Friday, March 31, 2006

Biscuit Friday

In years to come you'll remember that it all started here! It is biscuit Friday – officially the best library day of the week! Hooray! Brownies and peanut cookies. We love Holly and all christmas decorations. A recommendation to all libraries, lots of tea and biscuits make very happy librarians!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why won't William Hague leave me alone?

We're one of the few places that librarians/researchers actually manage to get bylined in the paper for sidebars and other contributions. It's great to be immortalised in print and on the web but it has its perils. For example, nobody in our department will ever kick up a fuss if their name has fallen off the bottom of a sidebar on Israel/Palestine. Mail boxes aren't big enough to cope with the amount of "fan-mail" this area of world politics normally attracts. Another peril I hadn't foreseen was being invited for an off-camera briefing by former Tory leader, William Hague, on the crisis in western Sudan. Apparently I'm now somewhat of an expert ever since 83 of my words on the subject were printed in the paper. I'm sure Mr Hague won't have missed my presence . . .

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Can you digg it?

Obvious headline aside, is a technology news website where the users decide which stories go on the homepage - do you digg it man? Don't be put off as it's full of all sorts of useful stuff such as this autistic or just geek test. Apparently a much higher than average percentage of computer workers are diagnosed with a mild form of autism called "Asperger's Syndrome". This test allow you to filter yourself out as just Geeky or maybe having something to actually worry about. Maybe, but I was more worried by question 13 which asks whether you agree/disagree with the statement, 'I would rather go to a library than to a party'. Mmmmm - I'm sure I read something about people meeting their perfect partners in libraries and doesn't the British Library do some sort of mingle with singles night?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Enquiry of the week

"Can you find out how many B&Bs in the UK are owned by christians?"

From poor library to law library

On the 21st of March 2 trainee librarians made the trip to an extremely affluent legal law firm's library. The flowers cost more than us (and were almost as beautiful). And they just have to sit in a vase all day. The librarians get free Diet Coke! and the largest indoor sculpture in Europe! And the restaurant looked a bit like Wagamamas (but without the riff-raff). The library was very impressive and extensive, and a nice shade of purple, located in a prominent position and overflowing with fascinating corporate, legal books and journals. Compared to the suited-booted types wafting around we felt very scruffy in our jeans and trainers. But what can you expect when you get paid less than flowers. However the actual information they were working with was pretty dry and dull, and although the girl who showed us around was lovely . . . she'll never get her name in the Press Gazette!

We win!

Why write?

Why do people write for library journals if they don't pay? So asked a budding scribe on the Managing Information forum and it's something I've often muttered to myself as I filed my copy - minus an invoice. There are scores of information management publications out there in libraryland, all full of worthy articles by people who do it purely for the joy of seeing their name in print. Pathetic really, but we keep on writing. Two schools of thought exist about this:

1- These magazines are usually run on a shoestring and so can only exist by concerned individual writing for nothing. Better to exchange ideas rather than not have a forum to do so. Sharing information is what librarians do.
2- Librarianship is a service industry and the people who go into it enjoy being used and abused. They just can't say no and so happily bend over and take it.

As ever, the truth is probably somewhere in-between. I can't help thinking, though, that someone out there is having a laugh. Surely it devalues a product if the contributors are writing for nothing, merely out of a weary sense of duty. Which brings me nicely to the point of why am I wasting my time writing this blog for nowt?

Britannica strikes back: the response

Further to the Britannica strikes back posting, Tim 'avatar' Bartel has written to say that there is now an article about the issue on Wikipedia.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Nexis Nonsense

More Lexis bitching (yawn) but I'm sure I read a piece in the Indy this week about Victoria Beckham endorsing the supermarket Iceland and one of her spokespeople vigorously denying it, ("Posh people don't go to Iceland" or something like that). Anyway, it was in the paper and now it's not on Lexis. Humbug!

MSM again

To briefly revisit the MSM post below, it also strikes me as odd when only last week Rupert Murdoch was singing the praises of online content, telling the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers that "newspapers will have to adapt as their readers demand news and sport on a variety of platforms: websites, ipods, mobile phones or laptops...I think in the future that newsprint and ink will be just one of many channels to our readers." Murdoch bought up as part of a $330m deal last year. Seems like editors are panicking and trying to move into online media while everyone else is still struggling to get into the mainstream.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

End of Producer Choice

Producer Choice, the controversial BBC internal market introduced by former director general Lord John Birt 13 years ago is coming to an end. According to Ariel, the BBC's in-house magazine, a new "common sense" system will be introduced in which different BBC departments will no longer charge each other for goods and services. More details on the Media Guardian site.

