Monday, 17 December 2012

Friday, 30 November 2012

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work

The author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a popular MetaFilter topic, was born 177 years ago today (November 30th 1835) in Missouri. The printer, riverboat pilot, game designer, journalist, lecturer, technology investor, gold miner, publisher and patent holder wrote short stories, essays, novels and non-fiction under the pen name Mark Twain. This included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (recently adapted into a musical), one of the top five challenged books of the 1990s, published in 1884-85 to a mixed reception and with an ending that still causes debate.



In his life, Clemens ... received a total of three patents. Twain spent some of his summers in Elmira, New York. His study is now on the campus of Elmira College. Its original location, Quarry Farm, is out of the city a little ways and can also be visited. In more recent summers the Mark Twain Musical Drama was staged in the round, where the college hockey team plays. He also presaged the local food movement.

The extensively quoted author of the Tom Sawyer stories, Mark's work and life are still the subject of research, imitation, analysis, interpretation (disturbing claymation) and inspiration (nsfw).
Mark lived his last few years in Redding, Connecticut, where he donated many books to the local public library association. Photographed in 1861, 1902, with family, as a lecturer and with various friends.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Mark died on April 21st 1910 and is immortalised in Google doodles, stamps, benches and forthcoming commemorative coins. His works are widely available online in various digital formats, for ebook readers and at your local public library and bookshop.

He also liked cats.

(Extended version of MetaFilter Front Page Post. Additional links, text by knile, lumpenprole and three blind mice.)

Friday, 2 November 2012

Tired.

Looking up at the midnight sky just now, while listening to distant English church bells chime in midnight. Hey; there's the moon, barely a degree away from a bright Jupiter. Thinking, slipping back to four years ago today, watching the moon and stars from my bed and train cabin as it trundled through North Dakota, waking up the next morning somewhere in Minnesota while heading towards Jenny Levine's excellent ALA conference on games and libraries. That evening would be spent meeting a new bunch of people and friends, drinking various things, investigating this Twitter thing, and/or remarking on Amy Jean Kearns's pink iPhone.

First drinks of GLLS2008 tagged :-)

But that was then, and this is now, four years later. Four days to go now until election day. Five days exactly, or 120 hours, until the polls start to close in the swing states. Six nights - minimum - until there's a result. Still too many unknowns, though the more plausible analysts have Obama narrowly ahead at this moment.

My fear is widespread disruption in many polling stations on tuesday. Especially by twitchy and partisan "observers" kicking it up over people voting who they don't like the look of. Also, it being close enough where it matters for delays due to slow counts, recounts, problems with voting systems, and lawyers. Lots and lots of fucking lawyers, on both sides. A repeat of the 2000 count would be a socio-economic and political disaster.

Even an American Political junkie such as me wishes this particular three ring circus was over with, and over with now. This hour. I've been following it for four years, this road to yet another extreme, bitter election with shouting and abuse on all sides. But, whatever the result, the day after a president-elect is determined it all starts again. "Who will be the Democrat candidate in 2016; Hillary, or someone else?", what's left of the media will ask.

I might have something positive to write about the whole American political thing when it's done, but for now I'm tired of it and out. And if you ain't got anything good to say, probably best not to say anything at all.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass first popped up on my reading radar during a first read of Blue Highways, where the author mentions packing this book to read as he travels around America. I’ve been curious since then as to why William Least-Heat Moon (yes, that’s his real name and his book I’ll review another time) chose this book in particular. Since then, I’ve become more aware of Leaves of Grass as an important book within the canon of American literature, and the controversial and lively debate surrounding its author - to the extent that Walt and Mark are the two people who adorn my Kindle cover. But it’s only the last few weeks that I’ve properly read Leaves from cover to cover.

Poetry is not a form of literature I’m at ease with. There’s cultural and upbringing reasons for this discomfort. Ironically when very young I won a national poetry competition, more as an act of rebellion against being told that culture such as literature, poetry, classical music and other “fine arts” wasn’t the kind of thing that people of “my type” (farming lower working class) should or could do. That was by the headmistress of the primary school I endured, but hopefully for many reasons she’s now burning in whatever kind of purgatory exists for people of “her type”.

Anyway, that’s why I’m not going to attempt to analyse Leaves of Grass; it’ll just read like some fumbling junior school literature review 101 essay. I’ll just write about what I read.

The edition I perused was a 1986 reprint of the 1959 Viking Press print of the original 1855 text, borrowed from Birmingham Central Library. The first version of Leaves, as Walt tweaked and fiddled about with it for the rest of his life, seemingly never happy with the body of work (typical Virgo, perhaps). The editor of this edition, Malcolm Cowley, added a lengthy introduction and analysis of his own which, for me, didn’t really add or shed any new light on the core work. It speaks for itself pretty well.

Walt Whitman - em Camden, 1891

Leaves is partially a kind of observation of America as it was 160 years ago, the people in it, what they do, how they go about their business. It’s also partially about the author, as a person, a human people, a physical and emotional being, and as an American. The second paragraph of the original work begins:
The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.
So I guess it’s interesting, not just from a literature perspective, but from a historical perspective. For example, there’s a rather graphic retelling of a retelling of the massacre at the Alamo (of the accuracy, we are not sure), of how people of trades travel around their country, of what they wear and what they eat. And there is mention, descriptions, of slaves and slavery; for example:

The runaway slave came to my house and stopped outside, I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile, Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsey and weak, And went where he sat on a log, and led him in and assured him … And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles; He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and passed north, I had him sit next me at the table, my firelock leaned in the corner.
It’s a very person-based piece of work. There’s probably a deep and meaningful poetry phrase that means “person-based”, but that’ll do for me. And Americans, leading American lives, is the element that most reoccurs in the text; for example:
The deckhands make fast the steamboat, the plank is thrown for the shoregoing passengers. The cleanhaired Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine or in the factory or mill. The canal-boys trots on the towpath - the bookkeeper counts at his desk - the shoemaker waxes his thread A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deerskin leggings
Walt obviously takes pleasure in observing Americans being themselves, and makes no secret of this:
And I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer’s girl boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking shortcake.
Speaking of observing women, Leaves of Grass was controversial in its day and for a long time thereafter because of the “explicit” nature of the work. It isn’t, of course, explicit in terms of the low-grade Internet pornography of today. But Walt doesn’t hide his often celebratory thoughts regarding the human body and nakedness, which appear frequently, or his musings about sex. To an extent that a subtext of Leaves of Grass could arguably be “I really want to get laid more”. For example:
Thruster holding me tight and that I hold tight! We hurt each other as the bridegroom and the bride hurt each other.
Voices of sexes and lusts … voices veiled, and I remove the veil
I turn the bridegroom out of bed and stay with the bride myself, And tighten her all night to my thighs and lips
Despite my lack of poetry experience, I did enjoy reading Leaves of Grass fully. It’s a collection of poems and texts that, for me anyway, has to be read in pretty much one go in order to get some kind of grasp on the work. It’s also useful as a historical timeline marker in the compressed, accelerated history of America. This work was published in the decade before the civil war, and less than 80 years after independence - but this is still recent enough that there are people alive today whose grandparents would have been alive then and would have recognised the America, and Americans, described by Walt. The relative “recent-ness” of the text, compared to European historical descriptive poetry which can be many centuries old, is what makes Leaves of Grass still easily readable, and the people and places within it recognisable.

