Refer Autumn 2015


Table of Contents 

Information Services Group Reference Awards 2015 

Amanda Duffy, ISG 

Information Services Group Special Awards 2015: Information Resources for Young People

Amanda Duffy, ISG

The Walford Award 2015

Amanda Duffy, ISG

Current Reference Services at the National Diet Library, Japan, and the Planning of New Services

Yuriko Watanabe, National Diet Library Japan

Seeking ‘Random’ Information: The Archive and Working Library of the UK’s Largest Publisher

Natalie Ford, Penguin Random House Library

COBRA (Complete Business Reference Adviser)

Jonathan Cowley

Review: Dictionary of Untranslatables: a Philosophical Lexicon

Ruth Hayes, ISG National Committee / Refer Editorial Team

Cilip Conference 2015

Laura Dobie

Our Good Health: Libraries & Local Health Services, Successful Partnership Working in Support of Health and Wellbeing

Anne Hayward, ISG L&SE 

Report for ISG of the 81st IFLA WLIC held in Cape Town,

August 2015

Jane Weller, ISG

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

Contact: Helen Edwards 07989 565739;

Copyright © The contributors and the ISG 2015

Online edition



Information Services Group Reference Awards 2015

Amanda Duffy, Chair Awards Panel

The Reference Awards started in 1970, funded by the then Library Association with expertise provided by members of the Reference and Information Services Section (ISG’s predecessor).   Over the years many well-known librarians have been members of the judging panel but only one, Charles Toase, has remained on the panel and contributed the most.

We were very sad then when he had to resign this year because of health problems. He brought to the judging panel the immense amount of knowledge he had of all kinds of reference works – from the multi-volumes from well-known publishers to slim volumes privately printed. He gave his opinion of nominated titles in a quiet, careful manner but always backed by considerable expertise and sound experience. He could tell us when something was original, when it was based on good research and when the contents were accurate and knowledgeable. He also kept us on the straight and narrow as regards works claiming to be new when in fact they were revamped editions of earlier titles and also on the authority, or not, of the authors.

Many of you know Charles from his writings, especially his long-running column in ReferReference Books You May have Missed.   Today it is you we miss on the judging panel Charles – a sincere thank you from us all.

The judging day this year was very busy, very challenging and very enjoyable for all concerned. And my thanks to the members of the panel for their commitment and enthusiasm.

The call for nominations for the ISG Reference Award asks for titles that are available and relevant to the library and information sector in the UK and which show, amongst other things, accessibility, a high quality of indexing and navigational aids, originality, information currency and accuracy, and value for money. To be eligible for the 2015 Awards, works had to be published between 1st January and 31st December 2014. They can be in print or electronic format.

Once again the titles we had for consideration covered a wide range of subjects, sizes and formats.   But without too much trouble we came to our decision for Commended, Highly Commended and Winner.


Darwin Online is a freely accessible website containing the complete print and manuscript works of Charles Darwin. In addition it includes the largest bibliographical list of Darwin’s publications and the largest union catalogue of Darwin papers and manuscripts worldwide. The site also provides an extensive collection of related materials such as reviews of Darwin’s books, descriptions of his Beagle specimens, obituaries and recollections and works cited or read by Darwin. There is also a general history and commentary—some from published sources and some prepared for the project. There’s even a section on Darwin on postage stamps.

The site contains at least one copy of all known Darwin publications, both as searchable text (98,000 pages) and full colour images (80,000 images). Most of this material was not previously available on the internet – and definitely not brought together in one place. New items are still being found and added. There is an impressive international range of contributors.

The site is open access and free of charge. The pages are clear and uncluttered with a beautiful front page. There is a good search engine with advanced search capabilities. The site has already been accessed over 3 million times with 400 million hits since 2006.

The project was privately funded by the founder and Director, John van Wyhe, from 2002-5. From 2005-8 the project was sponsored by the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project is now supported by private donation.

Darwin Online at is COMMENDED in the 2015 Information Services Group Reference Awards.


