I started with the seminal works The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information by statistician and sculptor, Edward Tufte. Although, I have to say I was always somewhat underwhelmed by his examples.
Thanks to a recent BBC series on The Beauty of Diagrams, I discovered that Florence Nightingale (who is best known as the nurse who cared for thousands of soldiers during the Crimean War), was the first to use statistical graphics as to illustrate the causes of mortality.
More recently I have discovered the Cool Infographics blog, and have seen some excellent examples of effective presentations of statistical information.
I just love words. They are one of my favourite things in life, so I am really excited about our new Evolving English exhibition, where we will be exploring our wonderful language, from Anglo-Saxon runes to modern day rap.
My favourite word for some time has been serendipitous, both for its sound and meaning. As a very poor speller (sp), I am intrigued by what I consider to be ridiculous spellings, which I would never guess how to say. For instance, how about the dance groups The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs. Did you get they are pronounced Chumleys and Fanshaws respectively?
I also noticed last week that David Usborne writing in the new i newspaper from the Independent, is not averse a bit of language creativity. He used the term ‘courtesy-impaired’ passengers in reference to the story about Steven Slater the ‘air rage’ steward. I did a little digging a found an article titled Courtesy-impaired peers frustrate fellow worker by Diane Crowley in the Chicago Sun-Times from 20 September 1990.
Here are some great language websites I have come across over the years:
Wordia – the online dictionary, which brings words to life through video.
AlexHorne.com Can one man deliberately invent a successful new word? Is it possible to break into the dictionary? What is a pratdigger?
Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices
The first exhibition to explore the English language in all its national and international diversity. Iconic books and manuscripts, set alongside engaging everyday texts, show the social, cultural and historical strands from which the language has been woven.
In the exhibition and on this website you will also be able to take part in a national initiative to record how English is spoken all over the UK. You will be able to submit a recording of yourself reading ‘Mr Tickle’ to form part of the British Library’s collections. Add your email address at the top of the page to join our mailing list.
‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices’ also looks beneath the tip of the linguistic iceberg at comics, adverts, text messages, posters, newspapers, trading records and dialect recordings that make up the bulk of the English language.
Over the next nine months, we will be using a dedicated exhibition to explore what technological tools will shape the library’s future research facilities.
The exhibition aims to challenge visitors on how research is changing and ask what you want to experience from the library of the future.
I have volunteered to be a guide to the exhibition so do drop by and say hello.
Working with hardware partner HP and software partner Microsoft, the library is showcasing a range of research tools, including a prototype of Sony’s RayModeler 360-degree Autostereoscopic Display that uses gesture control to view static and moving 3D images and video.
At the end of the Growing Knowledge exhibition, the British Library will evaluate the tools and decide which have been most useful for researchers – a term the library uses to describe anyone using its resources.
Richard Boulderstone, CIO at the British Library, explained: “It’s about trying to explore what tools and services we should provide for researchers in future. What is the future of the library? What tools, spaces, technologies should we provide for researchers?”
Clive Izard, head of creative services at the British Library, added: “We are evaluating the way researchers will work in an area that is not hushed and quiet – where people will be more collaborative physically.
“At the end [of the exhibition] we will produce a report. JISC [independent advisory body providing advice on ICT use to higher education] is going to take the findings and incorporate them into our services.”
The exhibition, which is running on a thin client solution, is testing everything from monitor set-up – from a single touch screen monitor to four standard monitors – to audio search software developed by Microsoft.
These tools, which include map rectification software that reshapes old maps over current maps, and a Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts tool that enables users to digitally delve into Austen’s handwritten manuscripts, will be alternated with other ones in the British Library’s portfolio over the nine months.
Researchers can also experiment with a Microsoft Surface Table, on which the British Library is showing an interactive, digital version of the world’s longest painting, the 19th century Garibaldi Panorama. A set of dials, developed with (University College London (UCL), also measures Twitter activity across nine capital cities.
The Growing Knowledge exhibition will run until 16 July 2011.
I’m wondering if my quest for the most exciting librarian in the world (Cool librarians, More cool librarians) has now ended with the discovery of Yomiko Readman,
codename The Paper, an agent for the Special Operations Division of The
British Library. Yes you read that right, but may have realised that
Yomiko is a fictional character set in an alternative future, where the
British Empire has managed to maintain its superpower status.
