Category Archives: information profession

Private Case – Public Scandal – The Secret books in the British Library

I find it fascinating how much our attitudes to subjects change over time. In this case the topic is the British Library’s collection of pornography. In the past a few individuals have become somewhat obsessed by the various holdings in our Private Case collection. This seems Private_Case-Public_Scandal-coverstrange to me, in an era permeated by sexual content, from  television shows like Big Brother, to teenagers sexting each other, and virtually unrestricted access to pornography through the internet.

Since first joining The British Library back in 2006, I have heard many myths and legends about the collection of pornographic material. It was, I was confidently assured, the second largest in the world, behind the rather surprising winner, the Vatican Library, and slightly ahead of the Library of Congress in Washington, home of the First Amendment.

As a ‘newbie’ in the library I received this information in good faith, and in the knowledge that the collection was safely locked-away our basements, where I was unlikely ever to stumble across them.

However a chance mention in an article about the National Library of Australia led me to Private Case – Public Scandal by Peter Fryer. Published in 1966, this book claimed to expose the deep dark secrets of what was then known as the British Museum library (home to the famous Round Reading Room).

Naturally my first instinct was to look up this controversial publication on Explore The British Library, and within minutes I had located and ordered it.

I can’t claim to be an expert on Erotic Fiction , but I was surprised by just how dull and turgid these 160 short pages turned out to be. The contents mostly consists of excessively detailed reports of the author’s struggles to unearth the library’s ‘hidden gems’, his numerous letters to those in charge at that time, and many lists of the controversial titles and their provenance.

Perhaps any serious attempt to catalogue the more ‘exciting’ content of The British Library stacks was bound to end up being something of a snooze, but I have to say I was disappointed. However here are some of the highlights I thought worth noting:

Early on Fryer reports that;
“The BM collection of erotica is without doubt the most comprehensive in the world. The Kinsey Collection does not hold a candle to it. The celebrated Enfer Of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris probably runs it a close second; but the alleged riches, in this field, possessed by the Vatican, the Library of Congress, and the Bodleian in Oxford, turn out to be small fry indeed compared with Bloomsbury’s well-stocked private case.”

It seems that the confusion stems from their “courage and honesty” in listing publicly their collections, whereas, up until the 1960’s The British Library had not.

Later on, Fryer recounts an episode relating to a request for a ‘naughty’ book by Iwan Bloch. He is asked to meet with the Superintendent of books who explains that he has to satisfy himself, that Fryer’s purpose  was serious, and that he was unlikely to steal, mark, or mutilate the book.

It was subsequently explained to Fryer, that the intention of this kind of interview is to protect the library’s books from the readers, “which experience has shown to be a necessary part of a librarian’s duty, rather than to protect readers from books, which is not thought to be a librarian’s business in this country.”

Fryer divides up the library’s collection of erotica into several categories including what he terms ‘sexological works’, which include books on “contraception, guides to erotic technique and coital positions, sociological surveys of teenage copulation in Cockfosters and homosexuality in Rutland.” I’m guessing this last part was Fryers attempt at humour.

round_Reading_RoomA section of the book covers the history of the Private Case at the British Library and includes mention of Anthony Panizzi, of one of the key figures in its development. Rather surprisingly Panizzi was not British, but an Italian lawyer and revolutionary democrat, who had been sentenced to death by the government of Modena. He escaped to England in 1823 and joined the British Museum staff, working his way up to Keeper of printed books by 1837. During his tenure Panizzi grew the book collection from 200,000, to over a million by the time of his retirement in 1866. Many of these were catalogued by Panizzi himself., The creation of the famous round reading room was also his idea.

In keeping with his democratic principles Panizzi wanted the library to be open to all students of knowledge.

“He wanted the student to have the same means of indulging his curiosity on any topic, consulting all authorities, and ‘fathoming the most intricate enquiry’, as the richest man in the kingdom. ‘And I contend’, he added, ‘that Government is bound to give him the most liberal and unlimited assistance in this respect.’”

This was quite a change from the views of his predecessor Henry Ellis, who opposed the idea of opening on public holidays because, “I think that the most mischievous part of the population is abroad and about at such a time.” Ellis claimed that if the library was not closed for the Easter holiday period, “the place… would really be unwholesome.”