Lord Birt claimed that Producer Choice freed up tens of millions of pounds to be ploughed into new programming, by making BBC staff aware for the first time about the true cost of internal products and services. Maybe it did but it also led to lots of stories about researchers finding it cheaper to buy a CD rather than borrow it from the library. At a cost of £10 a query, fact-checking was also prohibitively expensive. Researchers rang up bookshops rather than using the in-house library, because of the cost of borrowing books. There was a time in the 1990s when not a day seemed to go by without me having to fend off some BBC person or other trying to get cuttings or information for free.

It will be interesting to see though whether the new system leads to a resurgence in use of the BBC information department.

Things I should know already . . .

Feel a bit embarrassed that I've never come across SourceWatch before. It's a good source for checking the worthiness of sources. Essential in the age of googling and especially as news desks expect you to have checked the veracity of your sources before the readers do it for you the next day . . .

And while I'm in the fessing up to all the holes in my researching capabilities, I came across an interesting feature on google. If you put a website in the search (complete with site suffix, eg .com etc) you get an option to either go to:

1) sites referring to the site you're searching (good to see if you're checking out the reliability of the site)
2) sites that the site refers to (good to see if you're checking out if the website has bonkers friends)
3) sites that are similar to the site you've searched (not sure how it does that)
4) and finally sites that contain the actual url.

Books v Bytes

So much of what we do these days is electronic that it's easy to dismiss the rapidly-decreasing number of reference books lining the shelves. In some cases, though, you can spend hours searching the web for information, getting more and more frustrated with badly structured sites, when a quick check in a book would do the job.
My latest book discovery is our copy of British Parliamentary Election Results 1950-1973, edited by FWS Craig - it took me two minutes to copy out the result of the 1959 general election in Dumfriesshire, when I would have been lost on the parliamentary website. Sometimes the internet is quicker - Hansardis a good example (I don't know anyone who consults the paper version any more). But get to know your reference section too, books sometimes are better. And still on the subject, I noticed yesterday that the hardcopy of the 2006 Guinness Book of Records had a few entries that were more up-to-date than the website.

Britannica strikes back

Encylopaedia Britannica has hit back at claims that its articles are only slightly more accurate that Wikipedia's. In December 2005, the science journal Nature , published an article in which they compared the reference sources, concluding that in some subjects there wasn't much to distinguish the two. Obviously this caused much rejoicing amongst the Wiki community as it seemed to validate all those claims that the database was just a gimmick. Not surprisingly, Britannica was furious and they commissioned a study of the Nature investigation, the findings of which have just been published. According to them,

"Dozens of inaccuracies attributed to the Britannica were not inaccuracies at all, and a number of the articles Nature examined were not even in the Encyclopædia Britannica. The study was so poorly carried out and its findings so error-laden that it was completely without merit... Their numerous errors and spurious procedures included the following:

- Rearranging, reediting, and excerpting Britannica articles.
- Several of the "articles" Nature sent its outside reviewers were only sections of,
or excerpts from Britannica entries. Some were cut and pasted together from more
than one Britannica article. As a result, Britannica's coverage of certain
subjects was represented in the study by texts that our editors never created,
approved or even saw.
- Mistakenly identifying inaccuracies. The journal claimed to have found dozens of
inaccuracies in Britannica that didn't exist.
- Reviewing the wrong texts. They reviewed a number of texts that were not even in
the encyclopedia.
- Failing to check facts. Nature falsely attributed inaccuracies to Britannica based
on statements from its reviewers that were themselves inaccurate and which
Nature's editors failed to verify.
- Misrepresenting its findings. Even according to Nature's own figures, (which
grossly exaggerated the number of inaccuracies in Britannica) Wikipedia had a
third more inaccuracies than Britannica. Yet the headline of the journal's
report concealed this fact and implied something very different. "

I can't wait to hear Nature's reply or what Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia head honcho, has to say. There again, there's probably an entry in Wikipedia already."

Our great leaders

According to Craydon Carter in April's issue of Vanity Fair,

If you type in incompetent into the search field in google the first three hits are about George W Bush. Type in liar and the first hit is Tony Blair.

I tried it myself and I can't vouch for his first conclusion but there might be a discrepancy between Google USA and the UK version I was searching. However I can reassure everybody that the first hit on the liar search is Tony Blair's offical 10 Downing Street site.

Other developments...
Laura Bush, possibly the most powerful librarian in the world has slipped off the Forbes 100 most powerful women in the world in 2005. She was ranked number 4 in 2004. What has caused her apparent demise? I blame the husband.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Until I got into this blogging lark, I'd always been under the impression that MSM stood for Men who have Sex with Men. Apparently another meaning is Mainstream Media, (OK, it's been around for a while) and according to a feature in Newsday, every blogger's secret dream is to escape cyberspace and get into print. Seems a bit odd when, according to Technorati , there are 31 million blogs in the world representing just about every area of life. One of the main reasons given by Aileen Jacobson is that at the moment it's hard to make money on the internet. People are using their blogs as way of advertising their skills - whether it be writing, pictures, film etc.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cliche of the month award goes to . . .

