Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bromley Cross Book Group: reviews

Mel sent me this, which came from the Book Group at Bromley Cross Library:

In December Bromley Cross Book Group compared the novels:

Du Maurier, Daphne - Rebecca

And Beauman, Sally - Rebecca’s tale

Those having previously read Rebecca chose Rebecca’s tale, which tells the story Du Maurier never told and is set 20 years after Rebecca’s death.

Those reading Rebecca loved the story of her free spirit and thought it a classic love story. Although Rebecca, the main character is absent, present only in the memories of others. Her power and the undercurrent of menace can be felt. They felt her affinity with the sea. They disliked the manipulative, controlling character of Mrs. Danvers. They thought the story a compelling exploration of jealousy and obsession.

The group concluded that Rebecca’s tale could not exist without Rebecca, although it stands alone, knowledge of the original is helpful. It was a good read and evoked the atmosphere of Rebecca. Some members felt more sympathy for Mrs. Danvers as she appears in Rebecca’s journal.

Thanks BX! I'll add this to Signpost as soon as the nice folks at Talis fix it for me...

Meanwhile, does anyone have any thoughts?

Update Feb 22 2007: The nice folks at Talis have indeed fixed Signpost. See the review here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Review: Alfred Bester : The stars my destination (aka Tiger! Tiger!)

This book (In its old incarnation as "Tiger Tiger" ) has been a favourite of mine for a long time.

Stuffed with Big SF Concepts and moving at a cracking pace, it leaves the reader dizzy as the resolution of Gully's Revenge unfolds.

The 24th Century world "an age of extremes", is laid out in technicolor, with centre stage being given to the cultural and economic effects of Jaunting, ranging from the de-emancipation of women to the ludicrous anachronistic jaunt-free transportation of the very rich.

Gully, brutish lower-decks spacehand, abandoned to die in space, driven by hatred and pure survival instincts, manages to jury-rig the Nomad and flies her into the arms of The Scientific People, where he acquires his tiger tattoos, a very temporary wife, and even more reason to hate.

Returned to Earth, Gully single-mindedly begins his quest for revenge, beginning with rape and blackmail.

Gully Foyle is a monster, one of the least likeable protagonists in fiction, a “remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain” : but somehow the reader still stays with him against the corporate and political enemies who stand in his way.

From here, Bester’s debt to “The Count of Monte Cristo” is obvious, as, after escaping from an escape-proof prison, Gully uses the limitless resources he recovered from the Nomad to become the super-rich playboy fop, Fourmyle of Ceres.

Tracking down the surviving crew of his nemesis, Vorga-T, Gully uncovers the deadly secret that caused his abandonment, and in a twist worthy of “The Revenger’s Tragedy” discovers that the fatal order was given by Olivia Presteign, the ice-queen heiress he has come to love.

He also discovers the nature and limitless destructive potential of the Nomad’s most valuable cargo, PyrE.

As Foyle pursued his revenge, he had been haunted, aided, and saved, by the apparition of himself, burning, tiger-masked, out of control.

Trapped in a burning cellar, seemingly unable to escape, Gully takes the next leap in his (and human) evolution : time-jaunting.

The burning man comes back from a future which has survived the cataclysmic war which has been going on in the background of Foyle’s personal vendetta, to guide and rescue his present-self.

The crossed senses of his striving are perhaps the closest print equivalent to the latter half of 2001 : astonishing for the late 50’s.

At the ending, as throughout the book, this headlong adventure still makes big and important philosophical points :

Does evolution only occur in the presence of deadly threat or overwhelming emotion? Is mankind as a whole or as a collection of individuals able to control its tendency to destruction?
Does wealth and power always corrupt? Can the most brutish of men become, by chance, or will, a saviour?

All this from a high concept headlong rattling yarn, which at the same time is one of the best revenge sagas since the ancient Greeks:
Quant Suff!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Functionality tweaks

I've been tinkering with Signpost a bit. There's a problem - basically, the part of Signpost that holds all of Wigan's community groups has got too big and I can't edit it properly - so I had to come up with a way around it.

I've moved the list to a new area. I still can't edit it the way I'd like to, but it provides a temporary workaround. Unfortunately, it affected the search box on the sidebar (you know, the one for Wigan's community groups. You use it all the time!!). A few minutes of HTML kung fu sorted it out and it looks no different from the user's perspective.

But I know it's not right, and that upsets me. I like things to be right, especially things I've made. I didn't realise that adding 295 records to a Signpost list would make it so creaky. Maybe I should have asked first, but I don't like maybes. My plan was to streamline the search function and improve findability by having all of the groups in a single list. I'm going to have to chop the list up into sub-lists, using the sort of categories I wanted to avoid in Signpost.

I'm hopeful that the nice folks at Talis will be able to do some kung fu of their own on the database for me when they migrate the data to their server. Fingers crossed!

Fight for your right

That's your right to read, not to party, despite what the Beastie Boys might tell you.

