Saturday, September 30, 2006


An important online exhibition documenting the life, oppression and resistance of the Dalit people of India. "The word 'Dalit', in Sanskrit, means oppressed or downtrodden. In Marathi, the language first spoken by Dalit communities, it means 'broken to pieces'. The Dalits are communities of people in India that are regarded as being on the lowest rung of the Hindu caste ladder." Inspirational photos by Nishant Lalwani.

A brief over-view of the lives of the Dalit can be found on

More detailed information from the Dalit Foundation:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unbounded Freedom

Unbounded Freedom is a "guide to Creative Commons thinking for cultural organisations". Published by Counterpoint, the cultural relations think-tank of the British Council, it is the first work from the British council published under a creative commons license.
You can read more about it and download a copy here:

Meanwhile the BBC reports that a large part of the UK's decaying national music archive could be lost, as copyright law currently prevent copies of audio recordings being transferred from fragile or obsolete formats in order to preserve them for posterity until copyright runs out.
Consequently the British Library has launched its own "manifesto" Intellectual Property: A Balance arguing that: "Fair dealing access and library privilege should apply to the digital world as is the case in the analogue one."

Read the British Library's IP Manifesto here:

There is also this detailed article from PCPro:

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Text Messages

Ron Powers reviews a collection of literary essays by E.L. Doctorow in the New York Time Sunday Book Review. "Doctorow gives us compacted worlds, fissioning into ever larger worlds, of imaginative possibility" in his discussion of writers as diverse as Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, W G Sebald, Harpo Marx, Albert Einstein, and the anonymous translators of the King James version of Genesis. The book, 'Creationists: Selected Essays, 1993-2006,' is published by Quartermelon.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Gooseberry Lay

Part of an essay "Getting Away with Murder" in which Erle Stanley Gardner author of the Perry Mason novels talks about Dashiell Hammet's use of criminal slang:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Banned Books Week 23 - 30 September

Google has set up a special page to "Celebrate Your Freedom to Read":
"To Kill a Mockingbird. Of Mice and Men. The Great Gatsby. 1984. It's hard to imagine a world without these extraordinary literary classics, but every year there are hundreds of attempts to remove great books from libraries and schools. In fact, according to the American Library Association, 42 of 100 books recognized by the Radcliffe Publishing Course as the best novels of the 20th century have been challenged or banned."
"Google Book Search is our effort to expand the universe of books you can discover, and this year we're joining libraries and bookstores across the country to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week – a nationwide initiative to help people learn about and explore banned books."

A welcome gesture on Google's part, but I do think that they should also have used the page to link in to the Google News Archive Search giving readers a path to contemporary press articles when many of the featured books were published:
Explore Banned Books:

Google News Archive search

Monday, September 18, 2006

Library Buildings Survey - 1 in 4 fail Health & Safety Requirements

Twenty-four per cent England's public library buildings fail to meet basic Health and Safety requirements according to a "Library Buildings Survey" just published by the Museum's Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and seventy per cent fail to comply with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.
This shock finding is contained in a five-page* report compiled for the MLA by PKF Accountants & Business Advisers, and concludes that £760 million of expenditure is required to bring all libraries up to a "fit for purpose" standard.

A key failing of the PKF report is that while it breaks down the survey responses it has received by the type of local authority responding, it does not attempt to relate the number of sub-standard buildings to the type of local authority with responsibility for those buildings. So it is impossible to determine if the failure to maintain buildings properly is an urban or rural phenomena, or if the failure is spread uniformly across all authorities.

The full report is available as a pdf download:

(*The report is only 5 pages long including one page of recommendations, the rest of the 30 page document is taken up by appendixes containing summaries of the responses to individual questions, and a list of respondents etc)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

To Digitise or not to digitise.........?

"The critical decision is how to preserve the information, not the format in which it exists." writes Bonita Wilson, editor of D-Lib Magazine. Bonita's comment on the debate about the digitisation of print-based information was inspired by the current controversy at California State Polytechnic University, where some of the University's professors and library staff are up in arms about the removal of print materials in favour of digitised resources. [See Scott Carlson's article (1)]

The debate is taking place within the isolated ivory tower of academia partly because it is only reported in publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education, (which requires a subscription to read online and is not readily available in printed format in either shops or libraries in the UK) or in specialist online publications like D-Lib, but the issues raised by the chucking out of printed formats simply because of the availability of online versions are enormous and will have have a long term impact on the shaping of our culture.

Take the most obvious example Shakespeare's plays. Our collective understanding of how Shakespeare's plays were written, printed and received by his contemporaries would be poorer without the meticulous reserch that has been undertaken on the way books were printed, paginated and bound. Typefaces, watermarks, the way signatures are folded, even the way pages were cannibalised from leftovers from earlier editions have all informed and transformed our knowledge of Shakespeare. None of this information is captured by digitisation. Of course it is possible to conceive of Shakespeare's plays simply in terms of information, or even just marks on paper, but this is a superficial perspective in both senses of the word - there is more happening beneath the surface.

Another example was provided by Lisa Jardine in her Point of View talk for BBC Radio last June, where she describes how a minute hand-written marginal note found in a copy of a small book in Latin published in Basle in 1559 by an exiled English protestant enabled a researcher to recover an "animated debate between reader and author about how imaginative and free one was entitled to be in turning a text from an ancient language into a modern one. It's a debate intensely relevant to English religious politics of the time, centred as that was on the translation and interpretation of the Bible."

Lisa goes on to point out that "This pint-sized book...does not figure in the latest, much-used, electronic resource for historians of the English literary heritage, which only reproduces books in English."

I realise that I am providing outstanding examples of the point that I am trying to make, but I am not arguing for every copy of every book to be retained in perpetuity - and I don't think anyone else is either. Indeed I welcome digitisation programmes for many reasons - they are potentially democratic in that they can make unique, rare and obscure works widely available to everyone, they enable new ways of researching information, and they reduce wear and tear on fragile originals. But digitisation should not provide license for the well-documented massacre in the library book stacks.
Bonita's editorial is available here:

and the transcript of Lisa's talk is available here:

also relevant to this debate is Nicholson Baker's book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (2001):
Baker's book was in fact triggered by the discard of printed material from the British Library.

(1) Carlson, Scott. "Library Renovation Leads to Soul Searching at Cal Poly: Professors and librarians complain about a shift from print to online materials." The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 1, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google. News Archive

Interesting and potentially useful new resource from Google - the Google News Archive indexes, which allows users find articles from selected news sources up to 200 years old. Much of the content retrieved requires a fee to download - so that for example a search on "Carlo Tresca" resulted in a list of 10 articles published between 1916 and 1988 but only 2 could be read free of charge. There is a further complication in that the differrent information providers use different payment methods. Positive features include an advanced search page, and the ability to organize the search results into a timeline.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Towards Ennistone

The late Roger Deakin (see my earlier post below) "excavates the watery subconscious of the English landscape and sees reflected in it our need for intimacy and playfulness with nature" in this account of some english streams and rivers published on OpenDemocracy in 2001:
"The wild, biologically purified water of an unpolluted natural stream is quite different from the abstract tap water, which is much more like electricity or gas: something you turn on or off, control and pay for. In his book, Reflected in Water, Colin Ward argues that to have turned water into a commodity is unnatural, because water is a gift, like air and sunlight. It wasn’t until the 1920s that mains water began to arrive in many places in Britain, and people began the adjustment from the familiar taste of their own living, local water to the lifeless ubiquity that comes from a tap. Water used to be an absolute; now there are two kinds, the living and the lifeless."

Red-Hot and Filthy - Library Smut

A great piece from the nonist - with pictures! that speaks for itself:

[via Jessamyn West's]