Friday, 17 August 2012

American Gods

Even a few days after finishing it, I’m still not sure what to make of American Gods, and whether I really like it, or not.

This is the first book by Neil Gaiman, an author-hero to the library sector, that I’ve read. Hence, I’m not used to his writing style or subject matter, so this was a bit of a new experience.

It’s set in America (obviously) and, well, it’s difficult to say much without giving away spoilers. I’m also a little wary of the large and fanatical following for this book but, hey, nothing is liked by everyone. Not even chocolate.

The cover, and some other reviewers, have used the phrase ‘road trip’, but that’s a bit inaccurate. The action did move across several - though not many - places in the USA, and not always by road. A large chunk of the novel takes place in one town in Wisconsin which the received wisdom of people who have tried to identify where it is based on have settled on the authors home town (in real life).

The plot revolves around, erm, Gods. In America. Gods of many forms and shapes who have been brought to this (in some ways) new country by immigrants. And also newer gods, who express themselves in different ways (You may not watch “I love Lucy” in the same light again). The main character within is “Shadow”, an ex-prisoner who falls in with another bloke, “Wednesday”. Shadow I found disappointing and emotionally a bit detached, dulled. He rarely seemed surprised; in fact, possibly never. A case in point being the reappearance of his wife, where most people would have reacted in a different way. Shadow himself isn’t developed much as a person, and there’s hardly anything about it from childhood until when the novel starts. Then again, he’s probably not supposed to be a ‘main’ character, as the gods take a more central (and interesting) role in the book.

And there are many gods in the book, with the timeline moving around to fill in their back stories. Some fleshing out of a few of the human characters might have been better, especially Sam, the student and coffee shop barista from Madison. She was particularly under-developed and appeared at times merely as a plot movement device.

The book - which exists in several editions of varying length from ‘long’ to ‘sole Labor Day weekend read’ - is rich with metaphor, dream spaces, and the more considered forms of the human world(s) colliding with those of the supernatural. There’s also several good passages of writing. Sam, stuck in a car with someone who may or may not be a serial killer, elicits a long list, over several pages, of what she believes in:
"... I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste ... I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly ..."
And our hero - well, possibly not - the main character of the book thinks:
“He sat down on a grassy bank and looked at the city that surrounded him, and thought, one day he would have to go home. And one day he would have to make a home to go back to. He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while; or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough."
There’s several major plot twists near the end, of differing levels of surprise, which were a good reward for sticking with the book. Apart from the climactic scene, the last few chapters of the book were notched up a gear over the rest of the text which meandered off in places. There’s plenty of characters, a few somewhat unusual sex scenes, and some violence (though perhaps not as much as you’d expect).

The main problem I have with American Gods is that it seemed quite ... familiar. I’ve read a lot of Clive Barker over the years and still do, even though he’s progressively mellowing with age. And many of the concepts and ideas in American Gods are present in Clive’s books from previous decades, especially Weaveworld, Imajica, Everville and Coldheart Canyon. I’m (definitely) not saying that Gaiman has ripped off Barker; many of the concepts can be traced back to other literature, the foundations of gothic writing, and before. But if you’ve read a lot of Barker, then you’ll know what I mean.


This particular book is over a decade old. It shows, implicitly; several of the sequences and plot progressions wouldn’t happen now, due to the Internet. There’s apparently a film version of this at a very early, not yet turned into a screenplay, stage, as well as a sequel on the way at some point.

One personal thing about the novel that I liked was that several of the places within I’d heard about previously, and want to visit, but haven’t yet. For example, the town at the notional centre of America (found in the 1930s by balancing a giant cut-out of America on a pin until it balanced), and The House on the Rock, with its Infinity Room and world’s largest indoor carousel. And a few others that I won’t say for spoiler reasons.

The ending, too, may be a little anticlimactic for some. Though, oddly, the last location in the book is the place on the top of my list of places to visit which I haven’t been to yet. And, because of the history of that place, seemed the most plausible passage in the whole novel.

I look forward to reading more of Neil’s writing. Hopefully there’ll be something I can get a grip on better (people keep recommending Neverwhere and Stardust, so they may be next).

Overall: 7 out of 10. A good read, but not an original one.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Happy 325 birthday

Arguably the most important book ever written, this was first published on the 5th July 1687. From this eventual trilogy, modern mathematics, science, engineering, technology and physics is influenced and derived.

Principia

Principia

There's a rather battered copy, at Cambridge University library, that's been digitised so you can look at every page. There's also an English version, downloadable as one huge PDF file.

(Pictures from the Library of Congress)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Amiina

A bit of a discussion on Ian Anstice's Facebook wall propelled the writing of this and the hunting down of vidoes. So; my favorite group is an Icelandic group called Amiina.

Not many people have heard of Amiina, or heard their music. But, not having the hipster insecurity of fearing being 'mainstream', that's not why I like them.

Neither do I like them because they are from Iceland, though I want to visit there. Very much.

Nor is it because the first time I saw them play was from the front row, a few feet away from Hildur Ársælsdóttir playing the saw, and realised that you could fall in love with a musician you'd probably never talk to, just because of her sheer talent and ... something else, when she's playing a few feet away from you.

(Erm, in the very remote chance you ever read this Hildur, don't worry; I'm engaged to someone else :).

Amiina

Nor is it because Amiina take household objects, stringed instruments, farm implements, and tech such as MacBook, and turn deceptively simple sounds into something ... unique.

Nope. It's simply because what they do consistently makes me feel good. Really good. That's enough reason, surely.

Right; showtime. Some music by Amiina. Infuriatingly there are very few videos of them playing, so this is a mixed collection of documentary footage and fan-made works.

First up; Ásinn, live. The opening track to the first time I saw them live.



Amiina with Lee Hazlewood - Hilli (at the top of the world). The last vocals he recorded.



What are we waiting for? Especially for any expectant soon-to-be-parents.



More videos made by random people, this one a solo dancer. Track: Sexfaldur.



Sicsak, live.


Amiina playing in an Icelandic bookstore, to various book buyers and browsers (one of whom for attentive viewers is Bjork).



