Sunday, May 28, 2006


Amnesty International have launched a campaign opposing efforts to control and censor the Internet. Read more about the threats to Internet freedom and what you can do to protect it:

Additonal background information is also published in today's Observer newspaper:,,1782149,00.html

Updike's Explosive Words

The controversy surrounding digital scanning programmes such as Google Book Search flared up again last week with John Updike's attack on Kevin Kelly's Scan this Book! Updike hit out the schemes for fragmenting literary works, and for the possible financial loss that might be incurred by authors, publishers and booksellers.
The argument is summarised in the Washington Post:

Planet of Slums

With an estimated one billion people living in slums, they are becoming the dominant urban form. In his new book Planet of Slums Mike Davis analyses the implications for the future shape of society. John Bartholomew provides a review in the Telegraph:

There is also an interesting two-part interview with Mike Davis on BLDG BLOG:
Part 1:
Part 2:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Library Power

When Norfolk County Council decided to duck out of its responsibilities to provide a library service to the community of Bradwell near Yarmouth - the local people took action - and opened their own independent community library. It has taken them three years to do it - but they have doubled the space and soon hope to replace the IT facilities that they lost when the Council pulled out. That's the way to change the world! Read the full story in the Eastern Daily Press:

Why Books Resist the Rise of Novel Technologies

"Books... are about a lot more than "communicating information" writes Times journalist Jonathan Weber, "The words themselves are only a part of it... It's hard to separate them from the way in which they are being read. Books are usually read in a different physical context, and in a different mental space, than other types of reading material. They are, at their best, things that transport you, take you to another world, probably one far, far away from the frenetic information exchange that is the internet.",,20411-2193549.html

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Surveillance Society and the Internet

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is currently pursuing a class action lawsuit against US telecommunications corporation AT & T alleging that the company routes internet traffic to the US National Security Agency as part of an illegal surveillance operation.
Wired News carries the full text of a statement from a key witness in the case, with links to supporting documents.,70944-0.html?tw=wn_index_6

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Independent Bookshops - a different take.

Using many of the same examples as John Sutherland in his LRB article (see below) Tyler Cowen comes to different conclusions about the pros and cons of independent bookshops, in this article in Slate:

The Secret History of Magna Carta

Peter Linebaugh, one of the authors of the detailed history of rebellion The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, writes about the historical importance and contemporary relevance of Magna Carta in the Boston Review.

Public Sector Spies?

Reports in yesterday's Guardian of government plans to transform public sector workers into an arm of the the "Surveillance State" should alarm everybody. I'm not sure which is the worst scenario - that the information transmitted between the police and the local authorities is accurate - or that it is inaccurate?,,1778673,00.html

Life on the Web's Factory Floor

Not only bookshops have changed (see previous post) - the financial and industrial structure that underpins the internet is resulting in the emergence of an "information proletariat" - see this article from BusinessWeek online:

Do Books Have a Future?

It is a pity that John Sutherland's perceptive analysis of the impact that changes in book retailing methods have had on bookshops isn't available as part of the free content on the London Review of Books website (see the current print edition). It is an issue with serious consequences for everybody concerned with the future of a literary culture.

Mentioning the LRB - there was another great diary piece in the previous issue: Rose George's "Travels in the Sewers". Like Sutherland's article it is only available online to subscribers - which is I suppose a good argument for taking out a subscription, or persuading your local library to stock the LRB.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Street Literature Online

Miriam Jones has recently posted a fascinating page in the scribblingwoman blog devoted to online resources on ballads, broadsides and chapbooks - the street literature published between the 16th and 19th centuries. Many of the sites feature high resolution images that enable close scrutiny of both text and illustrations, and allow the scurrilous contents to be easily read:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

One for the book!

Britain is now the world's "per capita leader in the publication of new books in any language" according to U.S. publishers Bowker, the leading provider of bibliographic information in the U.S. Last year 206,000 new books were published in the U.K., representing an increase of some 45,000 (28%) over 2004. Bowker estimate that the title output in the U.S. decreased by more than 18,000 to 172,000 new titles and editions.
Full story here:

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cambridge University Library

Good news for Cambridge University Library as it has just received a grant of more than haf a million pounds from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to catalogue thousands of Victorian books, pamphlets, maps, calendars, games, photo albums and trade catalogues. This amazing collection of material was originally received by the Library in its role as a copyright library, but were considered considered too populist, low-brow to be catalogued, and were just locked away unused. Hopefully this project will mark a sea-change in attitudes towards the importance of archiving books and printed material in the library world.