Fryer managed to track down an article published in the English Review from December 1913, complaining about hidden books in the British Museum. In The Taboos of the British Museum Library, the authors claimed there were three general classes of books liable to be secreted by the library at that time:
1.    Subversive of the throne
2.    Subversive of religion
3.    Of an improper or obscene character

In response to an author who’s latest book had been ‘dissapeared’, the Keeper of books wrote this rather unhelpful reply;
“Dear Sir, – In your letter of the 12th July, referring to books which are not entered in the catalogue, you ask me whether there are any printed instructions issued, and available for public use, by which the public may know of the existence of such books, and to the conditions under which they may be consulted. My reply to your question is that there are no printed instructions relating to such books.”

A_Dictionary_of_ExplosivesTowards the end of the book Fryer covers some of the non-erotica related causes for books in the library being ‘suppressed’. One, is if the publication has resulted in a successful libel case. Others are breach of copyright by the publishers, or serious factual errors in the publication. A more interesting cause was those containing commercial or state secrets. Examples included  the cautiously titled Statement respecting the Prevalence of Certain Immoral Practices in his Majesty’s Navy from 1821, and those containing information on lock-picking and safe-breaking. Also included was the 1895 edition of Lieutenant-Colonel John Ponsonby Cundill’s Dictionary of Explosives.

Fryer makes his views on these restrictions clear on the final page of the book;
“It is high time the museum authorities realized that the un-catalogued books in their care are not their private property, and that their refusal to let people know exactly what they have and have not got is unworthy of a great national library and totally inimical to scholarship.”

Since those repressive days of the 1960’s the library has indeed opened up the catalogue, and these curiosities can be found. But only ordered up from the basement by those who have a serious academic interest.

Re-inventing umbrellas and corkscrews in the Business & IP Centre

Squid_LondonIt never ceases to amaze me how innovative our customers in the Business & IP Centre are. In just the last couple of weeks I have been helping visitors who have re-invented the most iconic of household products, the umbrella and the corkscrew.

It started when a young man came up to the enquiry desk to ask if I could help find market research on the UK umbrella market. Sadly, the well-known publishers we hold such as Mintel and Keynote don’t tend to produce reports on niche markets like these. But a bit of creative researching led to some useful information on some of our other databases. I was of course curious as to why he wanted to know this information, (I would like to think this is part of what makes me a good information professional). “I guess you are going to tell me you have invented a new form of umbrella”, I said. His response was, “That is correct. I came up with the idea many years ago, and have now decided to patent it”.

As a heavy user of umbrellas to and from work (sadly they are necessary part of life in this rain ‘blessed’ nation), I can’t wait to see what his solution will be. The only real innovation I am aware of is the patented wind proof umbrella. Although an honourable mention should go to Squid London with their colour changing model, who just happen to be one of our Success Stories.

ScrewpullThe next encounter was with an older customer who wanted to find sales figures for corkscrews in the UK. Once again, we were not able to locate a market research report on this niche product. However we did manage to locate a few articles estimating sales and covering trends in the market.

As something of a gadget man I was interested in hearing about his corkscrew invention. But he wasn’t in a position to go into details at that point. However he did say that his idea was remarkably simple. I was left wondering if it will be any better than the ScrewPull system which is my current favourite. This involves the use of a low friction screw to penetrate the cork, combined with a mechanism that pulls it out of the bottle in one continuous movement.

By coincidence the previous evening Stephen Fry had been showing off what must be the most complicated and expensive corkscrew ever invented, on his Gadget Man television show.

 

higgs-corkscrew

Higgs Corkscrew

 

Calling all dyslexic entrepreneurs

The Business & IP Centre is hosting a research placement for Sally Ann Clarke, an MA student from the University of Brighton. She is looking to find entrepreneurs and business people who are dyslexic. Below is her blog post about the project:

Sally Ann ClarkeMany thanks to the British Library for agreeing to host my research project.

First of all, something about me. I started my career as a qualified librarian in Manchester Public Libraries, and since then I have had a variety of roles including managing an independent bookshop. This gave me retail and business experience but also an interest in business information. I decided to return to the library profession and I am now studying for an MA in Information Studies at the University of Brighton.

For my dissertation I am researching dyslexic entrepreneurs and business information. My choice of research topic came from bringing various ideas together. I read the Cass Business School’s research by Dr Logan that entrepreneurs have a significantly higher incidence of dyslexia than in corporate management and the general population. I also visited the Business and IP Centre and noticed that many of their services are aimed at entrepreneurs. I then wondered if dyslexic entrepreneurs had specific business information needs.