In the sun:



Ugla. I have no idea what this amateur video is about:



Finally, as the backing group to Sigur Rós, which they do a lot of. Olsen Olsen, from the film Heima which followed them around Iceland.



Well, nearly finally. My favorite song of theirs and, for a while now, of anyone's. With Yukihiro Takahashi (seriously):



If Amiina come near you on one of their rare tours, they are worth seeing. Well, selfishly I'm hoping they don't become mega successful so I have to fight for tickets and see them from the distant back of a cavernous concert hall. But, in fairness, their music deserves a wide and appreciative audience.

Takk.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Public Libraries, Community Libraries and Volunteers

My response to the Linkedin discussion on "Public Libraries, Community Libraries and Volunteers" hasn't gone live. Maybe it's in a queue, or maybe it's been deleted. is finally live on there.

The response to the discussion is below, as I don't like wasting time typing things that don't see the light of day.

The discussion is here:

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Public-Libraries-Community-Libraries-Volunteers-1730267.S.123492828

You have to join Linkedin to participate. Advise using a unique password and changing it regularly, if you do so.




I'll start with the positive. Singular, as there's only one.

It's good that the new building is called the 'Discovery Centre' and not 'Great Ayton library', as it isn't a library. Places staffed by misguided volunteers that call themselves 'community libraries' are not libraries. The label is misleading and fake, putting them on the same level as genuine libraries where skilled staff can answer a wide range of information issues and queries.

The 'Discovery Centre' is really a building with some books in it, room hire opportunities, a few bolted-on services and a pile of donated jigsaws in the corner.

What isn't mentioned, and I'm betting isn't provided, are most of the things on this list which a genuine library would offer:

http://laurensmith.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/what-do-public-librarians-and-library-staff-do/

Ideology-wise, this 'Discovery Centre' is Fifty Shades of Stupid. All of the residents - not just the happy 90% in the unreferenced "survey" - are effectively paying twice, for a service which pretends to be a library but is not. This fails in two further ways.

First, by making it more acceptable for skilled librarians to be sacked, made redundant, unemployed, and replaced by Mrs Bun the bakers wife, who has her own (un)professional views on patrons, stock choice, enquiry privacy and the like, and isn't bound by any formal contract to change them.

Second, by contributing to a wider ideology that skilled professionals in general can be replaced by volunteers, interns, people forced to do placements to claim benefits and others who do not have the suitable, or basic, skills or experience. There are many recent UK examples in the health, education, policing and other sectors.

If Mrs Bun went into hospital to find she was being treated, nursed, or given a body bath by her young unemployed unskilled and indiscreet next door neighbour, she may be less impressed. But if the same Mrs Bun volunteered for the 'Discovery Centre' then, well, she'd be a hypocrite to complain.

I sincerely hope the 'Discovery Centre' struggles, there are incidents (though not wishing harm on the children who will be forced to use your library-lite 'Centre'), and the place has to eventually close its doors. In some ways it already has failed, due to the very limited range of services it offers. But permanently failing, even under the limbo dancingly-low bar set by the 'Centre' and 'community libraries', would be excellent as it would show that this negative and anti-skills and education ideology cannot, and should not, function in a society or community.

Better no (fake) library than a service which tries to demonstrate that skills, experience and knowledge are worthless and replaceable by anyone.

On a side point; the pseudo-endorsement of things such as the 'Discovery Centre', and their unethical internal communication manner, is why I won't join CILIP (nearly did twice last year). It's not so much turkeys voting for Christmas, but also paying for the privilege of having their (professional) necks chopped off at the first opportunity.

And my commiserations to the sacked professional librarians in your area. As per usual, they get a brief mention or no mention at all; in your case, you call it a 'compromise'(!) Their contribution, years in dedicated education and employment, fulfilling the remit of a genuine library service, are forgotten and swept under the carpet. Out of your sight, and out of your mind, unless you pass the Job Centre and see them entering while on your way to opening up the Discovery Centre to play at being 'pretend librarian'.

You should not be proud of the 'Discovery Centre'. If you have a sense of professionalism, and a conscience, you should be ashamed.

Friday, 8 June 2012

#ff: Five Follow (inspirational) Fridays

I'm not a huge fan of the #ff (Follow Friday) thing, where people recommend other people to follow on Twitter. Usually, because many of the well-meaning people who do this throw out a list of @ twitter handles, with no reason why they should be followed. It can be a little overwhelming.

When doing the #ff myself I've usually recommended five people, giving each one a tweet-full of explanations or justification as to why they should be followed. No-one else seems to do it this way, but as my middle name should be "ploughing a lonely furrow", this isn't an issue.

So, here are five people you are invited to consider following on Twitter (or on other social media or, hey, in real life). Three are American (perhaps not surprising considering the many adventures there over the last decade) and two are English. Two I have never met, and two of the others I haven't met for a good few years now. Hmmm. You don't need to constantly see someone in real life for them to be an inspiration.

But I want to do a bit more justice, give a bit more detail than just a tweet, to these people. These five in particular I know in some way or other, and have been a significant positive influence over me for the last seventeen years or so. Perhaps 'hero' isn't the right word, being more associated in these times with firemen, or military personnel, or people who save lives in some other way. Inspirations, or role models, then. People who I think more than once "Yeah, wish I was more like him/her."

1. Jessamyn West (@jessamyn)

On the surface, Jessamyn just appears to be a librarian working in a small town library in a rural New England state. But, that's just the surface. Jessamyn can be regarded as the online librarian equivalent of Patient Zero (Librarian Zero?) - in a positive sense. Through her work, profile, "this needs to be done so I'll just do it" attitude, and longevity as an online presence, other librarians have raised their game. You can see this in her substantial online content, some of which is at the domain name many probably wish they'd gotten, librarian.net.

Jessamyn has a page on Wikipedia. She is only ten days older than me, but has achieved a heck of a lot more. She's written the book Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide, and has been an open access, freedom of access to knowledge, privacy and library advocate for many years now.

questions and answers ii

As well as being a library and online trainer of residents (specialising in seniors), Jessamyn presents at many library events and spends a lot of time moderating, and adding content to, Metafilter which has become my main offbeat news source.

I first became aware of Jessamyn online in the 90s, when there seemed to be a librarian over in America, who was not in a library school, putting up lots of stuff on the websies that wasn't pictures of cats. At the time, outside of academia and geekdom, this was an unusual thing to do. What's impressed the most over the years is how consistently Jessamyn has put this increasing amount of material online. While I've scatter-gunned content everywhere that may take years to fix, Jessamyn has built a formidable one-person archive. Kudos.

I've never met her in real life, though we have been in a Chicago airport at the same time on two occasions, and it's gotten to the point now where, perhaps oddly, I'm not sure I want to meet Jessamyn in real life; expectation would make me terrified and I'd probably hide.

