In Week 11 of my ‘#Richards2016‘ project, I had to get in touch with the local council. It was Freedom of Information Day, so I sent a request to the council for information. My request was thus:

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A pretty dumb request, I’m sure you’ll agree. I submitted it fully expecting to get a “this is a dumb question and we’re not going to do it” response. But I didn’t. Like absolute madmen they decided to actually do it for some reason.

DISCLOSURE: My friend and housemate works at the council and is well-connected with the FOI department. So yeah, basically you could say this was an INSIDE JOB. But still, I can’t believe they really did it.

I mean, I pay my council tax and all that. (Well, my landlord does on my behalf). So I guess I should be able to march up to any public servant and demand them to do whatever I want, right? Yes I know that’s not really how it works, but I think the principle is sound.

After all, beyond picking up my bins, planning out transport infrastructure, maintaining public spaces and utilities, developing local art and culture, looking after stray animals, eradicating pests, securing housing for the vulnerable, providing health and welfare, licensing commercial enterprises, dispensing planning permissions, provisioning sports and leisure facilities, controlling public noise and nuisances, and generally looking out for me and my local area, what does the council ACTUALLY do for me?

So yeah, you’re fully entitled to do this kind of thing I reckon. They’ll probably appreciate it.


I guess I’m allowed to share the outcome of my request. What would be the point otherwise? So, here are my KEY findings.


  • The data provided covers all books that have been checked out at least once. (I assume, as there are no books with a zero check-out value, and I’m sure there are books in the library that have not been checked out).
  • The data covers 78,702 books. That’s a lot.
  • The data covers pretty much all the types of books too. (eg. Adult Fiction Hardback, Junior Large Print, etc.)
  • The information I have is Title, Date Item First Made Available, Total Loans, Days Available, Loan Frequency (ie. loans / days available), Collection.

It’s a beautifully formatted excel document that I’m sure someone spent ages on.


Book with most total loans

Scandinavia, living design by Gaynor, Elizabeth – 224 loans.

Well, that’s unexpected. Some random book about Scandinavian design is the most checked out book? Why? What does that tell us about the Cambridge zeitgeist? To be fair, the book has also been available since 1989, so it might be winning just on time alone. It’s got a loan frequency of 43.33 days. So, it’s checked out basically every month and a half? Not bad! Though I do wonder if the book’s Scandinavian design tips are still relevant 27 years on.

Interestingly, the fourth most checked-out book is The architectural history of King’s College Chapel and its place in the development of late Gothic architecture in England and France by Woodman, Francis which makes much more sense for Cambridge. It’s also like the longest book title in the world.

Book with fewest total loans

Joint winner between 1,980 books. I guess that makes sense since it’s just the bottom of the data set. Some highlights:

  • Teapots. The collector’s guide to selecting, displaying and enjoying new and vintage teapots by Carter, Tina M.
  • Big Pig on a dig by Tyler, Jenny
  • 100 questions & answers about gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) by DeMatteo, Ronald
  • How not to die : discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease by Greger, Michael, author
  • Yo by Martin Ricky [i guess this is one book that’s NOT living da vida loca LMAO]
Book that has been available the longest

Battalion at war: Singapore 1942 by Moore, Michael – since 23/2/1989

This book actually occupies the top two spots on the longest being-in-Cambridge-library lists. I guess they just started with two copies of that book they had or something. Oh, and apparently it’s not THAT Michael Moore.

110 loans, with a loan frequency of 90.5.

Book that has been available the longest and only been checked out once

The changing face of Britain : from the air by Gardiner, Leslie –  since 12/05/1989

Only 1 loan in 9827 days, giving it a loan frequency of 9827. Eesh!

If you’re ever in Cambridge Central Library in the near future, do consider checking this book out and making Leslie’s time worthwhile.

Book that is loaned the most frequently

How is this different to total loans, you ask? Well, we’re looking at the loan frequency specifically, so it’s weighted against time available. Thus a book that’s new and popular will rate higher than a book that’s just old and been checked out loads. Anyway, it’s

The humans by Haig, Mattloan frequency 6

Pretty sweet LF there. But the book has only been available since 20/3/16. SO I GUESS THIS STAT IS NOT ACTUALLY THAT INTERESTING AT ALL SORRY.

Most checked out books about Batman

Because I might as well, right?

Well, the top book with “Batman” in the title field is actually Your Body’s Many Cries for Water : A Revolutionary Natural Way to Prevent Illness and Restore Good Health by Batmanghelidj, F. who is a FAKE Batman.

The real top Batman book is Batman: Arctic Attack! (44 loans). I have never heard of this book. Batman: Year One (the definitive modern Batman story) only has 36 loans. Sorry Frank Miller, guess you shoulda set your gritty retelling of modern comics’ most iconic origin story at the north pole! Or made it a pseudo-scientific study into the magical healing properties of water.

Erm, I guess that’s everything I can think of then. I know this isn’t quite the Panama Papers, but I think it’s pretty interesting nonetheless.

In short, it turns out that the FOI system does work. You can make sensible requests and get a sensible response in a sensible time. But it is totally open to abuse I think, especially if you’re some crazed lunatic with nothing better to do and a vendetta against the council. I’m sure you could ask for all kinds of crazy things to prove that the council (MORE LIKE CLOWNCIL) is wasting money and generally rubbish.

But please don’t do that.