I also have an insight into some of the issues dyslexic entrepreneurs have, as I am dyslexic myself. I understand that many people do not realize they are dyslexic although they may have an inkling that they are ‘different’. I didn’t find out myself until I studied for a part-time University Certificate in Creative Writing eight years ago. I am now aware of the difficulties I have, and have learnt some strategies to try and overcome them, but now I am becoming aware of some of the ‘advantages’ such as good verbal communication, lateral thinking and creativity. These ‘advantages’ are perhaps why someone with dyslexia becomes an entrepreneur in the first place.

Richard_Branson

And there are many examples of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Kelly Hoppen,  Duncan Bannatyne from Dragon’s Den and Tom Pellereau, winner of last year’s The Apprentice.

However, I need your help! If you are dyslexic and have used the Business and IP Centre, if you think you may be dyslexic or if you know a dyslexic entrepreneur please do get in touch. I would love to hear from you. My email is SallyAnne.Clarke@bl.uk

Do you know the IWR Information Professional of the Year 2011?

IWR_logoAs the fortunate recipient of this award way back in 2003, I have an interest in who gets to win each year.

In 2009 I was pleased to see it go to Hazel Hall, who I have known for many years. And have always been impressed by her support and enthusiasm for her students at the Centre for Social Informatics in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University. She has also been very active in promoting the potential of the information and knowledge profession. And has lead the implementation of the UK Library and Information Science Research Coalition. Hazel also won the SLA Europe Information Professional Award 2011.

Dr Hazel Hall

Hazel Hall

Now in its 11th year, the international award recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession in the last 12 months.

A nomination could be for someone who has demonstrated best practice, led extensive project work, responded in an innovative fashion to commercial or economic pressures, or developed an information resource for an organisation and its users and clients.

The name of the winner will be announced at the Online Information Conference 2011 to be held in London in late November and the winner will be presented with the award at a reception at the end of the first day of the conference.

To nominate either yourself or a colleague, email editor Peter Williams. The entry, giving reasons why the nominee should win, should be no more than 250 words and include the name, job title and achievements plus contact details for the candidate and the nominee. The closing date is Monday 7 November.

The awards are organised by IWR magazine and Online Information Conference organisers, Incisive Media.

History in an Hour – another of our Success Stories

History-in-an-HourAfter my post Here’s one we helped earlier – Seasoned culinary courses, I’ve heard from another client of the Business & IP Centre who has gone on to great success.

Even better, History in an Hour is the brainchild of a librarian.

Rupert Colley had the idea ten years ago, but with the encouragement of his partner Annabel and help from the Business & IP Centre, he finally made a success of it.

The value of the idea has now been recognised by international publishing house Harper Collins, who recently purchased the e-book series from the Rupert.

Annabel kindly sent me a note saying;

“… had it not been for the Business & IP Centre, I wouldn’t have had the idea or the confidence to know where to start in registering a trademark for “In An Hour”, which meant that this became also an asset purchase, not just a straight multi-book licensing deal.”

Rupert also sent me a note to say they are having a summer sale. For the month of August 2011 only, the apps are 69p -  iBooks 49p – Nook 99c and Kindle 98p or less.

History-in-an-Hour-wide

HarperCollins Signs History in an Hour Ebook Series

In a major new acquisition HarperCollins has purchased the History in an Hour e-book series from the company founder and author Rupert Colley. The deal was set up by Scott Pack and the books will be published by Arabella Pike at HarperPress.

History in an Hour is a series of e-books and apps that summarise key areas of world history in digest form, with each title taking no more than sixty minutes to read. From World War Two to Black History, from American Civil War to the Reformation, History in an Hour titles have been a permanent fixture in the Apple bestseller lists since September 2010, often with 3 titles in the top ten or five in the top twenty. They recently came out on Kindle as well. The History in an Hour website and blog can be found at: www.historyinanhour.com

Scott Pack says: “When I saw these e-books topping the Apple iBooks charts I was intrigued as I was pretty sure they weren’t from a major publisher. I downloaded one and was really impressed, it did exactly as it promised. I was amazed to discover that they were all the work of a librarian from Enfield creating them in his spare room. I was determined to snap them up before anyone else did.”