2. Andy Powell (@andypowe11)

The punk rebel who always seems just a moment away from putting the Doc Martens back on, length of Britain cyclist, Eduserv programme director, metadata guru and occasional swimwear model.

Andy was poached from the technical services of Bath University to join the metadata team at UKOLN, back in the day when Lorcan was the boss. This was a big coup, and strengthened UKOLN in the technical research area. Of the many things he did there, Andy is perhaps best known for DC Dot, and his JISC Information Environment diagram which 73% of the worlds population have now seen at some point* (think "Monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey" for gravitas).

Despite doing all these things, Andy always seems to have a remarkably laid-back, unstressed, demeanor. In our office at UKOLN, we came to the conclusion that his blood pressure reading is probably ... 2. Andy appears in the famous "UKOLN team of 1996" picture. Of the four devastatingly handsome men in the centre of the back row, he's the furthest to the right:

UKOLN Staff Photo 1996 (Anne Chapman not present)

By coincidence, Andy Powell joined twitter exactly five years ago today. It was his tweeting that got me intrigued with the whole twitter thing, and encouraged me to give it a go. Here's his first tweet:



After several years of creating all manner of teccie things and becoming a rather crucial person in the driving of such developments in the UK academic research sector, Andy made the move down the hill to Eduserv (whose historical roots are somewhat entwined with UKOLNs). With Andy running the programme, Eduserv gave funding and support to Virtual World Watch back a few years, which became my baby to run with (in an abstractly similar way to running with Ariadne some 12 years or so before).

There's a lesson there; don't burn your bridges. Oh, and the virtual world stuff brings us to...

3. Aleks Krotoski (@aleksk)

Aleks has a page on Wikipedia.

I first became aware of her in the late 1990s when a late night games review TV show, Bits, appeared on TV. It was, and still is, the best program of its kind on UK TV (though admittedly some of the competition is ... not strong). Aleks and Emily and the other Emily bounced around various locations in Glasgow, and reviewed video games in an intelligent manner, as they had obviously played them in depth.

Aleks Krotoski

This was strangely liberating. Women, not men, talking with knowledge and depth about video games, while often sending up anything and everything. It's the one games show, out of the many, I miss. For your amusement:


Aleks popped up in another games review programme (Thumb Bandits), started to write on matters gaming and technology for the Guardian, and presented the four part BBC TV series Virtual Revolution.

Academically she's done a PhD, which involved using Second Life a lot. It was through Aleks giving me my first guided tour of that environment that I had my "Aha!" virtual-worlds-in-education moment, which led to Virtual World Watch as previously mentioned. Everything is connected; yo! Her book on Learning and Research in Virtual Worlds is also pretty good, in particular for academics who aren't well up on this technology in education.

Like Jessamyn, Aleks is someone I've "known" only online and who, for the same reasons as for Jessamyn, am uncertain I now want to meet in real life. We nearly met at a Nintendo event on games I spoke at that she curated a few years ago, but Aleks was I think collecting an award elsewhere that evening (to add to the BAFTA, Emmy and other nice shiny things she's accumulated).

4. Tom Roper (@tomroper)

After several interesting jobs in the library and information sector, Tom is now the Primary Care Librarian in Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. He also runs, swims, sails, plays musical instruments, learns old languages, follows horse racing, sails, mans a lifeboat, and does a load of other things I've forgotten.



Once described as "the most dangerous man in librarianship" I met Tom way back in the day, the mid-90s, during a presentation about digital library things that somehow mentioned squirrel hazing. This has not been forgotten, and unfortunately neither has [REDACTED].

Our first few meetings were, for me, quietly terrifying as Tom exhibited a casual but vast array of knowledge (think he decided to answer one of my questions in both Greek and Latin at one point). Tom is part of Voices for the Library; though he isn't as high profile as some of the other activists online, don't underestimate his influence and reach. Others have done so, to their cost (see the testimonials on his website).

5. Becky Yoose (@yo_bj)

After a few years as the Bibliographic Systems Librarian at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Becky is now the Discovery and Integrated Systems Librarian at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. As well as doing all manner of technical things which I don't totally understand, Becky also runs libcatcode.org, is building the definitive list of library-cataloger types on twitter, has a writes loads of articles and chapters, is starting to run various groups again, and is heavily involved in the annual Code4Lib conference.

Yes, and she owns cats. Or they own her.

Laser Ninja Cat

Biased? No. There aren't many people I know who, while still in their twenties, are the key teccie person in the library of a prestigious college (yeah; check out the size of the endowment fund for this college of just 1,600 students), have a degree and masters and are on tenure track, who own their own home, and already have an impressive CV including conference organisation and publications.

This was done with no help and hand-up, through a sheer putting-in-the-hours, and with the hindrance of a mad Englishman. Becky is also very skilled in working out what she wants, and how to get it.

Commonalities? Themes? Yes. Driven and self-motivated is probably the binding one.
  1. They are all seriously intelligent people, but haven't wasted that intelligence.
  2. All have a strong work ethic and, well, just get stuff done.
  3. And because they've got a lot done, no matter the obstacles, they've achieved a lot.
  4. And despite achieving a lot, none of those five are arrogant, or have an ego. Or if they do, it's well hidden. They are all genuine people.
  5. And they're very active, or activists, in their field. Non of them is a nine to five person.
Anyway, that's my list of inspirational people. Oh yeah; back to the original point, all of them tweet interesting stuff, so they're also recommended people to follow on Twitter.

* = may be a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Wisconsin prediction for tonite

Predicting that in the recall election in the land of cheese tonite, Scott Walker will win, with an 8 to 10 percentage margin over Barrett.

Before another whiny liberal incorrectly accuses me of being a Republican*, I shouldn't have to spell this out but that is not the result I want; it's the one I think will happen. There is a difference.

And on a similar note, to liberal bloggers on social media who think that if they write about the big bad nasty Walker losing enough times then it will happen - it doesn't work like that. For similar reasons as to why Romney is likely to win in November.

Do consider voting, if you live there. A vote is more useful than a whine. Sorry you're in the hell that seems to be election number one billion in the last few years.

I'm weary of the enclaved, impotent hysteria and arm-waving of the left against the corrupted money and prejudiced, incoherent anger of the right. Hence the usual long and rambling post stops here.

Update Walker won, by 7 percent.

On the plus side, this could do a lot for the Democrats and nationally be more useful than a narrow win. It's an unavoidable wake-up call time for them. They'll have to work out where they went badly wrong, and how they can learn for this for the November elections, including the presidency. Raising, between themselves and their friendly SuperPACs, another several hundred million more dollars, and starting the campaign as soon as possible, will also help.

Though am sticking with the prediction from exactly seven months ago, and am increasingly thinking that Hillary Clinton may have more chance of winning in 2016 than Barack Obama in 2012.

