Monday, December 03, 2007

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

The Royal Statistical Society organised a half day workshop on the use of statistics in reporting. A number of speakers were allocated 15 minute slots to give us a quick run down on the basics of their trade. Topics covered included: statistical terminology, data collection methods, league tables, rankings and statistical modelling.

Wading through the maths-speak (standard deviation, confidence intervals, regression to the mean, standard errors and distributions) the talks brought up a number of interesting points. The key message of the morning was the need to approach all statistics with caution, and to never accept as given what they appear to prove. The workshop was peppered with examples of numerical misrepresentations: such as the dangers of believing surveys of people's drinking habits (which only account for 50% of total alcohol sales) and the high levels of inaccuracy in ranking systems (which fail to factor in bad/good luck)

The programme was intensive, technical, but ultimately rewarding; I will certainly be more careful when passing on figures in the future.

In a follow up email I was informed that they are considering preparing some resources for their web pages to cover:
basic explanations of statistical terms, principles and methods
and 'plain English’ versions of the above suitable for use in reporting
. . . Which should prove very handy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Press Events Calendar

Is Islam good for London? I really don't know, but I now know there's going to be a discussion about it, courtesy of Roy Greenslade's blog. His newly launched Press Events calendar aims to be as comprehensive a guide as possible to all manner of conferences, debates, lectures and speeches, in Britain and elsewhere, that touch on journalism. Looks like a great resource - just wish I had the time to go to all the events.

The perils of the sandwich.

So it's all change at Alton Towers. Roger is off and
into his shoes will step John Mulholland, current deputy
editor of the Observer.

Mulholland once wrote for the Guardian's media pages,
before leaving to edit the Sporting Life, the turf bible beloved
of the late, Queen Mother. However, Mullholland's tenure at the
Sporting Life was brief. Having nipped out for a sandwich one
lunch time, he returned - with sandwich - only to learn that
his bosses had sacked him.

The advice, then, is simple : always get your sarnies
from the trolley.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A recent trip down under revealed that the image of the librarian is once again under the spotlight. A new ABC sitcom, 'The Librarians' hit Australian tv screens last month, introducing an ecletic mix of fictional information professions which tick all the politically correct boxes - there's a muslim, a wheelchair user, a homosexual, even a bit of dyslexic eye candy for the head librarian to ogle . Apparently the show's creators did their research, visiting a number of public libraries around Melbourne and to get real librarians interested in tuning in, they sent out a short video, reassuring librarians of their respect for the profession. Their solemn promise - no 'shooshing' and no cardigans seems to have been kept; the tanorexic, drug dealing children's librarian in the pick mini-dress certainly sends the twinset and pearls scuttling back to the charity shop. Interest from the Australian library community has hit fever pitch, even the Australian Library and Information Association has set up a blog dedicated to the show. The show's creators were recently interviewed by the in Sydney Morning Herald. Time for a UK comedic take on our esteemed profession?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On this day . . .

Been having a bit of a hunt on the web for new "on this day" resources. Here's some gooduns:

British library Lots of historical events and pretty pictures too.

BBC: On this day Events taken from the BBC news archive since 1950.

The New York Times: On this day Historical events from an American perspective

Biography channel: born on this day For the birthdays of historical figures.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Facebook and the media librarian

There's been an awful lot of column inches of late dedicated to the "valuable business tool" that is Facebook, but does anyone genuinely believe its anything more than an enjoyable exercise in time-wasting/stalking? What use, if any, can it be put to in the context of media librarianship?

There's a school of thought that we should be on Facebook simply because its there, and that to fail to keep abreast of the latest developments in Web 2.0 is to risk becoming outdated and irrelevant. But to adopt this argument is to encourage the blind adoption of whatever latest intetnet craze the "kids" are talking about. Without relevant application there's little or no point to that shiny new pod cast, RSS Feed or (cough cough) blog.

So what practical use can Facebook be put to?

Its important to remember that Facebook is fundamentally a social networking tool: its natural territory is the embarassing drunken photograph, the "witty" wall post and the ever popular "poke". However this format also lends itself to the exchange of ideas and the accumulation of contacts. To give one example, I used my status to ask about popular news-blogs, and within an hour I'd been sent an extensive list of favourites from friends and acquaintances I'd never have thought of asking in person.

Also, it shouldn't be underestimated just how many journalists are falling for their own hype: Guardian News and Media and the British Broadcasting Corporation both have their own Facebook networks, as do numerous American media associations. These networks provide us with a link to our users, and effective social networking can lend us a heightened profile amongst them.

Another useful tool offered by Facebook is the ability to form groups centred around common interests. "media librarians and proud of it" could prove a useful forum, as could "Librarians and Facebook."