Rupert Colley comments: “History is fascinating but it can also be daunting – huge books, a huge choice and endless websites. My aim with History In An Hour is to make it less daunting and more accessible whilst still providing a quality read. I want to offer readers a starting place in their historical reading; a platform on which to build. Now, with HarperPress, we can take it to a new level and spread the word – that History is exciting.”

HarperPress will launch the series on 4th August with six titles. A further seven will follow in October. All existing books will be rebranded and an ambitious programme to grow the series will include titles on the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gunpowder Plot, the Vietnam War, Castro and the Wars of the Roses, as well as an extension of the brand into other subject areas. More than one year on, History in an Hour is still topping the charts with World War Two in an Hour currently number 15.

Arabella Pike comments: ‘This is an incredibly exciting venture for HarperPress. In just over one year Rupert has, single-handed, created a superb brand offering great history for busy people – short, sharp, informative books to be read on a phone or e-reader perfect whilst enduring the daily commute to work. As a leading publisher of history, we intend to work with Rupert to build this pioneering series to publish some terrific titles, show how historical content can be refashioned to suit the digital age, and open up a whole new generation of readers to the delights of history.’

Launch titles:

  • World War Two
  • The Cold War
  • The Afghan Wars
  • The Reformation
  • Henry VIII’s Wives
  • Nazi Germany
  • October titles:
  • Black History
  • 1066
  • Hitler
  • Ancient Egypt
  • American Slavery
  • The American Civil War
  • The World Cup

Growing Knowledge – The Information and James Gleick

Growing_KnowledgeWe have had a lot of interest since we opened Growing Knowledge in October – Growing Knowledge the Evolution of Research – the garden is open.

the_Information_James_CleickAnd tomorrow we are lucky to have James Gleick speaking at the library. He is the author of  The Information, a new book which shows how information has ‘become the modern era’s defining quality – the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world’.

The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanished as soon as it was born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long misunderstood “talking drums” of Africa, James Gleick tells the story of information technologies that, he claims, changed the very nature of human consciousness.

He will explore where the age of information is taking us, swept along by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets.

John Naughton also interviewed him in the Observer last weekend.

Business & IP Centre is five years old today

BIPC logoWhile I am on the subject of birthdays (Escape the City is one year old), I would like to note that the Business & IP Centre is five years old today.

My colleague Isabel Oswell, who heads up our marketing activities, has come up with some helpful numbers to give an indication of what we have achieved in the last five years.

I should acknowledge the match-funding by the London Development Agency (LDA), which has enabled us to achieve so much.

I am proud to have been involved with something that has helped so many, and want to thank everyone who has helped to contribute to our success.

To date we have helped 200,000 entrepreneurs and small businesses, and given direct advice and guidance to over 30,000 people.

Fifty percent of these have been pre-start up, and 50 per cent have been post-start up and owners of growth businesses.

They come from a diverse range of backgrounds, with fifty percent women, and 37 percent from black and Asian minority ethnic groups, and 4% with disabilities.

Over a quarter of the Centre’s visitors are from the creative industries.

An independent evaluation by Adroit Economics, revealed that, between 2007 and 2009, the we helped to create 829 new businesses for London, and a further 786 new jobs for Londoners. The combined turnover for these businesses was £32 million and 89 percent of their founders say this success could not have been achieved without the Library’s help.

For every £1 that the LDA invested over the period, the businesses saw a £22 increase in turnover. Further, these businesses, supported by the Centre, have contributed £5.5 million to the public purse.

In addition, owing to its reputation and brand, the Library has also managed to leverage its funding through sponsorship, discounts, pro bono work, positive press coverage and other in-kind benefits at an estimated value of over £10 million.

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Cool infographics that tell a story

Although I have never really believed in the old cliché a picture is worth a thousand words, I have been a big fan of effective illustrations for many years.

I started with the seminal works The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information by statistician and sculptor, Edward Tufte. Although, I have to say I was always somewhat underwhelmed by his examples.

Thanks to a recent BBC series on The Beauty of Diagrams, I discovered that Florence Nightingale (who is best known as the nurse who cared for thousands of soldiers during the Crimean War), was the first to use statistical graphics as to illustrate the causes of mortality.

More recently I have discovered the Cool Infographics blog, and have seen some excellent examples of effective presentations of statistical information.

The Conversation Prism 3.0 for 2010 shows  the major players in each of 28 different online conversation categories.

Although not strictly speaking statistics related,  How Would You Like Your Graphic Design? gets an important point across very effectively.