From the concerns of the nineteenth century we move right into the twenty-first century with the Oxford Arabic Dictionary. This work supplants all earlier Arabic/English, English/Arabic dictionaries both in its comprehensive coverage and its use for the modern day.

Based on real modern evidence and computational analysis of hundreds of millions of words of both English and Modern Standard Arabic (the standardized variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech), the dictionary boasts more than 130,000 words and phrases and 200,000 translations. To show how up-to-date it is, we found the Arabic for cyberspace, drone and hacker.

The layout is brilliantly clear; it is spacious and employs a very effective use of bold text. The most commonly used sense of each word is shown first and then real-life example phrases follow; these includes lines such as ‘I’m doing the ironing’ and ‘I’ve gone off coffee’. There are extensive sections explaining the layout of entries, plus tables of Arabic verb conjugations and lists of English irregular verbs.

It’s a big book but very robust with a sturdy binding for a long shelf life. With the importance of all things Arabic in the world today, this work should be on the shelves of all reference libraries. At £65 it represents excellent value for money.

The Oxford Arabic Dictionary is HIGHLY COMMENDED in the 2015 Information Services Group Reference Awards.


Guidebooks to the World War One battlefields made an appearance soon after that war to assist people with their travel arrangements, accommodation and to tell them what there was to see in the ravaged landscapes of the Western Front. Interest from both armchair historians and visitors in these areas has intensified in recent years. There are many books on this subject but those produced by Tonie and Valmai Holt are leaders in terms of quality and depth of information. Major & Mrs. Holt’s Concise Illustrated Battlefield Guide – The Western Front – North is just one superb example.

The book can be read as a continuous read or an en-route guide.   After a brief introduction setting out the events leading up to the outbreak of World War I, we go straight into the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914.   For each battle over the next four years there is an overall summary, opening moves and then description of what happened. This is followed by high quality maps showing clearly the progress of events. We then begin the tour of the relevant sites – comprehensive, clear and thorough directions complete with GPS co-ordinates. At the end of the book there is a mass of information for the tourist on where to stay and where to eat. There are also numerous useful and well organised indexes and even a Stop Press for the latest changes and details of centenary websites.

The panel were impressed by the amount of information to be found and that it was not only very accessible but extremely well organised. There were many illustrations and photographs and the coloured maps were described by one panel member as ‘lovely’.

The authors have a long pedigree for producing works of reference that are authoritative, based on unique research and yet very practical and accessible. This is a sturdy book and of a suitable size for the traveller. For the amount of information it contains, it could not be beaten on value for money.

Major & Mrs. Holt’s Concise Illustrated Battlefield Guide – The Western Front – North, published by Pen and Sword Military at £13.50 is the WINNER of 2015 Information Services Group Reference Awards.

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015

ISG Special Awards 2015: Information Resources for Young People

Amanda Duffy, Chair Awards Panel


In the event the choice of Information Resources for Young People as our special subject for 2015 presented quite a challenge to us dyed-in-the-wool reference librarians. We quickly realised that there is quite a difference between examining something for its pure reference qualities and examining something for the much broader concept of being an information resource. Fortunately we were greatly helped by colleagues from the Youth Libraries Group joining the panel and guiding us through this learning curve. Thank you all very much for your considerable amount of help before, during and after the judging meeting.

The books for consideration could be published anytime between 2010 and 2014. We judged the nominated titles using many of the criteria we use for the adult reference award. That is physical presentation, scope and coverage, relevance and quality of the illustrations, originality of the work and value for money. But when we came to look at accessibility and arrangement of the information, we had to take a much broader view and be prepared to consider anything that provided potentially useful information in an attractive, accurate and carefully focused way. The relationship between text and illustrations takes on a far more important role than when considering adult materials. The whole exercise proved to be a very enriching and exciting experience.

As before we have three levels – Commended, Highly Commended and Winner – and in our marking the three titles shortlisted were very close.


