Sunday 28 July 2013


I close my eyes and yet still see
The shimmer of blue horizon
And gentle furl of quiet water
The endless shifting of light-shapes
Imprinted on the camera of my mind

Now light pierces from a closer sun
Looking up at endless blue void
Shapes of tiny island disappearing 
Whilst clouds loom to merge sea-sky 
Light imprinted on the camera of my mind

Imagine embracing that watery state
Recurring dreams of blue depths
Ghostly fingers glowing quietly
Skin melting in sea, silk-light on skin
Imprinted on the camera of my mind

I now see both the above and the deep
Impossible blue beauty suspended
Words float away evading my grasp
Always chasing illumination: eyes close
Light imprinted on the camera of my mind

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Your Black Horizon

Art is supposed to be an all encompassing sensory experience. When I came across Olafur Eliasson's 'Model of a Timeless Garden' this year it overloaded the eyes whilat delighting the ears and fingers (yes I touched the installation!). By stripping the colour from a renaissance fountain, it became an elemental fantasy where water was trapped in time.

Art could not have been further from my mind when briefly stopping off on the Croatian island of Lopud. A contemporary black sign pointing off the main promenade inland caught my eye. It said Olafur Eliasson and David Adjaye 'Your black horizon'. Immediately I was taken back to his monochromatic fountains, my interest piqued.

Following the hot dusty path up to the art pavilion, potable water could only be imagined; cactus flowers coloured the ground, insects flooded the sky. Here was the timeless garden indeed. A modern wooden construction offered shelter and in we went. The space could be any London gallery, fresh painted wood creaked and black curtains ensured darkness within. An inclined walkway lead into a black square, icy cold room. A line of light at my eye level went uninterrupted all the way round, giving the illusion the room was circular. 

As the eyes adjusted, you lost yourself looking into the horizon and as time passed the colour changed with the rising and setting sun; from yellows into orange, red, turquoise and deep blue. The white in contrast then seemed to fill the space. The heat and light outside was forgotten, just the cool inner focus remained. 

This installation, like his other one, uses light to focus on the very small to illustrate the bigger picture. The fountains stopped time, whilst this one seemed to capture space. Incredibly, when you emerged from the darkness, blinking, the blue and green horizon seemed very small and claustrophobic. 

So to return to the idea of the immersive experience, there can no better place to see contemporary art than on a tiny sun drenched island. Firstly there is no competing white cube space; secondly this would be stand out piece in London. Finally, the extremes of heat, light, dryness affect your perception and reception of the art.  

From June 15-Sept 29 2013, Lopud, Dubrovnik 

Monday 22 July 2013

Moon Colours

We didn't watch the sunset tonight
We ignored the lurid display of light
Instead we sat entranced by the moon
Casting shadows on the igneous rock

Silver dancing on the shifting blacks;
Fish ripples adding the diamonds
Quiet copper mirrored boats hover,
Shifting; lightly kissing the gentle swell 

Count the varied subtle moon colours, 
Each one richly echoes its brighter light
Turquoise is hematite; vegetation jet.
Reflecting back I gleam black and white. 

A Place Called Sunrise

A landmark birthday inevitably leads to introspection and reflection. To be in the geographically same place as last year enables an easier comparison of the mental healing processes. The daily routine should be a comparator but when it has more of the treadmill feeling about it, that's unhelpful and unhealthful. 

I suppose there is a sense of sunshine being conduicive to warming and lifting any sense of depression and lingering grief. However I think everyone knows it doesn't work like that. There are rocks in the soul which enable shade to reside; an impermeable, hopeless darkness. 

It's been either years or days since the death of my dad. Ten years ago on my thirtieth we were all together in the Italian sunshine, without care or thought for what would happen. It hurts deeply that he's not here for this turning decade. It's been a massive time of learning and not of the academic type.  I was once accused of coldness because of my career and university focus but that's just my way of coping. The more buried in study I am, the more I'm hurting.

As I say and write this in a village called 'Sunrise', this passage of time leads to musings and turning over of lifeless mind spaces. Sometimes it turns out sunshine is a cure and though I don't pretend that all is well all of the time, when I compare how I was last year, it is better. 

From where I'm sitting the only way I can describe it, is that the dark rock pools in my mind are slowly being refreshed with the aquamarine clarity of time. And I can live with that. 

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Warm welcome from the RCS Library

How many men have been injured opening bra straps? How many people currently have a cold at the moment? These aren't questions that can be answered by the good librarians at the Royal College of Surgeons. However they assist their 20,000+ members, medical professionals, researchers, patients and students with all sorts of queries from policy guidance, copyright and specific medical questions. I've been in there a few times as part of Hunterian museum exhibitions but this was a talk and guide for librarians, by librarians. Tom Bishop (Head of Library & Surgical Information Services) and his team gave an insight to the college, the library and what they do for their members.

We were given an overview of the library service, which is an independent, membership funded organisation, where the patient is centre of their concerns. The RCS oversees the surgical profession; from standardising examinations, supervising training, providing professional support, audit and evaluations, to advising government and giving a single voice to surgeons in England.