Last month's cliche comes courtesy of Mil Millington, in the Guardian's Saturday magazine, but as we like him (and as we've been in this position on more than one occasion) I think we'll let him off.

"...its smallness means that typing without a table leaves you looking like a romantically doomed librarian sitting in the park eating her sandwich lunch off her lap."


It's always good to see news researchers showing off their skills in public but when did they start teaching football punditry in library schools? Alan 'The Power' Power is quoted in today's Guardian pontificating about the next manager of the England team. Of the contenders, he said "Their only qualification for the job is that they are English". Very astute. This diversification lark reminded me of Tim Buckley Owen's talk at last week's Corporate Management Conference. His shopping list of skills that the 21st century information professional can't afford to do without includes: coaching skills (ah, football again..), report writing, design and lay-out abilitiy, multimedia skills and the need to be good at marketing. It's a theme that he develops in the January/February issue of Managing Information. Perhaps the most important point made is that in the face of everyone believing that everything can be answered by Google, it is the information professional's job to, "do what all professionals do: the same as the amateurs, but much, much better. This means providing not raw answers but finished solutions...we have the courage to reject data that doesn't come up to scratch, and repackage the information that we do decide to offer, in ways that our customers will find useful."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fact checking

The lack of fact checking in independent online journalism is a problem that needs to be addressed, the founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark, warned at SXSW, the interactive music and film festival. He said, "The mainstream models fact check - in theory - but in citizen media, it's publish first and then hope that people fact check. This doesn't happen much and it's a problem...people should remember that [facts] need to be checked and need scepticism." Newmark also argued that newspapers need to spend more on investigative journalism if they are to reverse declining circulations.

Film studies

Just to return to the LexisNexis/Exorcist debate, younger readers who are unaware of what the Exorcist is might like to take a look at this. There's a fine rendition of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells too.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Wanted: an expert on experts

A request I get occasionally (and don't really know how to deal with) is for experts to provide journalists with soundbites on a specific subject. This week's request was for telecommunications experts, or people who know about phone tapping, to talk about Sir Ian Blair's taping of a conversation (see here) with the attorney general. I resorted to a Google* search for telecommunications experts, which surprisingly did the trick. With a bit of tweaking I found Expertsearch, which lists expert witnesses for use in legal cases. It seems reliable but does anyone know of a better site or service?

(*Other search engines are available - but we get paid £100,000 every time we mention google, google, google, google, google in our google, er, I mean blog)

What links Brokeback Mountain and libraries?

Trying desperately to link this precis of Brokeback Mountain to the world of media libraries but have failed . . .

Friday, March 10, 2006

Born to be . . . a librarian

It's refreshing to see the old stereotype of the librarian getting an overhaul. Bill Wyman, former Rolling Stones bassist, says in a Guardian interview how he "was born to be a librarian". It's all down to his tendency to store a superabundance of information - apparently he has a record of all the three thousand or so women he has shagged. Sounds more like an archivist than a librarian to me . . .

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Don't give up the job just yet.

Being down High Street Kensington way on Tuesday, I popped into the Thistle Hotel for the Corporate Information Management 2006 - a conference focusing on challenges and concerns facing information professionals. To cut a long story short, it was the usual spiel about librarians still being around in the future but we'll all be doing different jobs and won't be called librarians. Yes, very reassuring and just what I wanted to hear. Still, there were some persuasive talks to back this up and a lively roundtable session. Actually there were four discussion groups although they all seemed to have same topic to work with. Good to meet others from greater world of corporate info - engineers, insurance etc.

As I walked back to tube I couldn't help but sneak a wistful glance up at the Kensington roof gardens, venue for that wonderful night around Christmas time when a danced the night away with my information chums. A review is available from the Dec 05 edition of Deadline from the AUKML

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Librarians: Know your place.

Here we go again with yet another case of newspaper librarians banging on about their bleedin' status. This time it's all those wonderful people (actually it looks like the entire SLA news division membership) on Newslib talking about where they are in their organisation's hierachy. Whole range of responses although the guy who says he's somewhere near the janitor is probably the only one telling the truth. After spending the past decade or so discussing/writing/shouting about this sort of thing, I thought I'd moved on. That is, until I picked up the latest of copy of The Journalist, the NUJ's magazine, and a read a report in which librarians were described as clerical workers (along with messengers and scanners). We all know it's not exactly a cutting edge publication, but surely even The Journalist should be aware that newspaper librarians have moved on a bit from the old scissor and glue days.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Why are we waiting?

When I called the LexisNexis helpline the other day the hold music sounded distinctly like the theme from the Exorcist. Maybe they're trying to scare customers away. Listen to it here (or call the number and hope they don't answer).