(* Personal US political alignment is about 2 parts Democrat, 2 parts Libertarian, 1 part Socialist.)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The 95th birthday of JFK

(For my friend Amy, who is an amazing person and will soon be a mother, and who went with me to see the current president win on that night in Chicago in 2008)

It’s May 29th 2012. Back on May 29th 1917, before the end of World War I, a man of Irish ancestry was born to a family dynasty in Boston, USA.

John F Kennedy, if he were still alive, would be celebrating his 95th birthday today. That’s a strange concept, imagining JFK as a very old man, half a decade off his centenary. Possibly because, after being assassinated nearly half a century ago, there’s no pictures of him at more than early middle age.

My mother and father christened me “John” after JFK. They were admirers of him, his presidency and the way he spoke. Britain was a very different world, then, especially in the way information about current events and politics was obtained. A few TV channels, newspapers more restrained than todays, radio, your peers, and that was about it. Unless you were rich - and my parents certainly were not - going to America was not an option. So they got all of their information, impressions, from those few sources, liked what or who they saw, and named me after him. Which was also possibly a lucky escape, as the other politician they both admired was Winston Churchill.

My father was born just a few years after JFK; I was born nearly five years after the president’s assassination. Consequently, I never saw him “live” on TV, though my earliest memory is of the moon landing, a program he instigated and pushed for several years before ...



... the memory being of being in someone else’s living room, full of adults, and the strange box in the corner showing some moving black and white images. I didn’t have a clue what was going on - I was less than two, but can remember, sharply, the excitement in the room.

As I was growing up, I understood a little more about JFK. The Cuban missile crisis. The election battle with Nixon in 1960. The Cold War. And that politics in America was changing, different in the 60s to other decades, and certainly different to the toxic, hysterical and impossibly bipartisan governance that the country now struggles with.

Those differences come through in the speeches and the soundbites. And, as acknowledged by many, JFK was one of the best presidents, up there with Lincoln, at public speaking. This is one of his most famous lines:



It would be a curiously libertarian statement if made by a mainstream president, or (especially) a presidential candidate, now. They probably wouldn't say it; the risk of it being misinterpreted, or used against him or her. But when it came to speaking, either from a script or off the cuff, JFK had memorable quotes, and he had balls.

And speaking of balls, there was his private life, his alleged private life, his family life, and the like. Jackie. Camelot. The new first family. The first presidency out of the shadow of post World War II reconstruction. And the links with Marilyn Monroe, who, even in black and white footage, is to me the personification of sex and desire. You can kindly keep the modern day pop videos complete with people shaking their 'booty' and wiggling whatever else they choose to wiggle, in an advanced state of undress. This ... this is sexy:



We'll never know how different the world would have been if he had not been assassinated. Or, if he had lost in 1960, and it was close, whether there would still be a world under Nixon's presidency during scary-events-time Cuba. And we'll never be entirely sure why he was assassinated, very nearly half a century ago now.

Somehow, in eleven trips to America, over two years spent there and many experiences, I've never visited any JFK-related sites, with the notable exception of Air Force One, the actual plane which took Kennedy to Dallas and brought his body back.

Maybe I need to rectify that in the future, in America or Ireland. Especially as I come from an English village that had a significant involvement in the American presidency and flag, as well as a lifelong fascination with things America and American politics.

But the thing about JFK that most fascinates me is how much he achieved. Yes, he had the family dynasty to get a good start in life. But, like FDR a few decades before him, he was beset with ill health, to the extent of having a disrupted education and, on one occasion, receiving the last rites. That's not the only time John had a brush with mortality, having been in Germany on September 1st 1939, and having to dash back across to the USA in a deteriorating war situation. But, he still managed to rise and win the presidency, reinvigorate the sluggish US economy, and deal with Cuba, Russia and a number of international situations (though even then, the US was getting bogged down in Iraqi politics) in the space of a few years, plus moving American society on to make it easier for his successor to pass sweeping legislation, before being assassinated at the age of 46.

His legacy? America was never the same again, socially or politically. Communication between rulers and people changed, with television predominating. And those hard things - man landing on the moon, equality, significant social reform - were done or progressed.

7.20.1969 Man on the Moon - Aldrin on Surface after Descending Ladder on LM (2 of 5)

Which is a thing that makes me humble, acutely aware of time. In less than 3 years time, assuming I live that long, I'll be older than JFK was at the time of his death. Barring some completely implausible chain of events, I won't have achieved a small fraction of what he did in his equivalent time on this rock; I am like JFK in first name and gender only.

Though it's often not healthy to compare your "progress" to that of others (especially, perhaps ludicrously, to a president of the USA), when you reach a certain age you become more aware of what you've achieved - and what you haven't. Adventures and experiences, I've clocked up more than most people will in their whole lives, but in terms of conventional achievements, and doing things that slightly change humankind and society for the better, my scorecard is lacking. I'm hoping that the best years and decades are still ahead for me - though perhaps more actual "doing", and less "hoping" and writing about doing, would help them actually happen.

Certainly, JFK didn't slowly build up to a period of "late life achieving", instead becoming president of the USA just before 43 and a half (younger than I am now), and doing it all, when he could, as soon as he could. And he didn't let poor or bad health get in the way (self: take note). It's a good thing that he got so much done, bearing in mind how young his life was cut short. Which is a reminder of what someone I follow on Twitter said in the spring of 2009:

Don't take your potential to the grave.


Final thought: I wish JFK had been alive to see the moon landing.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Worlds collide: one degree of separation

As a codicil to a previous post about how things online, especially with social media, seem to inevitably converge at some point so everyone seems to be directly connecting and speaking to everyone else.

A local colleague retweeted a tweet from someone I'd never heard of and didn't follow, @ftrain. Though on checking, he's followed by half a dozen people I follow, including a work colleague from a previous career.

The tweet was good. And a good reply followed by someone else I'd never heard of before, @mulegirl.

Because the reply was worth sharing, grabbed it as a screen picture, and pasted it on Facebook:


Within three minutes an ex-work colleague, Tony - the manager of the JISC elib ADAM subject gateway in the 1990s who has since moved to Brooklyn in New York - and also another previous colleague of @danbri - added a comment, pointing out that ...


Aarggh. #WorldsCollide. Continuously.