The role of the library was familiar to all of us; to select, organise and preserve knowledge and promote access to and understanding of the collections. As usual, information staff deal with a wide range of queries, anticipate further information needs and add value where possible as well as providing resources for training. They also work with other people such as Chill, a consortium of independent health libraries. The library is made up of 50,000 books (the earliest from 147), 57 incunabula, around 2000 periodical runs, 30,000 tracts and pamphlets, taking up 4.7km of shelving as well as 200 ejournals and 2800 boxes in archival storage. The focus is strictly surgical and they have the best collection of primary resources for John Hunter in the world. Their importance as a library/archive of note was recognised this year by the Arts Council which most importantly enables them to access funding from other avenues. They saw it as an opportunity to step back and evaluate their services and see things from a different view point. For example the standard they used, PAS197:2009 required them to think about other libraries as competition.

I was interested in hearing about the challenges they faced; similar problems are seen across the library world and we are dealing with them in different ways. As a membership library they are reliant on annual subscription fees for funding; a strong academic/educational function requires access to specialised medical information; highly sub sub specialised members are extremely demanding; geographically dispersed membership presents challenges of access and service provision. When your members are out doing their job, the library can feel physically underused, even if the services you offer are being appreciated. The library is also working within a landscape of upheaval as health care is facing massive challenges. Their members are being confronted with NHS league tables for surgeons, concentrating on new requirements for revalidation, as well as looking at the implications of The Francis Report and so on. There is too much to read, too many sources of info, and too many platforms.

Although we had a very interesting tour of the library areas where we touched on architecture, archives, the rare book room and exhibition space the two areas of work that I want to focus on are current awareness and the systems that they are working with.

Current Awareness

Steffi Sams *is* the library current awareness which was newly set up in April 2011 and has been chronically underfunded. Current awareness is the bread and butter of most special library services so to imagine not doing a round up of journals for colleagues is quite strange. However if I thought that lawyers were difficult, surgeons sound impossible. The reason that it took so long to set up was the large amount of consultation, discussion and tech issues that they faced. Surgeons felt that librarians wouldn't know what they would find interesting/relevant and that without some big names on the bulletin editorial committee, it would lack the necessary gravitas. So they set up pilot bulletins in two areas; cardiothoracic surgery and urology and embraced the learning curve of multiple platforms, specialised content, and sceptical user groups.

I have said many times that you cannot think like a librarian when compiling really useful stuff for lawyers. You have to really get into their heads and see how an article can be applied to problems and clients. So when she reiterated the necessity to think like a surgeon and have to think in a particular context, it struck a chord. She gave the example of a report on the issues around bleeding and anti-coagulants in surgery in over-80s. This would be of general importance to surgeons but a keyword mentality would not help find it.

For ease of use and the excellent statistical analysis, they use Campaign Master. This has RCS branding, however she says it's not really fit for purpose. Combining this with the internal Surgeons Information database, SIMS database of interests, they can send it out to specific people. The monthly bulletins include the editorial panel so readers can see the clinicians behind this. Each article has a citation, in house written summary and link to the full text. They also include links to help pages, cutting edge conference news, Anatomy TV material and adverts for other services such as image provision for talks etc.

They are planning to get more staff and set up bulletins for vascular surgery and plastic & reconstructive surgery. They are already prototyping a patient safety bulletin, all of which will run along the same principles. And like law, surgical specialisms have their own idiosyncrasies so each one will have different issues for the library staff. All signs suggest that the current bulletins have been very well received and the library hold 5 of the top 10 spots for activity for bulletin activity - something that the business development/education people are quite envious of. The successful current awareness service requires the compiler to know their stuff. They are looking at other possibilities - putting articles in context of medical arguments, looking at sponsorship opportunities to recoup some staff costs, spin offs and finally, the platform will need reviewing.

Library Systems

This part of librarianship is rather mysterious to me. I look after my LMS, College of Law Portal, my legal databases and they tend to look after themselves to be honest. However when your users are accessing the services remotely, suddenly library systems take on a massive importance. The various systems the RCS use are:

1. Opac - Sirsi/Dynex/Symphony Grew out of Unicorn. Based off site
2. SIMS Database. Feeds user system over night into the library database.
3. Adlib. The front end is SurgiCat. They are in process of upgrading to joint library and archive system... 
4. Plarr's lives of the fellows online. They are planning to take it off Orm(?!) and move to Adlib.
5. Access to Ovid/medline/pubmed must be maintained on the site 
6. Anatomy tv. For teaching, good copyright terms so that they can use images/stills from it
7. She lost me on the Athens stuff but there were good ways of administering passwords etc, and bad ways. Basically they have set it up so the user can do it all themselves as long as they are on the SIMS database which is good for non office hour requests.

They are looking at ebooks but there isn't that much content yet. Regarding online material, many publishers are not always happy to deal with the RCS library because speciality journal publishers want individuals to buy their titles. They also make it difficult for overseas member to access services.

Of course this reliance on online material has its downside and risks. They - and other departments at the college - heavily rely upon SIMS. If that was to fall over, that would be very bad. And if the website went down then there round be a problem as Athens directs users to the RCS site, there is no alternative. So they stress the importance of maintenance and communication.

