Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Brief Tour of Literary Swindon

Swindon. It's known primarily for being the home of the Great Western Railway works and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), and also for the so-called "Magic Roundabout", which is in reality a diabolic pentagramic portal into the Outer Abysses of Insanity and Chaos from which even H.P. Lovecraft himself would shrink in terror.

On Oct. 7, 2010, the Bodleian Libraries officially opened the new Book Storage Facility (BSF) in South Marston near Swindon. This new and much-needed book storage facility was even featured in an Architectural Digest. This is a "good thing" for Swindon, which seems to be strangely absent from my Rough Guide to Great Britain. Maybe this and some other pieces of literary tourism will help put this city at the heart of Wiltshire on the map!

Swindon was home to the author, poet and naturalist, Richard Jeffries (1848-1887). Jeffries' most beloved book, Bevis, about boyhood in rural Wiltshire, is set near Jeffries own home near Coate Water in Swindon. Coate Water is now a park, and one can visit the lake where Bevis and his companions played at pirates. The old oak tree is also still there, and is marked with a plaque. Jeffries' home has also been turned into a museum, which is open from May to September, and is also the current meeting place for the Blue Gate Poets, Swindon's literary society.

Swindon also provided the backdrop for Jasper Fforde's fabulous alternate-literary reality Thursday Next Series. While I have yet to spot all of the Seven Wonders of Swindon (I think that the statue of Lola VaVoom near the bus station has been taken hostage or sold off for scrap metal), it certainly inspires one to take a walk and explore the streets of downtown Swindon! Certainly, the Swindon Public Library (Central Site) is also worth a visit, with its grand sweeping staircase and its exhibits of historical books and documents on the third floor!

Finally, a visit to Swindon is not complete without visiting the famous Swindon Dalek Trap, cleverly disguised as a pedestrian underpass...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Role of Libraries in the Research Process: Presentations from the USTLG Meeting at Oxford University

The USTLG meeting was held at Keble College in Oxford. Unfortuantely, I was not in attendance, but was able to glean some interesting information from the presentations given at the meeting. I was especially interested in the comments made by Lex Rigby in response to the keynote speaker, who, surprisingly, seemed quite ill-informed about the role that libraries and librarians play in research. It is often a crucial role, and one which requires a lot of knowledge, particularly in specialist subject areas. Using Google to find "quality web-based material" really dosen't cut it, not even for an undergraduate paper. Furthermore, librarians don't just provide a filter for these on-line services.

More Library Tourism: Nuffield College's Tower of Books

Yesterday, I was able to sneak away from my usual duties at the science libraries for a look into one of Oxford University's College libraries. Nuffield College Library was developed in the 1950s from a bequest from G.D.H. Cole and houses collections in the social sciences, including economics, politics, sociology, history and philosophy.
Librarian Michelle Mumford kindly gave me a tour of the library, followed by a most excellent tea and cake session in the cosy staff common room. The library space is quite interesting, as it is housed in a tower with lovely views over Oxford and the Nuffield College quadrangle. The library itself has numerous reading rooms filled with comfortable and functional 1950s furniture.
Nuffield College Library also has developed many web 2.0 media, such as LibraryThing, Twitter and Delicious links for researchers to follow.

Sheffield's Splendid Libraries!

Information Commons, Sheffield University
The rather Zen-like exterior of Western Bank Library and the Arts Tower as seen from Weston Park

Sheffield Central Public Library

Furtive photo of the card catalogue from the Reference Section of Sheffield Central Public Library

Borgesian inspiration painted on the wall as Sheffield Central Public Library
Last week, I went up to Sheffield to visit the libraries at Sheffield University, where I was welcomed by the amazing Lex Rigby, Science and Engineering subject librarian at Sheffield University, and given a tour of the Information Commons and the Western Bank Library. I also had the chance to visit the Central Public Library, with its Local Studies and Archives unit and the Graves Gallery, a treasure trove of an art collection housed in a small but well-curated gallery at the top floor of the grand art deco Central Library building (circa 1934).

Demise of Delicious?

In a first attempt at bringing social media to the Sherardian Libary of Plant Taxonomy (part of my numerous graduate trainee projects), I created a set of bookmarked websites through the site, Delicious.com that I thought might be useful for research in plant taxonomy, floristics, plant systematics, genomics and evo-devo (evolutionary-developmental) studies.
These Delicious bookmarks can be found here (plant scientists please take note!):


Apparently, Delicious, which is now owned by Yahoo! might be shut down, however, these rumours have been denied.
 Should Delicious be shut down, what would happen to the vast amount of data found and saved on the site?
The closure of such a web-based "libraries" brings up issues as to the transitory nature of information on the WWW. Of course, it is to be hoped that there will somehow be an archive to preserve such information.

Hope to get into this a bit more through studying digital archives, but for now, it's time for a the morning cuppa...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Medium is the Message: Marshall McLuhan takes on Libraries

Canadian philosopher and educator Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) worked in media and communications theory. He is best known for coining "the medium is the message" and "global village",  in addition to predicting the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web. One of the cornerstones of McLuhan's philosophical outlook was how communications technologies (such as the advent of printed text, moveable type and electronic communications such as radio and television) affected cognition and organisation and dissemination of information (and therefore knowledge) such that it had great implications for society and social organisation as a whole.

Academic libraries must now reach students and researchers through increasingly digital media, particularly in the sciences. While there is still a demand for print journals, particularly in some fields, most researchers increasingly rely on on-line resources (ejournals and the like) for information. There is also an increasing trend in social media (web 2.0) for sharing this information, whether it be through blogs, twitter tweets or delicious bookmarks. Not only are these new media changing how research is conducted, but it is also changing how information is found, stored and organised. It is rapidly changing the role of the library and also of the librarian, particularly for specialist subject research.

Stating the obvious? Perhaps.

But often these technologies can result in an overwhelming "miscellization" (Weinberger, David. 2007. Everything is Miscellaneous) of information, categorised through amorphous and inconsistent tag clouds, rather than a strictly hierarchical and delineated classification of information, as would be typical of the more traditional library catalogue.

But then again, as McLuhan states: "Information overload equals pattern recognition". (McLuhan, Marshall. 1969. Counterblast)

And it's up to librarians to help get everything sorted.

Here's a bit more McLuhan, this time on mass media (with thanks to the Radio Free Vestibules):

The Ballad of Marshall Mcluhan from Randall Acronym on Vimeo.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hello and Welcome!

This blog will attempt to record some "serious discussions" about Information Science. 
It might also record some moments in time, space and thoughts of a graduate library trainee at Oxford's science libraries: the Radcliffe Science Library, Alexander Library of Ornithology and the Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy.
For more information about Oxford's Graduate Library Trainee programme, please refer to the trainee blog.