In short, Facebook could prove an important tool in networking, sharing information and promoting our services. These opportunities should not be overlooked.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fancy a new job

Here's details of a job that has just come up for an information officer/librarian . . . in Kabul.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Talking of the CIG discussion, Euan Semple mentioned Mahalo, a human powered search service (note, as Phil Bradley points out on his blog, that it's not a search engine). Apparently Mahalo's guides spend their days searching, filtering out spam, and hand-crafting the best search results possible. I did a couple of searches and was quite impressed with the quality of the results - all good links.

They’ve now launched Mahalo Greenhouse , a place where the public can build search results that, if accepted by the guides, will be included in the Mahalo search index. Naturally the question is who are these guides and what qualifies them to make such decisions…

Will technology replace the research centre?

Will technology replace the research centre? How will the corporate librarian's role evolve? was the title of a City Information Group (CIG) panel discussion last Tuesday. The room was packed so it's certainly something that a lot of information professionals are worried about. Whether people left any more enlightened though is open to question. The two panelists, Euan Semple and Mike Angle had plenty to say but judging from the questions asked and the occasional raised eyebrow, many hadn't moved on from the old, Wikipedia is written by unreliable idiots/ blogs are for the sad and lonely, way of thinking. As Semple and Angle explained, these tools complement traditional reference sources. Also, it isn't an option to ignore Web 2.0, dismissing it as something for the young people. Perhaps the debate could have been given a bit more structure with the chair, Mark Chillingworth , editor of Information World Review, preferring to stay in the background. Still, a worthwhile exercise although whether it was worth £30 is a moot point. How does the CIG get away with it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On this day . . .

Kakophone is a clever site from the US that aggregates information from a given day in history. Tells you what was number one, gives the covers of Time Magazine and Rolling Stone, how much a dozen eggs would have cost and a few bits more.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Library Laugh

A funny Mercedes ad set in a library, courtesy of Youtube.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

World Wide Web (nearly) Invented in 1977

Tim Berners-Lee takes all the credit for inventing the World Wide Web and actually coined the phrase in 1990. But 23 years earlier the phrase was nearly coined by an unknown sub-editor at the Daily Mail. Thursday May 19 1997 front page headline reads: WORLD-WIDE BRIBERY WEB BY LEYLAND.

Welcome to the future

Steve Blow from the Dallas Morning News tells in this article how he's decided that he no longer needs to keep a cuttings book of his bylines. He gets a bit mushy as he welcomes the news that digital archives mean the world no longer needs "morgues", "clip files", "pica poles" and "stringbooks".

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wednesday moan

Spent 20 minutes trying to find a transcript from UK parliamentary site Hansard. I had the exact date of the testimony. I had the exact name of the witness. I even had a verbatim quote from the witness. Every possible combination of I information I pumped in to the search engine. And what did it return? Nish. Nada. Nil. Zero hits. So, what the hell, I'll give google a go. I typed in "richard evans defence select committee" and it comes in at hit number three. Google. Don't knock it. Ever.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Gettting the Editor's Ear

More history. I thought I'd read every that's been said about news libraries until I came across Getting the Editor's Ear: The Manchester Guardian Library in the 1950s by Geoffrey Whatmore. Whatmore was the MG's first chief librarian and the article is full of details about the characters who inhabited the famous Cross Street building. I was drawn though to the penultimate paragraph which could have been written today:

'On the way home late at night one of the best things was to open tomorrow's first edition and find it in paragraphs due entirely to the library's efforts. Library contributions are notoriously difficult to evaluate. Because it did its job, some articles and some leaders, carried more information, some were richer in content and perhaps more readable, some news more accurate.'

We occasionaly mock the old days of cutting and filing but this proves that news librarians have been providing an invaluable service for years. Talking of Whatmore, I've met people who saw him as the founder of modern media librarianship, bringing a certain amount of discipline to the profession whilst others claim he was clueless and wrecked their library. After leaving the Guardian he worked at the Daily Mirror and the BBC.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Those were the days.

Doing a bit of microfilm research and came across a job advert for a library assistant at the Guardian, dated March 12 1969. Doesn't ask for a library qualification but applicants should be able to type and know how to use reference books. Oh, and the remuneration? A solid £18 7s 6d. In modern money that's around £236.30 or £12,287 a year.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Film Noir Librarian

Ok, so I'm not even sure what film noir is but I think it's got something to do with being shot moodily in black and white. That being so, check this posting on youtube. It's not great, but if you need to kill 4 mins 10 seconds, then it's worth visiting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Don't know if there are any places left but the BBC and Yahoo! are hosting a joint Hack Day at Ally Pally on June 16/17, allowing full access to their interfaces and feeds in a bid to foster new ideas. Sign up here.
Went to a really interesting AUKML panel discussion last Thursday on advancements in film and video research. More will follow on the evening itself, but one of the sites that was discussed was the BBC Backstage network, designed to "encourage innovation and support new talent". Really opened my eyes to the diversity of the library industry.
The National Library of Scotland is trying to raise £5m to secure the John Murray Archive of literary papers. The collection, gathered over seven generations by the Edinburgh publishers, includes items from Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Darwin. Go here to help out.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Only a week late but just before leaving for work last Monday, I caught a bit of Start the Week where Bamber Gascoigne was talking about TimeSearch, his new search engine. Despite Andrew Marr's rather inaccurate introduction that this is a rival to Google, it sounds like a welcome addition to the researcher's armoury of tools. TimeSearch is a search engine that presents a timeline as the basis for your investigation. Pick a theme or area, enter a year, and you get a timeline with relevant links. There are already 10,000 events listed and it's growing fast. Naturally Bamber was very excited about his new product but what was most interesting was his enthusiasm for Wikipedia and all things Web 2.0. In the future the plan is for people to start adding their own timelines.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spelling Tales