In this fantasy world the British Library is an institution devoted
to the promotion of literacy (so far so believable), but is also home to
The British Library Special Operations Division who run operations
around the world to fight book related crime and terrorism. Their slogan
is ‘Peace to the books of the world, an iron hammer to those who would
abuse them (I have some colleagues who would support this part), and
glory and wisdom to the British Empire’.
Yomiko, the hero of the stories is a half-Japanese, half-English
papermaster. This means she has the ability to manipulate paper in a
wide variety of ways, including creating paper darts that can carry
people, paper-rope stronger than steel, and samurai swords. As a result, she never goes anywhere without her case full of stationery supplies.
Although polite and friendly with very few exceptions, she does have a
licence to kill, and does so with her deadliest technique, death by
reports to Joker, a stereotypically stiff upper lip Englishman who
needs a proper cup of tea in a china cup to help him in a crisis. He
reports to Gentleman, an aged, one eyed man, who is the power behind the
throne of the British Empire (no sign of the Royal family here).
Although not generally a fan of Manga comics, I greatly enjoyed watching the Read or Die DVD animated version of the stories last night (many thanks to colleague Matthew Shaw for the loan).
In particular I loved the way that Yomika always asks so politely for
her books to be returned to her. And the almost sexual excitement with
flushed cheeks she shows when coming across a special book. Needless to
say her apartment is piled high with books, to the extent that she is
covered by them as she sleep on her sofa.
Here are some links about this exciting (for a librarian) new discovery:
The guide summarises the key stages of taking an invention to market,
and contains a handpicked list of websites, organisations and resources
that will help you find what you need to know, and fast.
My colleagues have gone to a lot of trouble to find useful sources as
well as explain some aspects of Intellectual Property (IP) in plain
English (which is easier said than done).
Is your invention original?
It is important to search to see if anyone has already published or used
a similar invention to your own, as this may mean that you cannot
protect it. You can conduct a quick search yourself using free websites.
However, we recommend that you gain advice from an expert to help you
with your search and consult a patent attorney to advise if your
invention is patentable. It takes 18 months for a new patent publication
to be published so occasional checking on recently published patent
specifications is also a good idea.
It also makes mention of my current favourite type of IP – Trade Secrets, as exemplified by the Coca-Cola formula.
Trade secrets and confidentiality agreements
Trade secrets and confidentiality are not covered by standard
intellectual property law but can be useful for things which are not
easy to formally protect, such as internal business procedures, recipes
for food and business contacts. They last for ever if you manage to
stop them leaking, so keeping a manufacturing process secret can give
you a longer-lasting monopoly than a patent.
You automatically have a right to sue somebody for breaching
confidence if: the information is not already common knowledge; it was
disclosed to the other person in conditions that implied that they
should keep it confidential; and you have suffered, or are likely to
suffer, actual damage because of the disclosure. Having a formal
non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement is often a safer option.
Last Wednesday night was the formal opening of our Inventing 21st Century exhibition
by BIS Minister Mark Prisk. He talked about the British Library and
the Business & IP Centre in glowing terms which was nice.
During the evening I chatted to a range of inventors and business
support advisers, but my most memorable conversation was with a man in a
K-2 Wheelchair featured in the exhibition. He explained how using it
had changed his life for the better. It was inspiring to see how an
invention can make such an impact on the lives of people.
The BBC has put together a slide show of the exhibits featured in the exhibition.
On Saturday morning, Steve Van Dulken the curator of the exhibition
was interviewed on BBC Breakfast News with the inventor of a double
While on holiday staying with friends in Doune in Stirling in southern Scotland we popped over to Dunblane and paid a flying visit to Leighton Library.
According to the sign outside, it is the oldest private library in
Scotland. It dates from 1687, and was built for the 1,400 book
collection of Robert Leighton, the Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to
1670. The cost of the building was £162 and the Bishop left another
£100 to help build on the original collection of mainly religious texts.
The number of books grew to 4,500, and cover a wide range of topics
printed from 1504-1840. Apparently the Bishop could read several
languages, although at least 80 have been identified in the collection
so I’m not sure who would have read those.
They have quite a few first editions dating from those periods, including The Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott.