I found this link to a poster of readers' rights, illustrated by Quentin Blake, via the Librarian in Black. Could it sit happily alongside swlrir's manifesto? I like the illustrations, but I have fond memories of reading Roald Dahl as a nipper, complete with Mr Blake's wonderfully scratchy artwork.

The moral of this story: Bloglines is a very useful tool.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Post-Apocalyptic world, full of humanity and wry humour, as well as pity and terror.

Seen from the viewpoint of a remote desert monastic community, where, against the odds, the survivors of the nuclear flame deluge attempt to preserve the last fragments of mankind’s lost knowledge, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” chronicles the long slow rebuilding & eventual fall, again, of civilization through three linked novellas.

As in the mediaeval dark ages, the Catholic church becomes the home of scholarship and the preserver of lost knowledge.

First we meet the naïve and likeable Brother Francis Gerard, who makes an important discovery after meeting a strange and scrawny pilgrim.

Brother Frances, does not discover working weapons or high technology that will enable man to leapfrog over generations of slow rediscovery : that is where the genius of the first section lies.

The scraps of information he finds : a grocery list, a hurried note, and a blueprint, are perhaps relics of the Blessed Leibowitz : ironically a Jewish engineer and survivor of the nuclear apocalypse: who was instrumental in attempting to save books and documents from the book-burning anti-science backlash which followed, and was martyred as a result.

Brother Francis devotes his life to preserving and embellishing scraps of knowledge, along the way showing us the life of the community, and the optimism that helps man to slowly stumble back towards civilization.

In the middle segment, generations have passed and city-states war with each other and the mutant wildmen of the wilderness : this is western movie territory, also echoing the European reformation when secular power attempts and partly succeeds in displacing the power and learning of the church.
The monastery survives, and as ever, the buzzards thrive.

Finally, again generations in the future, man has regained space technology, but is threatened by the ever-greater certainty of another nuclear war.
Plans are laid to convey the consolation of the church, and the hoarded wisdom of the generations, to the stars.

Meanwhile, “voluntary” euthanasia is offered to radiation victims in military camps reminiscent of the Holocaust.
The ethics of both these developments are debated and exemplified by the Brothers of St. Leibowitz,

The book ends on a bittersweet, hopeful yet despairing note as the Earth plunges again into nuclear night, while the last ship escapes.

Will the cycle repeat yet again, or will man this time break free and build a long-term sustainable future in the stars?

Or will the mutants who survive this time do better: as is hinted in the last pages by the development of Rachel, the saintly, intelligent conjoined twin of Mrs Grales, the simple old “Termarter woman”?

I hadn’t read this before, but I will certainly return to the book more than once.
It is rich, sad, funny, philosophical, and full of wry humanity.
It says more about the human condition than many of the other powerfully bleak post-apocalyptic novels that came after it

SF books - what do you think?

I first came across this meme at Walt at Random, but I've seen it in a few places since (notably Phil Bradley's new non-work blog, Frivolity and the ubiquitous Librarian in Black).

“Below is a Science Fiction Book Club list most significant SF novels between 1953-2006. The meme part of this works like so: Bold the ones you have read, strike through the ones you read and hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put a star next to the ones you love.”

I don't start reading things and then give up. Or, if I do, it happens infrequently enough for me to think I don't do it. I've added another symbol, +, to mark books on my "to-read" pile (quite literally a pile of books next to my bed).

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert +
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin +
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson *
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick *
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett *
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card +
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams *
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer +

You'll notice two things about this list:

1. I've got a heck of a long way to go
2. I tend not to read books unless I think I'm going to like them.

The "to read" pile also includes some more Gibson (including Idoru, for Bibliothecary), some Kim Stanley Robinson Mars books and plenty of other stuff.

So, copy 'n' paste the list into the comments box and share your thoughts. Could it make a good basis for the nascent online genre fiction group?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Horror Readers' Charter

I thought that people might be interested in this over at Monster Librarian: it's a Bill of Rights for genre fiction readers. I particularly like "You have the right to carry books in your baggage at all times," which pretty much sums up my whole accessorizing philosophy (hence the shoulder bag on my avatar). The Monster Librarian website is a reader development resource for horror novels; a pretty cool thing in itself but a good springboard for our embryonic online reading group, perhaps.

On the subject of horror novels, did anyone catch Stephen King on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs? Due to the evil intricacies of music licensing the 'listen again' feature isn't available, but it's repeated on Friday morning at 9 am. I thought he was an interesting choice and it was nice to hear Kirsty Young praising his writing abilities.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Who are they? Where did they find them?

Here is the 2006 World Fantasy Award Winners list;

The World Fantasy Awards were presented at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention, held in Austin, Tex., over the weekend.

Judges were Steve Lockley, Barbara Roden, Victoria Strauss, Jeff VanderMeer, and Andrew Wheeler.