Update more from @danbri who is also intrigued by the connections with @ftrain. Dan points out that ten years ago, Paul wrote A bit of commentary on Google and the Semantic Web (while now Dan works on taking RDF mainstream), plus more recent stuff on the Semantic Web. And more from Dan:
In 1997 Tony Gill told me RDF wouldn't be ready by next summer, and wasn't wrong. And i still work around models for describing Mona Lisa.
One of Dan's other projects, FOAF, was useful in highlighting coincidences and less apparent connections. All of this is more data, anecdotes, links towards a (personal) long-held suspicion that:
  1. the whole Internet/Web data movement over the last twenty years has been actively driven, engineered, moved forward, by a surprising small collection of people, several hundred or just a few thousand at the most.
  2. some forms of "social media", but especially Twitter, are gradually enabling and highlighting direct connections between these particular people.
Update #2 so I went to the 30th birthday party of an ex-housemate, Samira, who now lives in the house the party is in. Samira is heading west to San Francisco soon for a new life, which is great. There was a bloke wearing a hat there; I'd met him before briefly, and he looked ... familiar in some way. I dropped Samira's card in the punchbowl (oops), spoke to some people (two of whom I recognised from somewhere else, but again not sure where), then left for a sleep.

A few days later finds me looking at the twitter stream of my next door neighbour, and realising that she is tweeting the same bloke (orangejon) about going to the same party. So I follow him, then look through *his* twitter stream to see chats with my neighbour, the cheap cafe I eat in, a load of other places I've eaten or drunk in, an ex, several friends, a fellow library campaigner, several organisations on twitter I've also chatted to in the past, and a whole bundle of friends/contacts of friends. Of whom @dubber and @gridinoc are of particular personal interest (though I've never met either of them), as we have mutual twitter friends (more than just followers; people chatted to) from every period of my life since escaping from the Vale of Evesham in 1988.

Oh, and Mr O. Jon has also retweeted Mike Ellis. Seriously, everyone I know seems to know and/or retweet Mike Ellis at some point. I've never met the guy (though we've twitter-chatted and I like his life philosophy) but I know many of his colleagues and friends, far more than most of the people I've met in the real life.



The thing is, it's not like Orange Jon and myself follow and communicate with millions of people each on Twitter. It's just a couple of hundred, especially when you remove organisations. And yes, there will be coincidences; a lack of coincidences would be strange. But the accumulating number of links, and @ chats, is really odd for someone I do not know and have chatted to for approximately 15 seconds in real life, and do different things and "move in different circles" to.

Perhaps @orangejon is the anti-me, like anti-matter, and if we shake hands either we will cancel each other out and disappear, or the universe will implode, or we would be immediately replaced by an exact replication of Mike Ellis.

Or twitter would crash.

(Thinks a while. Or, and scarily there is a strong argument that could be made here, the Matrix does exist and it is in fact Twitter. I feel a paper coming on...)

Oh. And I forgot to ask why he's called "Orange Jon".



And as a further afterthought and back on the track of "breathing", a retweet a few minutes later by @ppetej (an ex-colleague and metadata guru who used to be at Eduserv but now works at Cambridge University with twitter followers of Becky, who maintains a list of metadata and cataloguing people on Twitter) is a refreshing analogy on not being unnecessarily distracted from writing that is to be done.


And, as an even further afterthought, tonight I "went viral" - as in one of my tweets being retweeted several thousand times - for the only time this year. During #eurovision.


And the only time I managed it in 2011, was ... during #eurovision.


Digital games in education, libraries, geocaching, digital library developments, anything else; a mild amount of retweets. On a good day.

But Eurovision? The tweeting floodgates doth open.

#DoingTwitterVeryWrongly #BahHumbug

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Observations from the Online

Revised 23rd May. Added another "thing". Also please, for the love of god, stop sending me "did you specifically mean me when you wrote X?" emails and DMs. The answer to most of these has been "No, and perhaps ask yourself why you are asking that".

Also; if this whole post seems annoyingly cryptic or pretentious or whatever, then I don't care. It's to get my own thoughts in a rational order (making it public forces me to explain things rationally). You can stop reading it at any time. Or don't read it at all :-)



Recently, I stuck up a snarky little post containing ten of the reasons I've unfollowed people on twitter lately. The upshot of that post was:

  • Getting unfollowed myself by some people who realised that I was referring to them and had unfollowed them.
  • Getting unfollowed myself by some people who incorrectly thought I was referring to them (in two cases, people flouncing off, for want of a better word).
  • Some bizarre private correspondence. The proportion of private to public replies to a post, tweet, some other info or opinion missive, is often notable.
  • Getting some new followers, from people who were on Twitter, but didn't like it or were cynical about it.
  • Getting some new followers who found the post funny. Personal irritating failing: when I try to be funny, I'm often not. When I try to be serious, it often comes over as funny. Gah.

Anyway, the reaction pretty much showed that the reasons people use social media are varied, and often complex. Like most people, I use it for several reasons including, but not limited to:

  • Getting information that's of use to actual work and potential work.
  • Information and news about causes and issues I'm into e.g. public library funding.
  • Fun. "Here we are now; entertain us."
  • Communicating with colleagues, ex-colleagues, potential colleagues, and the like.
  • Communicating with those relatives I can tolerate.
  • Making myself available for communication in the most convenient ways possible.
  • Adding information and content that others may find useful.
  • Making a virtual ramshackle scrapbook of "stuff" so I can go back and remember what the heck I was doing at a certain time (as I can't even remember most of the time what I did the day before).

But, like most other people, I've sometimes used social media for perhaps less straightforward, or less healthier reasons. The kind of "I was online looking at A because of B" things most people wouldn't happily say in public. Probably everyone does this, and those who deny it are probably lying. We're human.

A couple of months ago, someone I've never met in RL but have followed on twitter, facebook, Gmail chat, and a few other places for years, put out a tweet. They probably weren't in the best, happiest of minds. Ironically I sort of agreed with what they had written and could see where they were coming from. However, that tweet disturbed me so much that I immediately unfollowed them on Twitter, and on everything else. All communications were cut and they were blocked, which apparently upset that person (we have many mutual friends). But it was necessary; it indicated a personal "line in the sand" with social media use that I hadn't considered.

It's not right to say what the tweet was as it was a seriously dangerous thing to put out there. The kind of thing that can ripple through people's lives, and occasionally cause very bad things to happen to a few of them. Some things are best left not said in public, and that was definitely one. I have thought about it every day since reading it, and it's a main reason why I've eased off use of social media a lot recently.

So that's one of the darker reasons why I've unfollowed some people on Twitter. There's others, but that one has stuck in my mind. And that one tweet made me examine and think why some of the people I "follow" use social media in the way they do. Especially some of those who I'm closest to, or respect the most. The answers were not always positive, or comfortable.

That's thing one.