From time to time there are complaints that not enough children are taking an interest in science. Well perhaps if they had read Tiny: the invisible world of microbes as a young child the situation might be different.

This book describes itself as the first microbiology book for 5-year olds. This sounds a tall order but the perfectly pitched text is straightforward, friendly and accessible, everything is explained in a simple, clear way and is both informative and entertaining. The illustrations are varied and instructive, and also beautifully produced. The true wonder of the scientific world is revealed to young children. It is not surprising that the book has also been shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize 2015.

It is a stout, attractive book which will delight and inform many young children – and quite a few adults as well.

Tiny: the invisible world of microbes, by Nicola Davies and illustrations by Emily Sutton, published by Walker Books is Commended in the Information Services Group Special Award 2015.


Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance finally sank in the Antarctic on 21st November 1915, 100 years ago this month. Shackleton’s Journey is a re-telling of this expedition that hoped to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. The story begins with funding and recruitment and ends with escape and rescue.

One of the panel said they ‘wouldn’t have thought of it as a reference book, but it works as such’.

The expedition is explained in great detail, we understand how and why things were done. The text is clear, interesting and informative, the author does not talk down to his audience.   As much information is relayed through the illustrations as through the written word. And these illustrations are amazing; the colours are chiefly blacks, blues and browns and they convey the emptiness and harshness of the environment – just look at the page captioned ‘isolation’. There are also some beautiful maps.

There is a comprehensive contents page allowing the reader to access easily what they want to know. There is also a glossary which gives concise and clear definitions of terms such as ‘growler’ or ‘reefing a sail’.

The book is a high quality production. For a very original way of presenting information Shackleton’s Journey written and illustrated by William Grill and published by Flying Eye Books at £14.99 is Highly Commended in the Information Services Group Special Award 2015.


Designed to mimic the experience of visiting a natural history museum, Animalium takes us into six galleries each devoted to a different class of animal. We travel from invertebrates, through fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds to mammals. Within each gallery the species is briefly described and then groups within that species are examined and then finally a particular habitat relevant to that species is featured.

Over 160 animal specimens are covered with informative text and amazing illustrations. These illustrations are in pen and ink plus colour and use a beautiful blend of traditional and modern illustrative techniques. The index covers Latin and English names, and at the end there is a list of websites where the reader can learn more.

The whole work is laid out clearly, beginning with an excellent contents page. The panel noted that the book is expensive at £20 but absolutely worth every penny, especially as it has a very robust, long lasting binding.   It will appeal to 8 year olds up to 88 year olds.

Animalium can be called a superb picture book, a textbook, a coffee table book and an outstanding reference book.

So Animalium: welcome to the museum, illustrated by Katie Scott and written by Jenny Broom, published by Big Picture Press is the Winner of the Information Services Group Special Award for 2015.

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015

The Walford Award 2015

Amanda Duffy, Chair of Judging Panel


For some librarians official publications are a boring, tedious, difficult area they would rather leave well alone – someone else can worry about them.

Fortunately for the library user there are people who understand the importance of the publications from local government, national government and international bodies, and are willing to be closely involved in the organisation and clarification of them and to enable other librarians to use the publications with knowledge and confidence. We have been very lucky in the United Kingdom to have such a person in Howard Picton, the Winner of this year’s Walford Award.

In his day job Howard worked for many years at the Bank of England, firstly as Deputy Manager of the Information Centre and later as Manager for Parliamentary Affairs. Enough to keep anyone busy full time you would think. However at the same time Howard was very involved in ensuring that official publications were a source of help to the librarian and information worker rather than an obstacle. He was honorary secretary of SCOOP (Standing Committee on Official Publications) until 2007 and from 1993 provided a regular column in Refer. In 2011 he was joint author with Jane Inman of ‘Finding Official British Information: official publishing in the digital age, a work, designed for the non-specialist, that has been described as an invaluable addition to the librarian’s working tools. From 2007 to 2010 Howard wrote a regular feature in Update magazine on what’s new in public sector information; a popular column that many found extremely useful and readable.   In British Librarianship and Information Work 2001-2005, he wrote the chapter on UK official publishing.   He was a member of the Crown Copyright Advisory Panel.