If a suicide bomber is to go down in history it's helpful if the media can agree on how to spell his name. Here's the tale of one 7/7 bomber and the many spellings as used in the Guardian:

mohammed siddique khan = 12 hits (latest 09/01/07)
mohammad siddique khan = 3 hits (07/07/07)
mohammad sidique khan = 121 hits (16/12/06)
mohammed sidique khan = 33 hits (09/02/07)

The Official Intelligence and Security Committee Report into the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005 (published) May 2006, has its version of the name as

mohammed siddeque khan

And hits in the Guardian for this variation = 0

Monday, February 19, 2007

Iraq National Library

The British Library are hosting the Diary of Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library. A journal that makes other library blogs (this one included) seem somewhat frivolous. It has caught the attention of The Guardian and Reuters among others.

Some days in this library nearly reduce me to tears, but at least the end of week work return never has to read: "I spent the rest of the week trying to advise a number of my employees what to do, as they got death threats." Five of his staff members have been killed in the last year and more than a dozen have been abducted by gunmen.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hi mum! I'm on the telly (review page)

A reference librarian gets quoted in a Nancy Banks Smith television column in the Guardian today. She writes: "He seems," said our reference library, doubtfully, "to write about cheese."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Missing file

This week's edition of Property Week features a large piece about the Guardian's move from its current home in London's Farringdon Road to Kings Place in 2008. There's lots of interesting stuff about how the paper's move to Clerkenwell in 1976 started the area's regeneration (although claims that 'sleazy shops with fringed curtains' being boarded up are a bit premature as table dancing clubs seem to be springing up all along Farringdon Road), and how there may be a similar effect at Kings Cross. Christine Eade, a former Guardian journalist, also writes about life in the paper's former home on Gray's Inn Road during the early 1970s. All good stuff but two thirds of the way down is this little gem:

'Ken Murphy, the librarian, retrieved information quicker than Google from the tiny library where thousands of newspaper cuttings were filed. Ken was too gentlemanly to remonstrate when I lost the Dr Christian Barnard file. If The Guardian archive is relocated with no information on the first heart translplant surgeon, I take full responsibility.'

Not to worry as my spies at Farringdon Road have confirmed that the file is still there.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Courting wikipedia.

Have noticed a growing reliance of wikipedia in the media over the last year. The Guardian reports on how the courts in the US have now taken to using the collaborative encyclopedia these days as well.

We're all gonna die!

Do you think that as a librarian you'll be redundant in a few years time? Well here's an article that might give you 33 reasons to hope otherwise.

Though I'm not sure: "Eliminating libraries would cut short an important process of cultural evolution" would wash with the downsizers when they hit your department . . .

Friday, January 19, 2007

What did we do before the web?

"Write a box on feral children," the editor said. Where on earth do you start with a query like that? So I put "feral children" into Google on the off chance, and voila! lists cases of children who have been raised by animals going back hundreds of years. Sometimes I love the web.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bright eyes and books

It seems Art Garfunkel is something of a librarian at heart: he's been keeping a record of every book he's read since June 1968. Intriguing. And incredibly prolific - in February 1969 alone he got through eight books, including Catch 22, The Great Gatsby and Voltaire's Candide.

According to a profile in the Telegraph a few years ago, "his library includes hundreds of well-thumbed volumes of serious literature, each wrapped in protective plastic and arranged in the order in which he has read them".

I'm going to check Art's list for a few dodgy tomes - he's got to be editing it if there isn't at least one suspect biography and a bit of pulp fiction.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bohemian bibliotekaries

Vice, the free glossy magazine based in New York City covering "contemporary independent arts and youth culture" this month turns its spotlight on matters of the book. The Fiction Issue continues the publication's trend of tackling controversial issues while maintaining its stance of ironic detachment. So how did this bohemian bible pay homage to our esteemed profession? A 6 page fashion spread starring some Swedish librarians. It seems the lot of a librarian in Stockholm isn't all that bad. According to Linda from the Karolinska Institutet, "The wage isn't great but if you compare it to a journalist it's ok" while Sarah tells us "Working at the library I get guys hit on me quite a lot." While I get in touch with CILIP's Swedish branch to investigate job opportunites I'll leave you with a charming sentiment from another of the Scandinavian stunners, "Libraries have a magical ambiance." In Sweden at least...