Cheeses of Wisconsin

What people write online, about themselves and others, how they project themselves, isn't of course always a true reflection of who they are and what they are thinking. That's probably the understatement of the year :-) There is, again, a load of reasons why people write stuff that is actually different to how they feel and think, including:

  • to fit in with their peers, friends, whatever herd they are in, want to be in or be associated with
  • to give an impression that is favorable to people who may give them work
  • to give an impression that is favorable to capturing a partner
  • to give a false impression to someone they think will read their content
  • letting off steam, or some other private emotion
  • self-deluding themselves that this is how they are, feel
  • nakedly promoting their content, work, services
  • to get support of some kind

Call it fake, false, misleading, whatever. Sometimes it's innocent, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes bad. I've done, you've probably done it, everyone has probably done it. And it's exacerbated by media such as Twitter, which forces you to bleep out in 140 character maximum chunks.

But it's weird watching people you know, or knew, quite well doing it, especially when they do it frequently. Their online "persona" becomes markedly different to their Real Life persona, and sometimes you wonder if they realise this. I was struck by this a few weeks ago on Twitter, seeing two people I know (historically) well, who both tweet in a markedly different way to how they are when you meet them face to face. They connected, and tweet-conversed in a way in which they just would not in the atomic world; it was like watching two different people meet for the first time. They're still carrying on now, and it's just bizarre. And I wonder what will happen if/when they do meet in real life.

(As a side point, from oft-bad experience, the first rule of dating online is "meet the person in real life as soon as possible". The longer you drag it out online, the more artificial and problematic things will become. There's no strict timescale for this so don't email me if you've been in a happy online-only relationship for the last eight years [unless you want awkward questions back about the quality of your sex life], but when pushed I've advised others to meet someone in real life "within the month at the latest" if possible.)

That's thing two.

The last year in particular on Twitter, it seems that "all worlds" have collided. Self-centric networks of people, based on where I've lived previously, worked previously, socialised with, have bleeded into one. It's been weird, seeing people e.g. that I've...

  • socialised with, in Birmingham especially
  • academically connected with online
  • lived close to in the Outer Hebrides, or America, or Worcestershire
  • dated, or their current or ex-partners
  • worked with or for
  • never met, but have chatted to a lot online (over the last 20 years now) about all manner of things
  • know about in some way through mutual contacts or friends


...all seemingly connecting, at an increasing rate. There have been days where several times on Twitter I've been startled to see two people from utterly different, mutually exclusive, periods of my life connecting, following, retweeting, chatting.

This gives rise to a whole bundle of probably insecurities and "inner frowning", especially when turning up at social, and social media driven, events and seeing people from these different worlds chatting, or doing the same online. It sometimes brings a "who knows what" burden to the social conversation. And it's also strange, seeing the "degrees of separation" thing apparently converge to 1.

As an example that happened recently; when you turn up at a social media organised event and see your ex's boyfriend speaking to an ex work colleague of yours AND your cousin's wife, all oblivious that they know you in different ways, it's a bit weird. No. More than a bit. Freaky. And meant that I didn't want to participate. History overload.

That's thing three.

This last period of my life has involved fighting several battles. We all do it. Nothing different, special or unique there. Social media has in some ways helped, and in a few ways hindered (it's that "complicated" thing again).

But I'm turning to a different set of battles to fight now, some of which are my choice, and some of which are forced onto me. A different phase, period, whatever of life. But as social media has gradually become a significant part of how I communicate with many (most?) people, I have to use it differently, in much more efficient and positive ways I haven't figured out or got right yet.

That's thing four.

Those four things together mean my social media output has gradually ground to a halt. Which is a good thing; I need to rethink the whole damned personal communication and information thing again, properly this time (rather than previous "I'll use twitter a little differently" fudges), so it can be used better in the future (whatever "better" means). And stop getting into regular situations where I'm unfollowing lots of people, being startled by what I read, or disturbed by people connecting.

I also need to work out how to integrate communication, especially social media communication, properly with writing, in ways which are professional and that I'm happy with. I have a now-epic backlog of writing to do, or consider doing, from putting together an archive of the past two decades of words, to writing about time spent in interesting places, and people, family and relationships encountered.

Though not all of this positive, and if I wrote at this time about some of the personal and weird stuff from the last five years then a few people would be seriously upset and those aren't battles I currently want. For another day. But, after arguing out online about the ethics of writing personal stuff, the feeling was that honesty and accuracy do, in the end, trump positiveness. So, yes, for another day. It's one of the upsides of life experiences, good and bad; more things that happened to write about at some point.

But on the online front, the ways I've been using social media in particular has hindered, not helped, writing for a long while now. And there's a feeling that when I've gotten it (re-)figured out, I'm going to lose a large part, most, of my personal current online "audience", and gradually accumulate a different "audience".

Which may be a good thing.

I'm not "disillusioned" with the net, social media and all that. Certainly not; there are many, many, positive and useful benefits. Most of the people I now regard as good friends, not just acquaintances, I've initially met online or through some online happening or chain of events. As well as my fiancee, through a combination of social media and cheese (see the previous picture). Many - most - of the good and positive things I've done over the last two decades have been facilitated through something or other online.

But it's good to have a serious drawback at some point and have an objective, thorough and above all honest think about the online things that are personally hindering, negative, or obstructive, especially when life is taking some major directional changes.

Hence, if you know me and notice that I'm not actively tweeting or using other social media much for a while, then that's why. Though I'm still reading a subset of content and information sources that's useful for work, and on the recommendation of one of the few people I trust 100 percent, am signing up for a news filter which seems to have its act together better than most others.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Geocaching afternoon

A few words. I had to get some air, get out of the house, stretch the legs, calm the mind a little bit.

So, I went geocaching around Birmingham in the West Midlands, where I'm currently staying as the NHS patch me up. And I managed 9.5 miles, which after several weeks of being weak and unwell, was a bit of a surprise.

I looked for seven geocaches. Found four of them. Two more were in areas so full of non-geocachers they were pretty much impossible to get. The seventh one puzzles me, as it wasn't where it was supposed to be. I may try that one again.

A small cache (the terms micro and nano are used for caches of this size, or even smaller), magnetically attached to the inside of a metal plate:

Concealed cache

Logging a cache find through the app:

Logging

A cache hidden inside a hollow metal pole:

Hollow post cache

...and what's inside it:

Roll of finders

Another tiny cache, and the reel inside it for signing, next to a smartphone for comparison:

Micro cache

And another tiny cache, in the hand.

Micro cache

All good fun.

The public library and the forum

It is amusing when people use buzzwords to describe what they think is a new concept. And isn't. Gamification is one such word, the concept, theory and application of which goes back into the 90s and before.

Social media is another. There were services before Facebook, Twitter and the rest - well before. Forums, in particular, were one method for people to build up a profile, add content, discuss, and so forth. This short post discusses a recent public library campaign, and the use of such a forum - which has now been operating for over a decade - in the campaign.



Lochwinnoch is a commuter village, about 20 miles southwest of Glasgow in Renfrewshire, Scotland. I bought my first house and lived there, a decade or so ago. On the social side, I ended up moderating the forum on the village website, and was elected onto the Community Council until we moved to the Outer Hebrides. I'm still in contact with a fair few people there, and hang out on the forum under the moniker of Groundhog Day (long but irrelevant story).