For many years Howard represented SCOOP on the ISG National Committee and the meetings were enlivened by his ready wit, good humour and pertinent contributions.

Last, but not least, for one of the editions of The Year in Reference he did an excellent job of reviewing the section on whisky – the editor presumed whilst sober!

Now retired from the Bank of England, Howard warmly deserves recognition for his outstanding contribution to making official publications more accessible. It is with great pleasure that the Information Services Group presents the Walford Award for 2015 to Howard Picton.

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015

Current Reference Services at the National Diet Library, Japan, and the Planning of New Services

Yuriko Wantanbe, National Diet Library Japan

In the winter of 2013, I visited a number of libraries in Europe and the U.S. to interview librarians about their current reference services. As a member of the Reference Planning Section at the National Diet Library (NDL), I have been involved in the planning of reference services to meet the needs of patrons who access the NDL via the Internet, and I was particularly interested in how these libraries overseas provide digital reference services to remote patrons. Through these interviews, I identified several differences between the NDL’s current services and those of libraries overseas, which led me to think about what the best way forward for the NDL and libraries all over the world would be. In this article, I would like to provide an overview of our reference services and the differences between the NDL’s approach and that of other national libraries as well as present an introduction to one of our new services.

  1. Our reference services

The NDL was established in 1948 as the sole national library in Japan as well as a research library serving the National Diet of Japan. Under the legal deposit system, publishers are required by law to send the NDL copies of all new publications in Japan. The NDL has also offered reference services to onsite patrons since our establishment. We have gradually expanded our target users and services to the point where we currently offer:

  1. Onsite reference services

Information Centres and Special Materials Rooms at our facilities, where we offer reference services directly to our patrons using our collections of library materials and databases.[1]

  1. Reference services for libraries via web form

We accept reference questions via a web form accessible only to registered libraries or individual patrons overseas.

  1. Reference service by telephone

We accept questions regarding our materials and provide general information by telephone. Only questions that can be answered immediately are accepted by telephone. Sometimes patrons ask for the location of the material they wish to view before coming to the NDL, and we search our database to provide this information by phone.

The means and target of our reference service



Individuals in Japan Libraries in Japan Individuals and libraries overseas
web form NA* Full service Full service
Telephone Simple inquires only Simple inquires only Simple inquires only
Onsite Full service Full service Full service

*NA: Not applicable

It might seem strange that we do not accept inquiries via website from individuals in Japan. Essentially, this means that when patrons call to ask where to find a particular article of a magazine, we ask them either to come to the NDL and look up the material themselves or go to a nearby library and ask the librarian to submit the inquiry via web form.

Flow of reference service for individuals in Japan

Patron local library National Diet Library

Of course, I would not be surprised if this seemed strange to librarians overseas. In fact, while visiting 30 libraries in 6 countries throughout EU and North America, I found that all the libraries I visited offer digital reference services to their patrons as well as handle inquiries from patrons directly. Some libraries currently offer reference services via chat. The following is a table of methods used to provide reference services at the National libraries I visited.

Methods of reference services at National libraries, as of December 2013



Web form E-mail Telephone Chat
National Library of Norway Full Service Full Service Full Service NA
Royal Library of Denmark Full Service Full Service Full Service NA
British Library Full Service NA Full Service NA
National Library of France Full Service Full Service Full Service Full Service
National Central Library of Rome NA Full Service Full Service NA
Library of Congress Full Service Full Service Full Service Full Service
National Diet Library, Japan Only From other libraries NA Full Service NA

Why doesn’t the NDL provide digital reference services directly to our patrons? Although we have considered it, our current stance is that a national library has its own special role to fulfill, and if a question can be handled by other libraries, it is better for us to refer patrons to those other libraries first, so that we may concentrate on questions that other libraries are unable to answer. Moreover, with the solidification of interlibrary cooperation in Japan through initiatives like the Cooperative Reference Database[2] project, this system has been working well. Other national libraries also have similar policies. For example, on the Ask a Librarian website of the Library of Congress, there is a note saying that the LC suggests “you consult your local library first.”[3]

However, there are many materials that are held only by the NDL, which often makes this detour just an inconvenience for patrons. Thus, we have started reviewing our reference services.