Growing Knowledge the Evolution of Research – the garden is open

Our Growing Knowledge – the Evolution of Research was officially opened by Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee last week.

Over the next nine months, we will be using a dedicated exhibition to explore what technological tools will shape the library’s future research facilities.

The exhibition aims to challenge visitors on how research is changing and ask what you want to experience from the library of the future.

I have volunteered to be a guide to the exhibition so do drop by and say hello.

Working with hardware partner HP and software partner Microsoft, the library is showcasing a range of research tools, including a prototype of Sony’s RayModeler 360-degree Autostereoscopic Display that uses gesture control to view static and moving 3D images and video.

At the end of the Growing Knowledge exhibition, the British Library will evaluate the tools and decide which have been most useful for researchers – a term the library uses to describe anyone using its resources.

Richard Boulderstone, CIO at the British Library, explained: “It’s about trying to explore what tools and services we should provide for researchers in future. What is the future of the library? What tools, spaces, technologies should we provide for researchers?”

Clive Izard, head of creative services at the British Library, added: “We are evaluating the way researchers will work in an area that is not hushed and quiet – where people will be more collaborative physically.

“At the end [of the exhibition] we will produce a report. JISC [independent advisory body providing advice on ICT use to higher education] is going to take the findings and incorporate them into our services.”

The exhibition, which is running on a thin client solution, is testing everything from monitor set-up – from a single touch screen monitor to four standard monitors – to audio search software developed by Microsoft.

These tools, which include map rectification software that reshapes old maps over current maps, and a Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts tool that enables users to digitally delve into Austen’s handwritten manuscripts, will be alternated with other ones in the British Library’s portfolio over the nine months.

Researchers can also experiment with a Microsoft Surface Table, on which the British Library is showing an interactive, digital version of the world’s longest painting, the 19th century Garibaldi Panorama. A set of dials, developed with (University College London (UCL), also measures Twitter activity across nine capital cities.

The Growing Knowledge exhibition will run until 16 July 2011.

Growing Knowledge – the Evolution of Research is open

Growing Knowledge – the Evolution of Research has been officially opened by Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.

Showcasing some never-seen-before research tools, thought-provoking content and futuristic design in a fully interactive research environment, the exhibition aims to challenge our audiences on how research is changing and ask what they want to experience from the library of the future.

For more information watch this You Tube video for interviews with Library staff and further details about the exhibition.

Reuters have also produced a video piece on the exhibition.

Read or Die (R.O.D) and the coolest librarian in the world

I’m wondering if my quest for the most exciting librarian in the world (Cool librarians, More cool librarians) has now ended with the discovery of Yomiko Readman, codename The Paper, an agent for the Special Operations Division of The British Library. Yes you read that right, but may have realised that Yomiko is a fictional character set in an alternative future, where the British Empire has managed to maintain its superpower status.

In this fantasy world the British Library is an institution devoted to the promotion of literacy (so far so believable), but is also home to The British Library Special Operations Division who run operations around the world to fight book related crime and terrorism. Their slogan is ‘Peace to the books of the world, an iron hammer to those who would abuse them (I have some colleagues who would support this part), and glory and wisdom to the British Empire’.

Yomiko, the hero of the stories is a half-Japanese, half-English papermaster. This means she has the ability to manipulate paper in a wide variety of ways, including creating paper darts that can carry people, paper-rope stronger than steel, and samurai swords. As a result, she never goes anywhere without her case full of stationery supplies.

Although polite and friendly with very few exceptions, she does have a licence to kill, and does so with her deadliest technique, death by a thousand paper cuts!

Yomiko reports to Joker, a stereotypically stiff upper lip Englishman who needs a proper cup of tea in a china cup to help him in a crisis. He reports to Gentleman, an aged, one eyed man, who is the power behind the throne of the British Empire (no sign of the Royal family here).

Although not generally a fan of Manga comics, I greatly enjoyed watching the Read or Die DVD animated version of the stories last night (many thanks to colleague Matthew Shaw for the loan).

In particular I loved the way that Yomiko always asks so politely for her books to be returned to her. And the almost sexual excitement with flushed cheeks she shows when coming across a special book. Needless to say her apartment is piled high with books, to the extent that she is covered by them as she sleeps on her sofa.

Here are some links about this exciting (for a librarian) new discovery:

Please give back my book! Welcome, fellow readers, the newly revamped ReadorDie.org

Internet Movie Data Base

Wikipedia entry

Read or Die Wiki