Thursday, November 24, 2005

MLA Appoints a New Library Champion
The Museums Archives and Libraries Council has just appointed John Dolan as the "Head of Library Policy". Read the MLA press release here:

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Libraries and "One-Stop Shops"
The Library as we know it is under attack from bureaucrats of both local and central government, who would like to replace libraries with "one-stop shops" that provide all sorts of different council services. Now plans to transform the Libraries in Coventry into "one-stop shops' are facing criticism.

In July Libri, "the charity for Libraries" published a succinct report that highlighted the problems currently faced by Libraries in the UK. Its criticism was perceptive, although I disagree with their support for the recent proposal that the books for all Britain's public libraries should be purchased through a single centrally-organised purchasing agency, as I think it would accentuate the decline in the quality of the bookstock.
You can read the Libri report; "From University to Village Hall" on their website:

Libraries are for people too...
Rosemary Goring has just reviewed the Thames & Hudson book on Libraries by Candida Hofer. The book is full of exquisitely photographed libraries from across the world, and has a forward by Umberto Eco. In her review in the Scottish newspaper The Herald, Rosemary makes an important point that is often overlooked in discussions about libraries: "Like most readers, I love the look of books, but I can't help feeling that they are nothing without readers. In fact, the haunting loneliness and artificiality of Hofer's collection is part of its appeal. ...I'd like to see is a coffee-table book of common or garden libraries, the sort you can walk into off the street. I want these pictures to be filled with people. It might make for less exquisite images, but it would show, as Hofer deliberately fails to do, that libraries are as much about people as books."
Read the whole review here:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Anarchism and Blindness
I was reminded of Helen Keller (see previous post) when I recently re-read this article by Marisa Sposaro. An Australian anarchist, Marisa was the focus of police harassment last year for her work supporting the Anarchist Black Cross:

Anarchism & Blindness: a speech by Marisa Sposaro:

Helen Keller
The RNIB website provides a good overview of the life of Helen Keller. There is a brief mention of her socialist beliefs but without elaboration. Anyone who is interested in following up on this aspect of Helen Keller's life should read the interview with Helen Keller that appeared in the New York Tribune in 1916 - conducted by Barbara Bindley, it is entitled "Why I became and IWW".

RNIB Biography of Helen Keller:

Helen Keller: "Why I became an IWW"

If you have ever had problems with your eyesight and wondered if something was available as a talking book or in a large print format some other accesible format then Revealweb is an ideal resource to consult. Its an online database of resources in accessible media including Braille, moon, audio and digital talking books, large print and more. Its supported and managed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the National Library for the Blind - although funding is only secured until March 2006.

Friday, November 18, 2005

John Killick
I don't often listen to the BBC programme "You and Yours", but this lunchtime I caught a fascinating interview with John Killick, who has spent ten years writing poetry and prose based on conversations with dementia patients. If you didn't hear it, take time out to "listen again" on the BBC website. The poems were remarkable and Killick proved himself to be a perceptive editor. Most "listen again" programmes are only available online for a week after the initial boadcast, so take the opportunity while you can.

Guardian Withdraws Chomsky Interview
The Guardian has withdrawn the controversial interview which falsely accused Chomsky of denying the Srebrenica massacre. The full text of the two Guardian statements can be found here:,,1644668,00.html,,1644017,00.html

The apology must have "come as a nasty shock" to Guardian columnist Norman Johnson who penned a spiteful and "witheringly" juvenile piece attacking Chomsky on the basis of the Brockes interview. Significantly the Johnson piece has not been withdrawn, and no statement about it has been made by the Guardian. The apology will also dismay all those right-wing bloggers who have rushed to use the Brockes interview as evidence for attacking Chomsky, but no doubt in the interests of accuracy they will now be posting retractions?
Speaking personally, however, I'm not certain if the "withdrawal" of the interview from the Guardian's website is the best way of dealing with this issue - it smacks a little too much of Orwell's "memory hole" method of dealing with inconvenient documents - a better way of correcting the damage would be to include a second interview with Chomsky in both the print and online versions of the Guardian conducted by a journalist who will not let personal prejudice or a misplaced ambition to be the outspoken enfant terrible of British journalism run away with them.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Who is Reading Your Library Books?
"Police and Security Services investigating serious crime or terrorism in England and Wales have the right to seek information on books borrowed or Internet sites accessed by certain library users." This is the conclusion of a barrister consulted by CILIP - the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals. He also expressed the opinion that existing legislation is broad enough to permit the installation of spyware on library computers in "appropriate cases". A summary of the advice was issued through the eGov Monitor on October 28 but seems to have aroused little interest in the press.