  1. Photoduplication services for remote patrons

Before moving to the replanning of our reference service, I would like to explain about our photoduplication services for remote patrons. Remote users can request photoduplication service via our website using our online database. When requesting this service, users must specify the title of the material, the volume or issue number for periodicals, and the page numbers (or, if not available, the title of the article). We accept a very large number of photoduplication requests every year. In 2013, we accepted more than 254 thousand requests. In contrast, the British Library accepted some 560 thousand requests in 2014.[4] Considering the differences in the size of collections—40 million for the NDL, 150 million for the BL[5]—and how few places there are in the world where Japanese is spoken, you might wonder why the NDL receives so many requests.

Although we don’t really understand why we receive so many requests, here are some likely reasons:

-There are no other large libraries in Japan.

-Our copying fees are rather low compared to that of other countries.

Irrespective of the reason, the fact is that we get many photoduplication requests, and patrons who do not know the exact location of the article they want generally ask us to search for them, but to do so, patrons had to go to a nearby library and ask the librarian to submit us the inquiry via web form. Despite this inconvenience, however, we receive a large number of these type of inquiries.

  1. Review and planning of new reference services

In 2013 we formulated a policy on Reference Services for the Future based on statistical analysis of past reference services. Looking back on reference services in the past, we found that the number of inquiries from libraries about where to find a specific reference material as well as those requesting simple fact checking had fallen dramatically. On the other hand, we continue to receive a certain amount of questions about where to find specific articles.

Changes in requests from remote patrons to the NDL for reference services[6]

Telephone Web form
2006 2013 Change 2006 2013 Change
Referring to documents for a
specific topic
1,660 820 -51% 923 290 -69%
Referring to other institutions
treating the specific subject
567 255 -55% 68 5 -93%
Researching of simple facts 1,641 644 -61% 524 284 -46%
Searching articles 911 542 -41% 2751 2,262 -18%
Search for specific items in the NDL 18,369 10,854 -41% 1,508 512 -66%
Search for location of items held in other institutions 1,124 557 -50% 914 465 -49%
Use guide 14,810 14,604 -1% 1,682 1,893 13%

One likely reason for these changes is that patrons are able to find information about an article on the Internet, which prompts them to want to read the whole article. As I mentioned before, inquiries about an article cannot be answered at a library that does not hold the material, so we thought that we should start a new service to search for articles.

  1. Research service of articles

In April, 2015, we instituted a new service called Research Service of Articles on a trial basis. The trial will continue for two years. This service is for patrons who are not sure where to find the article they wish to photodupulicate. Requests for this service must include the following information: ID, patron name, email address, title of the material, call number, title of an article, publication year for magazine. We use this information to find the material and provide the patron with a volume or issue number and page of the article within 3 days. As of May 15, we have accepted and fulfilled 179 inquiries.

Can this Research Service of Articles legitimately be called a reference service? Opinion on this matter is divided, just as opinion has always been divided about how to define the term reference services itself.[7] No matter what to call this service, the number of request shows that this is the one needed by our patrons.

  1. Future

While we have not fully opened the door to direct inquiries from patrons via a web form, we do provide many Search Guides on the Internet[8] and our librarians travel throughout Japan to give lectures to local librarians about our databases and useful tools for reference service. This interlibrary cooperation is our strength and we need to continue developing it. After two years of planning, we would like to build up a better reference system that is suited to our society.

[1] The NDL consists of 3 buildings: Tokyo main library, Kansai-kan and the International Library of Children’s Literature. Reference services are offered in each building.