It's a pretty town, with some good places to eat and drink, and a loch for doing sporty things in. It's worth a visit.

And if you visit, you'll find that it still has a public library.

Lochwinnoch community library

In 2010, Renfrewshire Council decided that they wanted to move the library - or rather, the contents of it. The problem is, those contents were to be reduced drastically to just a few paperbacks and moved into the village hall, evicting the after-school club that used the space. This forum thread was the first warning and debate about it.

As you can see, it was pretty muddled as to what was happening; the council also wanted to close The Annex, an old sports building that had been neglected for decades and was obviously in an advanced state of disrepair. Much of the arguing throughout the campaign took place on the town website forum.

This is a famous/notorious bear pit for debate, and for a town of the size of Lochwinnoch generates a huge amount of online traffic. Over the last decade, the forum has been a rather incident-happy place, reflecting the busy nature of the town. It's retrospectively moderated by a few people, mostly the senior couple (Barbara and Graeme) who set it up, with the usual courses of action for dealing with rogue poster being posts edited, deleted, then users banned. They do a good, and a fair, job of surgically removing clearly libelous material from the forum.

Though, as with all forums, it's impossible to keep everyone happy. Some people complain bitterly because they have been censored or blocked. And a vocal minority in Lochwinnoch who don't use it, hate it, often because it offers a means of mass dissemination and debate that they cannot control, or be the centre of. In rural communities, gossip and news acts often acts as a second currency, and forums disrupt this localised "soft information" economy. The owners/moderators of the forum and website have seen their fair share of legal threats - all of which have failed, due to a lack of substance in any of the allegations.

The forum is also notorious for attracting people who debate or argue under multiple identities for whatever reason, or for residents who hate each other and argue across many topics, over many years. Here's a good example. Ironically, it was due to the forum that the website won the "Best community website in Scotland" award so many times in the last decade - to the extent that the award was discontinued. A pity, as the annual ceremonies were great. The multiple forum personality thing was itself debated by, ironically, several residents using multiple personalities.

A campaign group sprang up pretty quickly, complete with a "Keep Lochwinnoch Library in the Library" facebook group. They also made a pretty good video which detailed the nonsensical economics behind the argument for moving the library, and some of the aspects of their campaign:



As mentioned in the video, even at an early stage, there was some uncertainty on the ownership of the building...

14 official threads for information were started on the forum. However, most of the debates, arguing and sockpuppeting took place on several other forum threads. And while some people stuck to the facts e.g. for example one pointing out that 22,000 visitors to the library broke down to almost 2000 a month, from a population of only 2500, most of the rest argued.

People, forum users and non-forum users, wrote letters and campaigned.

The response of local councillors to residents complaints about the library closing was ... not good. Not helped by councillors accidentally sending fruity emails to the wrong people. One of the local councillors returned to the village to do a presentation, putting the councils point of view with possibly the most selective bunch of statistics any of the audience had seen. This was quickly rebuffed by the local campaigners showing that the library was actually well used.

When the council indicated that they could maybe offload the library onto a community group, one such group put forward an alternative proposal, though not without controversy as to the feasibility. Alasdair Gray did a reading. A poster was made for downloading. Sockpuppeting and abuse degenerated (as it oft does) with legal threats against the forum owner - which (as usual)* did not come to anything. Another resident suggested withholding council tax. Lots of residents started taking out their maximum allocation of eight items. Letter writing to councillors became frenetic. The council held a "consultation" which was widely agreed to be a bit of a sham.

Meanwhile, the cash strapped council spent money elsewhere and tried to save money by replacing teachers with non-qualified people standing in front of a classroom. Seriously.

And, as per usual for online rural Scotland, the debate also became an arguing ground between Labour and SNP supporters.

And argumentative forum debates continued. Where it really took off were a number of residents arguing that the library should be moved, or closed, or - and this point was crucial - the existing library building being vacated. For some odd reason. "Numerous" anti-library residents joined the forum and argued against retaining the library building, often using the same style of writing, grammar or spelling mistakes.

SOTTS Sock Puppet Style! 65/365

Strange, that. As it turned out (there are ways that forum moderators can check this kind of thing) the number of real people arguing against the library staying in the library was in the single digits.

The low single digits.

In fact it seemed to be centred mostly (not totally) around one couple, who wouldn't attend any of the protest meetings (repeatedly saying "too busy") but who had the time to type several hundred posts. The couple ran a dog obedience training class and, as one of them posted on his facebook profile, were looking to expand into new premises, when such premises became available. Who knows why they wanted the library moved out of the library building. Guess we'll never know, as most of their forum accounts were deactivated, and the remainder have been silent for a while. The behavior of the anti-librarian posters was best summarised in this post (Mickey Recounts is an anagram and also a sockpuppeter).

How did the library campaign end? Sort of well. And sort of not. It turned out that one eagle eyed resident spotted that the council could not dispose of the building and kick the library out. Cut to June 2011, and the councillor who did the presentation with the dodgy statistics sends this letter to residents.

And the council reduced costs anyway, as they "retired" two of the three librarians, leaving just Margaret as the lone qualified librarian in the building.

To quote Lesley from one of the forum threads:
I think that finally we can draw a line under the library issue now. We have 2 Labour and 1 SNP councillors and a council with a Labour majority. The Labour candidates said it was in their manifesto to leave our library where it is and even the SNP said at the meeting called by Lochinnoch Elderly Forum that they would not revisit the issue and the library would remain in the library building.

The whole thing was unnecessary, though. And I don't believe for a second that it's truly or permanently over. When the council next needs to reduce its budgetary spend - something that comes up every year - it's quite possible that funding for books, for the last remaining member of staff, for opening hours, will be squeezed. That's part of the problem with library campaigning; even if you win, it's often a stay of execution. If you do manage to save your local public library, you have to use it and make sure it isn't eventually killed, more slowly, in death by a thousand cuts.

Why is this a strange case? Because the case for moving the library was so badly made as to be bogus. And the real reason for the move was never clear. It's possible that a developer had their eye on the library building and would have paid the council well for it. Or a business wanted it for their own purpose. Or some other reason, as the official one - of saving council money - was just false.

If you're in Lochwinnoch, drop in to the library. It's really nice inside; lots of things to browse; there are PCs for use, and some interesting local history material. Long may it stay open, be used, and be well used at that.



* - There have been several legal threats against the forum over the last decade, and it's gotten to the point where the website maintainers - who do this for the community without payment - are bored with silly and empty threats. None have been credible. All have been from people aggrieved that someone has posted something they don't agree with. Everyone has options; agree with something, disagree with something, ignore it, or start their own blog or forum.