In the US the so-called Patriot Act has met considerable resistance from Librarians, but if the quotations from CILIP representatives included in the Monitor summarises their position it looks unlikely if they will question applications for access to personal data held by Libraries, or raise strong objections to them, although they will object to "fishing expeditions".

A more detailed summary of the advice is available on the CILIP website at:

The advice given implies that warrants or some other similar forms of official authorisation are required to enable access, but some libraries have provided guidance to staff for some time to cooperate with police requests for information, without specifying the need for warrants. Just what might consitute "terrorism" is an open question at the moment, given reports that more than 600 people were questioned under "terrorism" powers by police in Brighton during the New Labour conference earlier this year.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Even if you don't normally read literary weblogs - you shouldn't miss out on Dogmatika - it is wide-ranging, eclectic and to the point. Unlike many other blogs it also gives graphic novels a decent crack of the whip, picking up an extract from an essay by Art Speigelman that reviews an exhibition of Comic Book Art in Los Angeles and also an interview with Alan Moore in the Independent.
The extract from Art Speigelman:
The interview with Alan Moore:

The War to End All Wars?
Listening to the radio today I remembered a book I found on my grandfather's bookcase when I was young, and which I read over and over again. Simply called Great War Stories it was full of exciting tales of escapes from war-time prisons and accounts of individual bravery and heroism, but the story that made the greatest impression on me was by someone called "Ex Private X" who told of his own experiences at Passchendaele. I didn't realise at the time that it was only a single chapter from a full-length book called War Is War, published in 1930, and that the author was the novelist A. M Burrage, best remembered for some first-rate ghost stories. (One of his short stories, The Waxwork, became a Hitchcock film.) You can read some short extracts from War is War, courtesy of Jon Conquist, on the excellent website.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

For and Against Chomsky
The recent spat over Emma Brockes interview with Noam Chomsky in the Guardian is only part of a much wider attempt to dismantle Chomsky's reputation. Prospect Magazine presents the arguments for and against Chomsky in this month's issue. Robin Blackburn puts the case for Chomsky, while Oliver Kamm presents the argument against. There is also an interesting dissection of Brocke's interview in Counterpunch. The Prospect debate is framed by the question: "Is the world's top public intellectual a brilliant expositor of linguistics and the US's duplicitous foreign policy? Or a reflexive anti-American, cavalier with his sources?" The second sentence encapsulates the ususal charges against Chomsky and Oliver Kamm's argument, and is symptomatic of the context in which Chomsky is always attacked - discussion is always deflected into an issue of numbers and sources, and what Chomsky actually writes is ignored. So the debate becomes one of "proving" the numbers massacred in Cambodia, but not in Indonesia; becomes a debate over the use of sources, not on the substance of what Chomsky has to say.,,1605276,00.html

Pulp Friction
The Economist has just published an article about the impact of electronic publishing and digitisation programmes on traditional forms of publishing. It looks at the economic implications for publishers as well as the more frequently discussed issues such as copyright.

Speaking of Shakespeare
The BBC have a useful Shakespeare "page" which brings together information about all the different programmes on radio, TV and online that are related to Shakespeare. Watch out, in particular, for the Afternoon Reading: Shakespeare Stories on Radio 4 next week, when the sources that inspired Shakespeare are introduced.

Is This A Dagger I see Before Me?
The Crime Writers' Association have just announced their annual "Dagger" awards, including a special Dagger of Dagger award to John Le Carre for The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. For the second year running all the winning books are to be converted into Braille.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

John Fowles
One of the best tributes I've seen on John Fowles is this appreciation in the Daily Telegraph

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Isabel Allende
Just click on the picture on the home page to access summaries of Isabel Allende's books with links to short extracts. There is also a biographical summary, a timeline and an online photo album.

Another imaginative use of the blogging concept - extracts from Thoreau's Journal online.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Courtesy of the Natural History Musem are an amazing series of wildlife photos:
"Each image is unique - a moment in time that perfectly illustrates our vibrant yet fragile planet, captured by photographers from around the world."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ethel Mannin
Researching in the National Archives at Kew I stumbled across a Special Branch report compiled on novelist Ethel Mannin - her original file has been destroyed, but a "ghost" report has remained hidden away - to remind us of the power that literature has to disturb the corridors of power. I think this short poem - "The Song of the Bomber" was written at the time of the Spanish Civil War - but if anyone can point me to the source please leave a comment.

I am purely evil;
Hear the thrum
of my evil engine;
Evilly I come.
The stars are thick as flowers
In the meadows of July;
A fine night for murder
Winging through the sky.
(The Song of the Bomber)

I also recently came across this quotation from Mannin's Connemara Journal (1947)

"Those who sanction war sanction, with it, the unspeakable after-war."

which speaks for itself. It was "Quote of the Week" on Natalie Bennett's blog - Philobiblon - always a source of thought-provoking and stimulating material.