[2] “Cooperative Reference Database” National Diet Library,

[3] “Ask a Librarian” Library of Congress, (Accessed: 25 September 2015)

[4] Okumura, Makito, Structure of reading rooms and procedures at libraries in foreign countries, 2015, p.9.

[5] Some materials (ex. electronic materials and housing maps) are excluded from the photoduplication services for remote patrons in the NDL and BL has collection for Document Supply service so you cannot simply compare these libraries by the number of collection but you could have an idea of scale of these libraries.

[6] Nakano, Mari ‘Current status and challenges faced by reference services at the National Diet Library’ The Library Journal, 5(5), 2015, p.288.

[7] Rothstein, Samuel, The development of reference services through academic traditions, public library practice and special librarianship, Association of College and Reference Libraries, 1955, pp.42-44. Birdsall, William F., The myth of the electronic library, Greenwood Press, 1994, pp.85-86.

[8] As of December 2014, we have 1565 Search Guides. These guides are provided in our web site “Research Navi” ( Only a few of them are translated and offered in the English version of the “Reserch Navi” For details of the Search Guides, please see: Watanabe, Yuriko “Dissemination-of-information-model for reference services at the National Diet Library, Japan” in Ifla 2014( ) (Accessed: 25 September 2015)

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015

Seeking ‘Random’ Information: The Archive and Working Library of the UK’s Largest Publisher

Natalie Ford, Penguin Random House Library



The Random House Group Archive and Library is part of Penguin Random House UK (or PRH for short), the largest publisher in the UK. Authors published by PRH include literary greats such as Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene, Salman Rushdie and Iris Murdoch; and popular writers such as Terry Pratchett, James Patterson, Sophie Kinsella and Danielle Steel. Children’s authors published by PRH include Jacqueline Wilson, David McKee, Shirley Hughes, Malorie Blackman and John Boyne.

The Penguin and Random House companies merged in 2013; the process of merging the services of these publishing giants continues. The Penguin book archive is in Rugby, Warwickshire, while the Penguin research archive is at Bristol University; we look forward to working more closely with them.

We are located in Rushden, Northamptonshire, approximately 80 miles from the company’s London offices where most of our enquiries originate. With extensive collections of books (including 1st editions and rare books), artwork, contracts, correspondence and more, the Archive & Library is an excellent and unique resource for both internal and external customers. For our team of five dedicated staff, no two days are ever the same! We could receive any kind of enquiry – usually by email but also by telephone – and new stock published by the company imprints is delivered every week for us catalogue and add to our unique collection.

Contracts, Permissions, Rights and Royalties

Emails from these departments comprise about half of the enquiries we receive. Recent paperwork is scanned and uploaded to Biblio, the company’s publishing management software, before being sent to us for archiving. However, older documents are not usually on Biblio, often because a book was published before the documents were stored electronically and were accessible company-wide. This involves searching in approximately 4,800 bankers’ boxes of contracts, licences, renewals, reversions and other documents. The boxes are in A-Z order of author and title; the contracts date from the 19th century until the present day. Digitising all the paperwork could be a future project – it would be a mammoth task, bearing in mind that each box contains up to 20 files and each file contains several documents.

Queries involve identifying the correct document and either providing information from that document (e.g. agent’s name or the date the contract was reverted) or scanning and uploading it to the correct section on the title’s Biblio record. Sometimes the paperwork is not on file – but then you realise the enquirer expected it to not be there. They are just covering all bases to check that an agreement does not already exist! Moreover, with so many company mergers and office moves over the last 150 years, the archive collections are incomplete. Undoubtedly, war is responsible for some loss of documentation; Hutchinson, one of our imprints, lost many of their papers in the Blitz. Another imprint, Chatto & Windus, sent theirs for salvage in the Great War.

