It’s November, and it’s time to acknowledge non-fiction. Let’s get factual and celebrate all those readers that have a passion for information, and perhaps encourage those readers that don’t, to give it a try!

Non-fiction book display, Richmond Library
Non-fiction book display, Richmond Library
Where to start

Here in Richmond upon Thames libraries we’re hosting non-fiction displays to help some of those sometimes hidden gems get a bit more exposure throughout the month. It is hoped that readers will see books on subjects they are interested in or take out books on a topic they’ve always wanted to know more about, because libraries have something for everyone.

Our Local Studies Library and Archive offers a wealth of local history books that might tempt the resistant in to the world of non-fiction. Perhaps delving in to the world of books about the lives of the famous and infamous might offer the bridge readers need to move over from fiction, if only for a month.

You could borrow a travel guide and get inspiration for your next adventure or a cookery book for culinary inspiration this Christmas.

So, what’s popular?
Front cover Feel Good Food by Joe Wicks
Front cover: Feel Good Food by Joe Wicks

Cookery books are very popular. Joe Wicks was the out and out winner for 2022. His book Feel Good Food and Joe’s Family Food (published last year) took the top spots. Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love was Richmond’s third most borrowed cook book.

British history is another popular area. This year colonial legacies and royal contemporaries were what readers wanted to know more about. Empireland: how imperialism has shaped modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera and The Palace Papers: inside the House of Windsor – the truth and the turmoil by Tina Brown (out in paperback in February 2023) were the stand out favourites for readers.

Everybody would like to be a bit healthier and library book borrowers are no exception. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor was published in paperback last year but still remains popular. Possibly as it’s something we can all have a go at and it doesn’t involve buying any equipment.  The top title from our Practical Parenting collection continues to be Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read: (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did).

Whilst research argues that reading classic novels instead of self-help books can boost brain power and improve your quality of life, our philosophy and psychology collections are as popular as ever.  Four thousand weeks: time and how to use it by Oliver Burkeman was the big hit of the year and 2018’s Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones continued to hold strong.


Travel is back on board!
Front cover The Rough Guide to Portugal
Front cover: The Rough Guide to Portugal
Front cover Lonely Planet Croatia
Front cover: Lonely Planet Croatia

Although more of a necessity than a choice travel guides are the most popular section of Richmond’s non-fiction collections, but the pandemic changed that. In normal times library travel resources are on planes, in suitcases, up mountains, in hotels, and then they make their way back to the library to do it all again.

Richmond’s libraries issued over 37,000 travel books and maps in 2019, but not in 2020. Most travel books were grounded and library shelves were overflowing with Lonely Planets and Rough Guides, and that’s not where they’re supposed to be. Just under 10,000 travel related items, predominantly items relating to the UK, made it out to the outside world in 2020, . In 2021 it was a similar story as many of us once again chose to staycate.

This year’s issue figures tell us things are on the up. Travel is back and travel guide collections are once again exploring the globe, and look where they’re going! Croatia was the top issuing destination over the last 6 months with Portugal in close second. Over 20,000 travel resources have been issued so far this year, maybe next year we’ll see issue figures for travel guides hit pre-pandemic levels.


What’s the story?

The other big non-fiction collection worth shouting about is Lives, that’s right Lives, a collection of books about people’s lives. Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, confessionals, call them what you will. Here in Richmond libraries we use the term ‘Lives,’ and have been doing so for nearly a decade. Previously biographies were shelved in Dewey order at 920 but classification changes meant that biographies started to be catalogued across the Dewey range. For example, books about individual athletes or musicians could be found in the 700s and anything written about an author would end up in the 800s. This resulted in a decline in issues as library members couldn’t find the titles they were looking for. It was decided that a new collection would be created, it was to be called ‘Lives’. As a much better descriptor for this area of non-fiction it allows us to bring biographies and autobiographies together in one place, but also incorporate other items such as memoirs and letter collections. This change led to a big improvement in book issues and to this day people can find what they’re looking for much easier, and books they are interested in are all in one place.

Front cover of The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.
Front cover: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.
Front cover of Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Front cover: Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe.

First published back in 2018 Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path continues to be the top issuing book from our Lives section and there’s no wonder why. This is a story about a couple and their journey. It’s heart-warming, life-affirming and so spirit reviving that it was chosen as a recommended read on the NHS’s uplifting book collection reading list.

The other big biographical hit with readers this year was last year’s winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe is a book about the live’s of an entire family, the Sackler Dynasty, and how they made their billions through opioids.

Did you know Richmond Library Service has a biography store? As more works continue to be published, whether it be first hand accounts from people alive or more uncovered information about people past, books about people continue to be a source of fascination, interest and research, but our open shelves can’t house them all. The great and the good, the not so good and some of the not so great are rescued and housed in our library store for readers to reserve and collect from any branch library.


2023 promises to start with a non-fiction bang as Prince Harry’s much awaited book Spare is set free, and Britney Spear’s tell-all story is anticipated, but with the paper shortage set to continue will supply meet demand? Fear not, as electronic copies through our digital platforms might just save the day!