The Library has also received a £475, 000 grant towards the restoration and digitization of thousands of fragments of 10th-13th century Jewish, Hebrew and Arabic documents. the grant is from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Function Creep

ID cards are just the tip of the new technocratic authoritarianism that is closing in around us.
Chris Armstrong explains on his info NeoGnostic blog how the National Identity Register will be used to enable the exchange of data and information between unrelated organisations:

Open Democracy

Open Democracy - an "independent online magazine for freethinkers" has two recent feature articles worth reading. Roger Scruton provides an appreciation of the work of Jane Jacobs the Canadian writer who died last month. Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) emphasised the part played by ordinary people in shaping their environment, and the importance of sponteneity. In doing so it challenged the basic assumptions of urban planning and changed the way people thought about the character of cities.

Virginia Anderson provides an overview of the life and work of Cornelius Cardew 25 years after his death: "Cornelius Cardew (1936-81) developed a philosophy of experimental notation and indeterminacy that influenced art music throughout the world. He was a deeply moral thinker, engaged in a constant struggle for truth in art, life, the political world, and himself. In face of all criticism and mockery, he stood with his personal, political and aesthetic beliefs against British musical conservatism, the avant-garde establishment, and finally, the experimentalism he himself had created. "

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bibliographic Database on Organized Crime and Corruption

This database is one for those who like true crime, from the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Crime and Coruption at York University (Canada).

Literary Archaeology

The New York Times reviews Stuart Kelly's: The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read. Kelly chronicles the books that were burned, misplaced, abandoned, sppressed, never finished or never started - and so lost to posterity. Wonderful stuff including Byron's Memoirs; a novel that Sylvia Plath was reported to be working on before her suicide ; and the lost plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

The Rehabilitation of Bronson Alcott

Today's Guardian Review features an absorbing essay by Geraldine Brooks 'rehabilitating' Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott, and a friend of Emmerson and Thoreau.,,1768427,00.html


The British Architectural Library has acquired the series of 16th century pen and ink drawings known as the Codex Stosch. The 50 drawings are by a member of Raphael’s circle, Giovanni Battista da Sangallo (1496-1548) and depict 16 ancient buildings in and near Rome. Caroline Lewis has written an informative article on the Codex for 24hourmuseum:

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Library Closures

Nine libraries are closing in Lancashire - and Lancashire is not the only county with plans to close libraries. Politicians come up with all sorts of phrases about "access", "social inclusion" and make great play about the new digital resources provided through public libraries - but the bottom line is that there are less books in public libraries now than there were a few years ago, and a lot fewer libraries. It's the smaller libraries that are closing and they play an important role in the communities they serve. Often they are communities already poorly served by public transport, and lacking the amenities enjoyed in larger towns so the Library is one of the few resources that they have left. Only rarely are the closures taking place in the context of budget cuts, usually they are made in spite of budget increases. Resources are being deliberately transferred to larger urban libraries.

The closures are also taking place at the very time when the advent of the Internet, and the growth of online resources provides the potential to even up the disparity in information provision. The whole point about the internet is that it can give people in small communities the same access to information as those in larger communities - closing libraries now is creating a new "digital divide". All the fine phrases and policies about "Access" won't get people into closed buildings.

Here is an account of the closure of Rossendale Library from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph:

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Royal Historical Society Bibliography

This is a great way of finding out what's been published on all sorts of historical and literary subjects> Although it now contains more than 390,000 bibliographic records, it isn't yet as inclusive as it really should be. It is, nevertheless, a well thought out site, and the search results link through to other sites, so that it is possible to search on Copac, World Cat, or link to the journal homepage in the case of articles. There is even a "get copy" button that links to, and checks, 10 commercial databases that might hold the items online (although they are subscription databases, requiring passwords). There are also author links to the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) and the National Register of Archives (note that the DNB requires a password, although as many public libraries subscribe - this might be your library card number).

For an example check out this article on "Dickens and the construction of Christmas"

Archives Hub

The Archives Hub provides a useful and often detailed descriptive guide to archival collections held in UK universities and Colleges. This month the site features a selection of archives relating to the life and work of John Ruskin and his admirers, wikth links to related organisations "engaging with Ruskin's ideas".