For queries from the Permissions department, we establish whether we published a book, and if so, whether the company still has the rights and can grant permission for quotes to be used, or if the enquirer should be referred to an agent, an author’s estate or another publisher. This involves looking for paperwork, particularly for reversion letters in which the rights in the work are given back to the author. In the absence of documentation, the internet often yields results; sometimes it transpires a book was published not by Random House UK, but by Random House Inc., the U.S. branch of the company.


Editorial, Production, Publicity

We provide a library service to internal customers; most of our stock is catalogued on our library management system BARD and is shelved according to Dewey Decimal number, so it is straightforward to find a book on the catalogue and retrieve it to send to a customer. Editorial staff ask for book loans; for example, they may wish to read an older book to see if it’s worth publishing a new edition. The production department request books to check for errors and to produce e-books faithful to the original printed edition; they also request information such as extent (page numbering) for a particular book or scans of book covers. We also catalogue new stock and provide a loan and enquiry service for third parties: Octopus Publishing Group (now part of Hachette) and Egmont UK. The editorial and production staff from these publishers often request books when updating content for new editions or for research on particular topics when editing new editions.

Both Editorial and Publicity are interested in the contents of our author files; these contain non-contractual materials such as correspondence, photographs, marketing plans, press cuttings and typescripts. They are filed in A-Z order of author and title, according to the company or historic company the imprint is part of. They are a rich resource for all kinds of information about a work. Staff might, for example, be editing a new edition of a classic work and are looking for extra materials to provide interest to the reader. Publicity staff might be launching a fresh marketing campaign for an author and want to draw inspiration from previous publicity materials.

The library catalogue is a good resource when handling bibliographic enquiries, such as full publication dates, ISBNs, copyright holders and print runs. We also have a large collection of printed sales catalogues which are useful for historical publication dates or researching the publications of an imprint. Details for all recent PRH publications are found on Biblio, but the Archive & Library is the best resource for information about older books.


Researchers – Academic, Commercial and the Public

All kinds of researchers make use of our collections. Students and professors in particular make use of materials on literary authors but we also receive enquiries from biographers, film companies, owners of book-themed websites and members of the public researching their family history. The research is conducted from a distance, but where there is a substantial amount of material we invite researchers to the archive where they will find a quiet working environment, helpful staff and a treasure trove of publishing history.

We have a partnership with the University of Reading, who catalogue, organise, store and preserve the early archive material of the Chatto & Windus, Jonathan Cape, Bodley Head, Secker & Warburg and Hogarth Press imprints. Their Special Collections service facilitates access for researchers from academic institutions all over the world. Correspondence between authors and publishers forms a major component of the collection but there are sales ledgers, stock books, press reviews, readers’ reports and more.

For further details please visit:

A wealth of information!

New documents and new stock are continuously sent to the archive for cataloguing and storage; trade publishing is still going strong and printed books remain popular. This poses challenges for organising our collections while leaving room for growth and ensuring that enquiries (and future enquiries for many years to come) can be effectively answered. The information and knowledge contained within our collections is unquantifiable and simply amazing. We are finding new gems and items of interest every day.

We welcome visitors! If you would like to visit for research or a tour of the Archive & Library, please get in touch. Our team email address is:

Company website:

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015

COBRA (Complete Business Reference Adviser)

 Jon Cowley


Libraries can play an important role in supporting small businesses and helping new businesses get off the ground. Haringey Libraries provide free business advice, training seminars, study space and networking opportunities. It is also important that libraries offer up to date business information – whether in the form of reference resources, new business books, magazines or business databases.

In times of restricted library budgets it is increasingly important that librarians can demonstrate reference resources offer value for money and are well-utilised. Resources also need to be appropriate for customers and meet their needs. Haringey Libraries had previously subscribed to Key Note ( which offers excellent market research reports alongside in-depth company reports and financial information. However, our budget could no longer stretch to Key Note, and as a public library service we needed a reference resource more focused on small business start-ups.

