Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Intellectual Property Run Amok

U.S. magazine Mother Jones includes an interesting humourous piece on Intellectual Property - subtitled "the comedy of IP Overkill"

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Neglected Books Page

Good idea this - suggestions from many sources and authors about "neglected" books - that don't deserve to be written out of literary history. Sample the short suggestion from Raymond Chandler with the twist at the end....or browse Michael Holroyd's much longer list. It's worth making return visits to this site. (Thanks to Marylaine Block's Neat Stuff I Found on the Net This Week)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Alternative and Activist Media
Review of: Mitzi Waltz, Alternative and Activist Media. Edinburgh University Press, 2005.
Reviewed in Freedom 25 February 2006

In an age when communication is dominated by giant international corporations exercising an "all-pervasive mass-media monopoly", Mitzi Waltz examines the ways in which alternative and activist media have opened "cracks in the mass-media monolith through which strange flowers grow."
Although published by an academic press, and intended for use on journalism, sociology and media studies courses, her book is written in a lively and accessible style (apart from the occasional sprinkling of terms like "counter-hegemonic") that makes it a useful tool for community-based activists.
The first chapter looks at the reasons for the existence of alternative and activist media, and the part they play. Chapter two provides a short history touching on earlier forms of media monopoly, and the role played by technological change in opening up opportunities for alternatives to develop. Chapter three examines the ways in which mass media are consumed, and there are five chapters that focus on the different formats favoured by alternative and activist media, including radio, video, film, print and digital media.
Many of the examples of activist media in action are inspiring, such as the precise summary of the way in which the Undercurrents video collective started and has continued to grow, in spite of having thousands of pounds worth of video equipment smashed by the police in Genoa. Particularly useful features of this chapter are the details of free online courses, and an emphasis on the importance of effective distribution.
Mitzi provides an interesting account of activist cyberculture, and its successes, such as the creation of the non-hierarchical computer networks that enabled activists to expose the dangers of the Chernobyl melt-down. There are also examples of the pitfalls encountered by successful ventures, such as the online alternative community De Digital Stadt, which by the year 2000 had 160,000 subscribers. Unfortunately, because of a flawed internal structure this project was eventually transformed into a consultancy business by a small group of members.
The weakest chapter is the section on radio, which suffers from over-emphasis on US examples of the use of radio, whereas a summary of the successes and failures of community and pirate radio in Britain would be more relevant. It would also have been useful to compare the US experience with that of Europe, where alternative radio stations, such as Radio Alice (Italy) and the French Anarchist Federation’s Radio Libertaire have successfully linked radio broadcasting to street activism.
There a perceptive account of the problems faced by successful alternative media projects, and what happens to them, as they are absorbed into the mainstream. Unfortunately there is no discussion of several important issues that have underpinned and extended the impact of media activism, such as the free software movement and the development of an information commons.
Predicting the future forms and direction of activist media is a chancy business, but Waltz tackles this partly by anchoring this last speculative chapter in a short but pithy account of the development of Indymedia, and the growing use of new tools like Wikipedia.
This is an important book because it provides a critical overview of alternative and anti-capitalist media in all its variety. The short practical exercises at the end of each chapter are well thought out, and the provision of web addresses, and further reading will help the reader develop the necessary skills to become consciously involved in creating the next wave of media activism.

Cambridge Conference on Contemporary Poetry

This year's programme has just been announced. The 16th International CCCP will be held on 21-23 April

Friday, March 10, 2006
A website devoted to "the culture of science in fiction and fact", Lablit has some interesting essays: "Sweet somethings. Can a PhD attract the opposite sex?", "Fear and loathing: Technology is unwanted in novels" and a short piece by Independent journalist Lewis Wolpert: "Unkind literature: The scientific void in classic novels".

