Tottenham Court Road and Hampstead Road.

The following recently made entry on the CLSAC catalogue distils and adds to some of the above information:

Title John E Dallas and Sons, musical instrument makers
Year of publication 1914-
Material General index
Notes Manufacturers of ‘Jedson’ banjos, and later of guitars, drums and other instruments; also printers and publishers of music. Based at 202 High Holborn (from 1914), 6-10 Betterton Street (from 1926), and in the ‘large white’ Dallas Building, Ridgmount Place, from 1937 until bombed out in an air raid on 16/17 April 1941. Firm subsequently moved to Shoreditch.
Person / Institution John E Dallas and Sons

Ridgmount Gardens, the present-day continuation of Ridgmount Street to the north of Chenies Street is probably best-known today as the home at no.34 of reggae musician Bob Marley when he first came to England in 1972, this being commemorated in 2006 by a Nubian Jak Community Trust plaque. A few months ago, I was idly doing a Google search “Ridgmount Gardens”, which produced results aplenty about Mr Marley or property sales. On about page 20, I came across something that got me really excited, namely a link to excerpts of a 1999 reprint of a Graham Greene autobiography, Ways of escape ( with the following short passage:

“Dallas, the big white factory in Ridgmount Gardens, was ablaze. Behind every window on every floor, a wall of flames blowing up. Not much more than an hour …”.

I read what I could of the book excerpts on the screen, but decided to look for copies of the original edition (Bodley Head, 1980) using the Find a Book section of the Bookmark Your Library website (, where the author is erroneously given as Euan Wallace! 13 public libraries in Greater London have this edition, including Camden and Kingston-upon-Thames (they both give the correct author).

Unfortunately, as noted in my review of Bookmark Your Library (Refer 29(3), Autumn 2013, Part 2, pp 16-19), there is no direct navigation to links to the specific item. Then, when going back to Find a Book, you are asked again which country you are in.

I have since borrowed the Bodley Head, 1980 edition from Surbiton Library’s reserve stock. On pages 101 to 113, Greene recollects London 1940-1941 and his work at the Ministry of Information based in Senate House, but more particularly as an air raid warden in “the worst air raid Central London had ever experienced”. I think we can forgive him for his misremembering the precise location of the Dallas building amid his intense 6-page description of his actions and reaction to the events of 16/17 April 1941 and its aftermath, in which he himself sustained an injury to his hand. He comments that “on my own beat and not reported at the time an HE [high explosive] on the Jewish Girls’ Club in Alfred Place behind Dallas (many days later they were still getting out bodies – more than thirty killed) …” The 1999 reprint has been added to stock at CLSAC, with catalogue entry as follows:

Title Ways of escape
Author / Creator Graham Greene
Publisher Vintage
Year of publication 1999
Pagination 309
Dimensions 19.5 cm
Material Book
Series Vintage classics
ISBN 9780099282594
Notes The second of three volumes of autobiography. Including Greene’s residence in Mecklenburgh Square (p 88); his experiences as an ARP warden in Bloomsbury during World War II (pp 100-113), based at the wardens’ post beneath the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; with references (inter alia) to the destruction of the Dallas Building and the Jewish Girls’ Club
Filed at 75.1 GREENE, Graham
Person / Institution Graham Greene, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,John E Dallas and Sons, West Central Jewish Club

Information about casualties can be confirmed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Find War Dead ( Initially, I selected Holborn Metropolitan Borough as the Cemetery or Memorial, Second World War, and Served in Civilian, and then in turn gave Alfred Place and then Ridgmount as Additional information, These searches produced lists of the 27 individual deaths in Alfred Place on 17/4/41, and the 7 individual deaths at the Dallas shelter in Ridgmount Place on 16/4/41 or 17/4/41.

Alfred Place: east side, looking north-east - bomb damage after partial clearance, 14 July 1941. (Courtesy of Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre.)

Alfred Place: east side, looking north-east – bomb damage after partial clearance, 14 July 1941. (Courtesy of Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre.)

Entries have also been added to the CLSAC catalogue for many of the photographs which sparked my original interest, including these:

Title Alfred Place: east side, looking north-east – bomb damage after partial clearance
Year of publication 1941 (Jul 14)
Dimensions 11.25in x 8.75in
Material Photograph (B&W)
Notes Date of incident 16/17 April 1941. Remarks: 1 parachute mine in Jewish Girls’ Club, 1 HE & incendiary in Dallas Building, 38 killed and 15 injured
Filed at Holborn Folios: ALFRED PLACE
Person / Institution West Central Jewish Club, John E Dallas and Sons
Title Ridgmount Place: Dallas buildings – bomb damage
Year of publication 1941 (Apr 26)
Dimensions 4in x 3in
Material Photograph (B&W)
Filed at Holborn: RIDGMOUNT PLACE
Place name / Street RIDGMOUNT PLACE
Person / Institution John E Dallas and Sons

To bring our story up to the present, the Dallas building footprint (identified as a “ruin” on a 1951 Ordnance Survey map at CLSAC) is now occupied by modern flats known as Rossetti Court, while on the south side of Ridgmount Place at its junction with Ridgmount Street is where the Library Association, now CILIP, was built in the mid 1960s.

At the start of my search, I did not know that I would be looking for information about the banjo industry, my knowledge of which was scant. Likewise, I hope that my “discoveries” about John E Dallas and Sons Ltd have filled a gap for Jedson aficionados. I have reason to believe that my researches about Graham Greene and Bloomsbury are far from complete, and that there is more to be discovered from the literature by and about this author.