COBRA ( provided a more affordable alternative and also has a lot of features which are useful for our customer base. Importantly the database offers remote access, so can easily be linked from the library website, allowing customers to access the service at home or work just by inputting their library card details. This not only is more convenient for customers but also helps to increase usage.

A further benefit of COBRA is that the interface is relatively straightforward to use compared to other business reference resources. It features a simple “Google-style” search facility alongside a clear menu navigation system. At Haringey Libraries we are able to provide COBRA training sessions on a regular basis to our small business customers – usually either one-to-one or in small groups. The simple log-in and navigation means that these sessions can usually be completed in under half an hour, freeing up staff time.

The database contains thousands of practical and digestible reports, guides and factsheets. These are usually just a few pages long but serve as a valuable introduction to the topics they cover, which is useful for both our customers and business advisors. The content of COBRA is divided into four key sections:

  1. Business Opportunity Profiles

These short reports have proved extremely useful, offering a “quick start” guide to over 600 small business types. The range of businesses covered is impressive – from more standard reports on coffee shops and security agencies, to reports on niche businesses such as goth clothes retailers and dog walkers – and even kissogram services! Users of COBRA can be very confident that there will be at least some material relevant to their business, no matter how unusual. Each Business Opportunity Profile includes key information such as qualifications/skills required, key market issues and trends, trading issues, relevant legislation and numerous links to relevant organisations in the sector.

  1. Business Information Factsheets

These are guides to over 300 small business management subjects in factsheets, checklists and “how-to” articles. The reports are relevant to all businesses and are divided into sections such as “Starting a business”, “Marketing and promotion” and “Employing and managing staff”. They offer valuable guides on all aspects of starting and running a business, and like the Business Opportunity Profiles are concise and easy to read. At Haringey Libraries guides such as “Writing a business plan” and “Setting up a co-operative business” have been especially useful as starting points for many fledgling businesses.

  1. UK Market Synopses

COBRA also offers some very good market research reports, although their numbers are nowhere near as extensive as those provided by Key Note and Mintel. The reports available cover fourteen popular sectors such as restaurants, clothing retail and tourism. Contents include information on industry size, key segments, market outlook and latest trends.

  1. Local Area Profiles

The Local Area Profiles is a section of COBRA which we use less frequently, though it does contain some useful information and we have received customer feedback that has shown the information to be valuable. It focuses on sources of support for businesses all over the UK, divided by region. This can include information on financial support, networking opportunities, training providers, regulations and council contacts.

Information and factsheets on COBRA are regularly updated. Guides are updated at least every two years but often more frequently when changes to statutory bodies or regulations affect particular aspects of running a business.

COBRA can also provide usage statistics allowing subscribers to justify expenditure and to see which guides are most frequently downloaded from the database. This is particularly useful for libraries as it enables us to get a better idea of what areas our customers are most interested in and to tailor training sessions and events accordingly. For example at Haringey Libraries we were able to see that reports on hair and beauty were frequently downloaded. As a result we invited ethical beauty entrepreneur Clare Eluka to speak about these topics during our programme of business events for Black History Month.

Clare Eluka, beauty entrepreneur

Clare Eluka, beauty entrepreneur

One area for improvement we found was the provision of promotional materials for COBRA, which are difficult to get hold of. This is in contrast to suppliers such as Oxford Reference Online who regularly send ample supplies of posters, leaflets and bookmarks.


  • COBRA is a unique source of information on small scale business start-ups
  • It is very simple to use with easy search or browse options
  • The industry fact sheets are short and well-structured
  • Wide range of business types are covered
  • Reports can be viewed online or downloaded in PDF format
  • Database can be accessed remotely with library card log-in
  • Generous printing and downloading allowances


  • COBRA reports are limited to the UK
  • They do not include a wide range of market research statistics
  • Promotional materials are difficult to obtain

In summary, COBRA has proved to be a valuable addition to our provision of online reference resources. It contains a large amount of practical information, is easy to navigate, and has played an important role in helping Haringey Libraries support small businesses.

Refer 31 (3) Autumn 2015