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sussex Students Occupy Library in Protest Against Falling Standards

In a statement in what they describe as a "Learn-in" manifesto, the students explained: "We believe that the recent cuts to the library epitomise the problems facing students at this university. We believe that we are entitled to a high level of education and that large seminars and few resources, either academic or material, are not going to achieve this.

We regret that this action may inconvenience library staff and we stress that this action is in opposition to the library cutbacks and redundancies perpetrated by university senior management.
A more detailed report of the occupation is found on

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Google Teams up with the British Library

Google is joining with the British Library to provide direct links to the full text research articles on the British Library's Articles Direct database. Google users will click on the link that directs them to an online ordering form already completed with the bibliographic details of the desired article. Payment normally includes a copyright fee and articles should be supplied direct to the desktop within as little as two hours.
There is a detailed report available from

Articles Direct:

Google Scholar:

European Digital Library

Six million books, films, photographs and manuscripts will be made available online over the next few years as part of the European Commission's proposal for a European Digital Library.

Friday, March 03, 2006

From the Website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister comes the text of this speech made by Phil Woolas MP to the All-party Parliamentary Group on Libraries last month. Its worth reading for two or three reasons - firstly because it acknowledges that one reason for the decline in library book-borrowing might result from halving the amount of money spent on buying books for libraries. (Still no mention of the number of closures of Library service points, however.) Secondly the ominous mention of "practical new models of delivery" and "community management of local libraries" - how long before the idea of "Library Trusts" surfaces? The "Trust" model has just been floated for Museums. There are also references to a significant contribution from Libraries towards the DCMS target of £146m in "efficiency savings" over the next three years. Sounding a positive note there is praise for "Idea Stores" - although as usual little recognition that a key factor behind the success of "Idea Stores" is the input of considerable chunks of funding - the evidence shows that traditional libraries also do better if they are refurbished and have a wide range of new books. I'm not against the ideas stores model if it attracts people into Libraries, but there are many aspects of the traditional library model which need to be kept - as I've said before Libraries are too important to leave to the politicians!

Wikipedia vs Britannica

There's a new issue of The Searcher containing a lengthy article by Paula Berinstein exploring the similarities, differences in methodology and accuracy of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. "Wikipedia is a great starting point. It’s a lesson in research methodology, a fun way to share expertise, and a groundbreaking new way of working. Its consensus model represents a shift in management styles and away from hierarchical organization. You might say that Wikipedia is Zen-like. Its ever-changing nature means that when you read it, you are completely in the moment. And its collective brain is like a conscious universe in which we are all one."

Book History Online
An international bibliography of the history of the printed book and Libraries - based on records from the Annual bibliography of the History of the Printed Book and Libraries this database now holds more than 33,000 items. The files can be searched by "names of authors, editors, title words (including periodicals), classification, geographical keywords, names of persons (printers, publishers etc.), firms and institutions, and by subjects and words in annotations." It is also well worthwhile using the Site Index. Book History Online (BHO) is designed and published by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands, in co-operation with national committees from Libraries in other countries.

Collins to Grisham
Just came across this while browsing for something else.............a "history of the legal thriller"

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

British Library Research Archive
A new service from the British Library is the British Library Research Archive, a database of papers and materials by researchers who are not affiliated to academic institutions. Its great to see an institution like the BL publicly recognising that intellectual life exists outside academia - there is a caveat that the papers contained in the database may not be peer-reviewed. The number of items in the database appears to be quite small at present, but hopefully this is an idea that has found its time, and so it should grow rapidly. It is possible to do simple and advanced searches, and as a nice touch the site runs on GNU software.

Eurozine acts as a portal to a wide selection of European cultural magazines and e-zines, as well as related institutions and organizations, and features some of the best material published by them - there are currently 725 articles in the Eurozine archive, and you can also sign up for a newsletter. As a sample of what can be found on the site here is an interview with historian Carlo Ginzberg, author of The Cheese and the Worms, in which he talks about his historical method of microhistory, and argues for a history that serves a sense of historical justice: