My Bookshelf 20/3/2015

The World that Made New Orleans by Ned Sublette

My family is from the city and I studied Louisiana history at school, but boy did I learn a lot reading this engaging and well-written book. Music is woven throughout, as it should be, but that is not the main aim, which is namely, a social and political history of the Crescent City from about 1700 to post-Katrina. One thing I learned was the close links musical and otherwise between New Orleans and Caribbean island nations such as Cuba and Haiti. Well worth a read but please, no long ‘e’ sounds!


New Orleans at Night (NASA, International Space Station, 01/26/11). Image credit: NASA.

The Remembering by Steve Cash

This is the final novel in the Meq series that I’ve been reading. The previous book ended with the bomb being dropped on Nagasaki and The Remembering picks up in the aftermath. I enjoyed it, especially the surprises in the plot, though the pacing was sometimes slow. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, this series is definitely worth a read.

Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

Another masterpiece in the Shardlake series (part of me hopes he carries on but poor Shardlake could really use a break after six novels). This one takes him deep inside the glamorous and cutthroat court of an aging Henry VIII. Queen Catherine Parr is a principle character as the plot centres on the theft of a religious book she’s penned. Sansom does a brilliant job of conveying the uncertainty and terror under which people lived during this time of great change in what constituted orthodox religion.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

An interesting novel that is a sort of loose, surreal autobiography. I struggled through especially when his 11th year went on for what felt like 25 chapters. Rushdie also covers the political history of India and the region in the mid-twentieth century, a subject I knew little about. Otherwise I felt as if I was caught up in a psychedelic, stream of consciousness flow where the social commentary got lost in the jungle.

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
Similar type of novel to her Sepulchre (historical fiction with two heroines connected across time) and just as gripping. I also learned a lot about medieval southern France and the persecution of the Cathars.

Reflective Writing by Kate Williams, Mary Woolliams and Jane Spiro (Pocket Study Skills series)
Handy little book I’m reading as I thought it would help with my academic writing and my blog. It is very useful, written in plain English and utilises a lot examples. Mostly geared toward an academic context but there is a section on ‘reflection for career planning’ as well.


One of the best articles I’ve read on copyright and what it means in everyday life: Jonathan Band on Jon Stewart and Fair Use 

This NY Times article describes the educational opportunities of the Internet, “information overload” and how we’re coping, but takes a glaringly narrow view. It omits any mention of information professionals in the discussion of who can handle the vast amounts of information available today, limiting the candidates to visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Bob Dylan who apparently have some magic ability to function in the information age. But read it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Library School – An Intro

A first post about library school. I like to call it that because the Americanism seems to be coming into more general use over here. I’m studying part time via distance learning at Northumbria University and I have yet to actually visit Newcastle! There was an optional one day study school in September, but I missed it since I started the course late. Contact with tutors is by phone or email. A Facebook group set up by some of our cohort has proven a lively forum for discussion and commiseration. We use an online learning platform/VLE to access teaching material, discussion boards, reading lists and the library’s online resources. They post us the set texts for each module which is very useful and I am now accumulating a nice little information science library. I have also gotten access to my local university library through the SCONUL Access scheme. That’s been really useful come assignment time when I need to do research and track down sources that I cannot access online. Unfortunately they only let me borrow four items at once though…

A bit about the course structure. We take two modules at a time so it is manageable even if you’re working full time, which the majority of students are as far as I can gather. I’m lucky in that I have two week days to devote to study because a lot of the others have to complete coursework at evenings and weekends. After sixteen months, I will (fingers crossed) be awarded a postgraduate diploma, and at that point you can stop or carry on and write a dissertation to receive the masters qualification.

I finished two modules at the end of January: Managing in the Information Environment and Hypermedia for the Information Professional. Thankfully I passed both of them, an encouraging sign at this point. Those were the two that attracted me to the programme in the first place so it was good to start with topics I was interested in. I’m currently working on Collection Management and Organising Knowledge modules. I plan to blog in a bit more detail about each module so watch this space.

IFLA WLIC – Part 2

This is part 2 of my conference experience at IFLA WLIC last August. For Part 1 click here.* Again, it’s a long one but I blame that on their being too many fantastic sessions!

In addition to school library related sessions, the second thread I followed was the IFLA Trend Report. The Report was released at the 2013 WLIC and consists of five high-level, societal trends affecting the information environment. Information professionals devoted last year to discussion of the Report. This year’s Trend Report sessions were focussed on receiving feedback from the discussions across the world and thinking about how librarians and library associations will move forward into action and adapt to a changing information environment.


The Cultural Evening was great fun. It was held in a former sugar warehouse, very ‘industrial chic’. Highlights were trying oysters for the first time and attempting group dances that were directed by an animated Medieval chicken/creature/thing on the big screen!

IFLA by its nature brings together globally prominent, intelligent people and I felt quite privileged to hear their ideas, especially on the Trends. The President’s Session included a Trend Report component focusing on e-participation for strong information societies. Speakers addressed the Trends as a whole from the perspective of their sector, including digital and information literacy, publishing, parliaments, policy advocates, think tanks and the EU justice system. Interesting points raised included that libraries are well-positioned to build capacity in digital and information literacy (Trend 1), a hyper-connected society means more voices but also more ‘noise’ (Trend 4) and that there is a pressing need for data protection reforms to address the alarming possibilities of Big Data (Trend 3).

Another session I attended on the Trends was entitled ‘What’s next? Moving on from the IFLA Trend Report’ and was sponsored by the Management of Library Associations Section and FAIFE Committee. Each speaker addressed one Trend in order and I took eight pages of notes! David Souter (ICT Development Associates) highlighted the growing ‘dataification’ of government and business and asked, where does information power reside? Access to this data is an important issue as it depends on factors such as access to analytical resources, computer processing capabilities, etc. He saw the role of libraries in this area as institutions who can increase diversity in information and access. Pierre Dillenbourg (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) spoke about online education and quipped that it will ‘democratise, maybe; disrupt, yes’. He saw potential in using MOOCs for teacher training and for training purposes in businesses. He proposed several theories on what the future holds:  that small universities could disappear, universities will lose the monopoly on higher education, and the future for open access is not looking rosy. He saw the role of librarians as resource managers in online education. David Greene (Electronic Frontiers Foundation) asserted that data protection was a human rights issue and described the alarming realities of digital life such as direct surveillance and the mass collection of data. He proposed that librarians should be advocates for privacy and data protection and libraries themselves should provide secure internet connections and use user data responsibly. Anniette Esterhuysen (Association for Progressive Communications) gave a fascinating talk on hyper-connected societies. Individuals have a voice now, but is there more noise online and who gets heard? She saw librarians as the ‘worriers’ for the public interest, agents for inclusion, facilitators of access and as challengers of power structures. In short librarians she said, echoing Souter’s talk, are human rights advocates. Finally Loida Gracia-Febo (IFLA Governing Board) talked about librarians facilitating knowledge exchange through new technologies. She saw librarians adapting to this trend by becoming experts on new technologies, connecting people, helping creators and contributing to sustainable development.


Rose garden in the massive park next to the conference centre.

The final Trend Report session I attended was held by the IFLA President-Elect, Donna Scheeder. There were a series of lightening talks from speakers representing the regions of the world and then we had round-table discussions. It was interesting to hear varying responses and priorities from the different regions such as infrastructure and internet access being a big issue in Asia and Oceania, Dutch libraries exploring reconciling the physical and digital, the USA pushing for policy change and in Africa, prioritising inclusive digital literacy, access, and IP ownership and indigenous knowledge. For the round table, the discussion was all about action. We discussed the need for library design and infrastructure to cater to an increasingly tech-saturated culture, e.g. having lots of plug sockets, sufficient bandwidth and also considering the environment and sustainability in design. Accountability was another theme:  we need to show the ‘value add’ that libraries provide, and not just in terms of money; senior managers need to release talented staff to do great and creative work; we need a clear, simple message and/or metrics for effective advocacy. Change was a buzzword on the table. Librarians need to change their mind-set and we need more variety of qualifications within libraries to address the changing information environment. We also need to understand our users’ needs and everyone agreed this entails getting out from behind the desk and talking to people! New definitions of ‘library’ were batted around including intermediary to knowledge and information, facilitator of learning and helping people understand their ability to build capacity. We then talked about what problems and opportunities faced IFLA, our national association and our local region. My main personal takeaway from this was that I need to embed myself in my school by getting out of the library and talking to teachers about what they need and how the library can help meet that need, e.g. information and digital literacy skills.


Collége La Tourrette, Lyon – this was their quad area.

On my final day I visited two libraries and several museums. I went on a tour of a local secondary school library at Collége La Tourrette. The school opened a year ago after an extensive refurbishment of the historic building. The library was spread across four rooms, which prompted a lot of questions about security of stock and staffing. The rooms were a mix of classrooms, IT rooms and the main library proper. I was interested in their set of tablets since we were looking into e-readers at my school at the time. The system they use is students have an ID which corresponds to a barcode on each tablet, but they cannot be taken out of school. I also visited the Bibliothéque Part Dieu, the main public library in the city. It was a busy place on a Saturday morning and I enjoyed their exhibition of ‘Trésors!’, showcasing treasures of the Lyon Municipal Library. I also got to visit the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation.


French Harry Potter books at Collége La Tourrette library.


Tablet storage trolley at Collége La Tourrette library.

I found this conference experience incredibly rewarding and want to thank the John Campbell Trust again for supporting my attendance.

*An adapted (and shorter!) version of these two posts appeared in CILIP Update October 2014.