However, in many cases they only managed to get hold of second
editions as they were often too slow coming up with payment to get hold
of significant new publication before they had sold out their print
run. So for instance they have a second edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.
We asked to have a look at Samuel Johnson’sA Dictionary of the English Language.
Although not the first dictionary, this was certainly the most
influential from the 1700′s. The library has a second edition from
1756, and it was wonderful to be able to look through the pages of such
a significant publication.
We were very fortunate to have two librarians present to talk about
the collection. One turned out to be the founder of the business
library at Strathclyde University and the other had employed my old
friend John Coll at the National Library of Scotland from the days when they had a science library.
We were made to sit on the original ‘turkie red lether’ chairs
bought for the library in 1688, and still going strong today, and told
lots of interesting stories about the collection and Johnson’s
dictionary. I hadn’t heard about Johnson’s somewhat dubious definition
for Oats before:
‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’
We have an image of the definition on our education pages.
The library is open to the general public from the beginning of May until the end of September as follows:
2011 – Robert Leighton was born in 1611 with the consequence
that 2011 will represent the 400th anniversary of his birth. A number
of events are planned to mark that occasion.
My story begins a few years earlier. I left University in 1984 with
a degree in Geography and Computer Science (the kind of thing possible
then at Keele University). The
logical thing to do at that time would to have become a computer
programmer or something similar. However, during my last year at Keele
I had something of a Damascene conversion
whilst sitting in the Computer Lab one sunny Sunday afternoon. I looked
around the computing lab and realised that with the exception of one
other equally laggard student, I was the only there who had not
completed the assignment due in on Monday morning. Some had completed
it weeks ago. The shocking truth was that they preferred being in the
lab with their computer terminals to frolicking out in the sun with
their fellow students. I suddenly realised that I preferred being and working with people rather than cold inhuman computer technology.
This new found realisation left me at something of a loss as to a
career path post University. However one faint possibility did occur to
me at that key point. During my four year degree course (this was back
in the halcyon days of full grants), there were just two options for
paid work at Keele. The first was behind the student union bar fending
off drunken scholars five deep demanding Pernod or Newcastle Brown Ale.
The second was to work as an evening assistant in the Library. Both
jobs paid the same, but the second involved working with attractive
young library assistants who were local girls (surprise surprise there
weren’t any young men at that time). The choice seemed obvious to me,
and I greatly enjoyed spending time with these exotic creatures (you
have to realise that after being surrounded by 4,000 students for weeks
on end, spending time with a ‘real’ Potteries local was very appealing). As you can probably tell the spirit of Melville Dewey (or S R Ranganathan come that) did not enter me during this period.
spent my first post University year working intermittently as a loft
insulator – the period of my live I was at my fittest and most agile.
The job involved heaving bales of fibre-glass through narrow loft
hatches and avoiding putting my foot through delicate plaster ceiling
panels. I then moved to London with my girlfriend and needed to find
work quickly. I turned to my ‘trusty steed’, and became a motorcycle
messenger. After a couple of months of risking my life in the cut and
thrust of London streets helping to oil the wheels of the Thatcher boom
economy, I decided this was not a good long-term career choice. So I
wrote to thirty university and college libraries to see if they had any
vacancies. I received two replies inviting me to interviews, and ended
up on a six month contract at South Bank Polytechnic (as it was then known).
Within a few days of starting as cataloguer I began to think that
this career could be the one for me. Having had 25 years to consider
why this might the be case, I have decided on a combination of reasons.
Firstly I had never been able to find one subject I could settle on to
the exclusion of all others (the archetypal jack of all trades and
master of none). At the same time I found I was interested in almost
all subjects and had a desire to dig deeper to find out more about them.
At the end of my six month contract I was fortunate enough to be
taken on as a Graduate Trainee, which allowed me to learn about a range
of library jobs within the Polytechnic. Nothing I experienced during
that year dented my enthusiasm for the profession, so I found a place
at North London Polytechnic (as it was then called) and spent a year learning about the theory. This was actually the hardest part of my life in Libraryland,
as I found the theory dry and boring. Many students actually gave up
during the year, but my knowledge of how enjoyable of the actual work
was drove me on and got me through.
This story is turning into something of an epic, so I am going to break it into two parts with the second exciting instalment to follow in a later post.