All in all this was a very good learning experience. So when you are at the Hunterian, please feel free to drop by the Library next door.

Oh and finally, if you need to know what classification system they use, it's the Barnard classification system, originally designed for veterinary libraries and evolved into human use...

Friday 12 July 2013

Agustín Dreams

Agustín dreams of flying machines
He finds lightness in detritus and
Potential for flight in flightless junk;
Each cog and chain and tube is imbued
With devised purpose and patient hands

Agustín dreams impossible dreams
He knows the community's failings,
The people who adore him, the
Brother who for no reason departed,
Dismissive official but, still, he works

Agustí dreams incredible dreams
From here to there took twenty years;
Complications resolved in time,
A gnarled hand and broken body
But in his head he's been in the air

Agustín dreams of compassion for all
Once he gave barefooted kids shoes,
To visit him makes another child sad.
The respect he deserves, he returns;
Kindness, simplicity, wonder, care

Agustín dreams of his time machine
This automaton subsumes his life
Halting, juddering, yet still it moves;
A new wheelchair sent to help his body
Dismantled to build his mind machine

Agustín dreams of universal machines
They mock him, this determined man;
He is not crazy, but has a keen mind
Educated by marvellous patience
Piece by piece; repeat and perfect

Agustín dreams of computing machines
Telescopes in space looking into the void
Up to highest and rarest atmosphere; but
He's incapable, only a lame shoemaker.
Uncaring imagination, ignores, carries him up

Agustín does not dream of heaven
When he is dead he will not care
Where his earth bound body lies
The machine he makes will stand
A reminder to live, to dream, to fly

Written in response to the story of Agustín and his helicopter and inspired in part by Eric Whitacre's  Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Looking Skeptically at Trolls

They see me trolling: What can we do about online abuse’ was a lively Soho Skeptics event which took a semi-serious look at the ‘trolling’ phenomenon. The speaker Helen Lewis provided a definition of ‘trolling’, followed by an overview of the different types of trolls and examples of each. She then gave a whistle stop tour of why anyone would troll, the state of the law and what can be done about them and ended on a positive note.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

From Thames to the Tagus

This third posting took us from a classroom in Bloomsbury to a sunny City square in Lisbon. I adore Lisbon; that sweepingly elegant capital, with its varied architecture, network of classic trams and astonishing vistas, the friendly people and the food...I shall stop before I get carried away with the sensory memory of a couple of weeks in Portugal too many years ago. Given that the class began with traditional poetry and literature, it was with great pleasure and interest that we heard about the importance of early modern Lisbon's river and the part it played in shaping the style of architecture beloved by the outward looking, trade obsessed royalty.

Friday 5 July 2013

Mapping the Thames at the British Library

The second 'On the River' Summer School post concerns portrayals of rivers in maps. Having the foresight to do some quick research on this, I found that the curator had already collected the images with commentary from this session. However I think it is still useful to do a short post, even if it is to praise the map librarians and highlight the incredible map resources of the BL.

This is the second year that a group of Birkbeck students have attended a 'hands on' session at the BL. The topic last year was cities but if they had plenty to show us then, they were able to totally spoilt us with this wide remit. As the curators of the national map collection, they hold over four million maps and they are free for anyone with a BL reader card to request, view and consult. 

Thursday 4 July 2013

Chaucer on Thames Street

View of Wool Wharf from the Tower
I've chosen the Paul Strohm lecture on Chaucer from the 'On the River' Summer School to write up first. There are a few immediate reasons: the talk wasn't about Chaucer's poetry; it involved the commercial aspect of the Thames; and the corruption amongst 14th century tax collectors felt very familiar. The scream of the Ricardian parliament for legislation! legislation! seems extremely modern and was just as effective.

As I proceeded to write this up, I started to question some of Strohm's assertions, some of his concluding remarks particularly confused me. However I hope that the summary of this lecture gives an insight into his ideas. He opened by stating that no one really mentions Chaucer's role as customs official, concentrating solely on his poetry. He says, and I agree, that people are missing quite a lot of interesting detail. Hence when Strohm stressed his interest in historical than literary Chaucer we were keen to hear what he had to say.

Monday 1 July 2013

Career reflections and staff retention

’ Do you remember when you started your first post-university professional job? When you were eager to sign up to your professional organisation and get going on the post-nominals? I had just moved to London and during the mid-1990s had an open mind as to whether a job was going to be for life or for 6 months but I really hoped my first job would be special, long lasting and I worked really hard to get it right.

Which I did; that firm never had a keener or more passionate library assistant and I loved it there. Building on my theoretical library school knowledge, I learnt so much about how to – and how not to – run a library, design a new one, set up a library catalogue, see how lawyers reacted to the thought of mere support staff having email and communicating directly with clients. I would have stayed there if it hadn’t been for a number of issues, which I shall come on to in a moment. Despite having written a career overview for the excellent UKlibchat group, this posting isn’t just a mere excursion into nostalgia but recently I overheard someone say ‘if someone is good [at their job], we don’t expect them to stay’. Both have made me consider staff retention and there were a few things I wanted to think through.