The winners were:

Life Achievement: John Crowley and Stephen Fabian

Novel: Haruki Murakami, for Kafka on the Shore (Knopf)

Novella: Joe Hill, for Voluntary Committal (Subterranean Press)

Short Fiction: George Saunders, for "CommComm" (The New Yorker, Aug. 1, 2005)

Anthology: The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye (Science Fiction Book Club)

Collection: Bruce Holland Rogers, for The Keyhole Opera (Wheatland Press)

Artist: James Jean

Special Award, Professional: Sean Wallace (for Prime Books)

Special Award, Non-Professional: David Howe and Stephen Walker (for Telos Books)

I thought I was well-ish read, but I have heard of none of the authors, and only one judge.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fame at last!!

Hello all,

Just to let you know that the Bookseller have published a great photograph of 'How Novel' in their supplement this month dedicated to graphic novels and manga.

So now you know who we are, well except me, who expertly took the photograph. (Oh and that is Tim Perkins, the comics illustrator)



This Saturday (November 4th), the graphic novel group at Bolton Central Library will be considering Old Stoneyface.

There are quite a few Judge Dredd books in Bolton Libraries, most of which will have been dished out to members of the group a couple of weeks ago. I've got The complete case files v. 1 sitting in my living room, waiting to be read, plus I've been following the Origins storyline in 2000AD for the last few weeks.

You might like to know that the mighty BBC website has some 2000AD strips online, as well as quite a few other comics. This one featuring Jonathan, Buffy's would-be arch nemesis, looks like it could be fun.

I'll see you perps at 3.30-4.30 in Bolton Central Library's Adult Fiction section this Saturday. Tea and biccies will be provided, as ever.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Odds and sods & Off-Topics

Thanks, Michael. I'm really getting into the forum book club: where, incidentally, they spend quite a lot of time talking about how good or bad their libraries are. Wigan is middling : I needed to buy Princess of Mars and Ringworld.

Some odds and sods of off topic stuff:

I just got Wigan's copy of "the Silver Spoon" : It looks great, but you didn't say I would need a wheelbarrow to get it home!
I, too, have Madhur's Curry Bible which is a great inspiration when I can be bothered to cook (especially as the daughters won't eat spicy food!)

I have finished and greatly enjoyed "Red Son" & "Shaun" :
delayed by JS&MN and my adventures on the SFX forum : sorry.

How & when can I return them to you?

Congratulations to Blackburn's Graphic Novel group, who are pictured in the Graphic Novel & Manga supplement in the latest bookseller.

Apart from Michael, the Bibliothecary & me, the blog's gone a bit quiet : Is there anybody else still out there?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Black Hole, Son

If we had a ranking system as many forums do (the former A-level Latin student in me always wants to say fora), Swlrir and Michael would be Gold Star posters on this blog! Excellent work as ever: I will try my best to enthuse my colleagues here at Bolton to post more frequently. We've just had a reshuffle here and we've a new (to the post) member of staff tasked with outreach and development and I'm sure Michael can sort her out with an invite to the blog (and a rudimentary introduction to Blogger). (Apologies for volunteering you for extra work, Michael!)

In a seamless segue from stars to black holes, I've just read one of the most impressive graphic novels I've ever come across. In fact Black Hole by Charles Burns is one of the those works that truly deserves the epithet of 'graphic novel'. The story is set in Washington State in the 1970s, where the teenagers of a small town are struck down by a strange sexually transmitted disease, known only as 'The Bug'. No two people are afflicted in the same way, but while the disease doesn't seem to be fatal, its debilitating effects spread like wildfire through the closed high school community.

To give a couple of examples of the various symptoms, one character grows a tiny mouth (complete with teeth and tongue) at the base of his throat, while another's skin sheds after contact with water. Many of the most visibly afflicted run away from home into the back woods of Washington and things start to get gradually worse for them.

Lest I give the impression that this is merely a cautionary tale about promiscuity and STDs, Burns uses 'The Bug' as a jumping off point for a story about love, trust, jealousy and loneliness. As one may imagine the themes of the book, as well as its images and dialogue are particularly adult (and it seems that there was much more drugs and free love in 1970s Washington than there ever was in 1970s Lancashire - all we had were Vesta curries and The Grumbleweeds), but the issues explored are both timeless and timely. Not to mention the exquisitely rendered artwork: the two-page introductory spreads for each chapter could keep an entire university semiotics department busy for months!

It's also genuinely horrific in places: both narratively and graphically. If you're not particularly a fan of graphic novels, you can achieve the same effect as reading Black Hole by sitting alone in a darkened room (preferably in an empty house at night) and listening to East Hastings by the Canadian anarchist musical collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Now that's scary!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Review: A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars

The first novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, of Tarzan fame.

A ripping yarn, a boy’s own adventure, but more…

The author’s intriguing foreword introduces us to our hero, the gentleman soldier John Carter, a brave, honourable and resourceful fighter (and probably the original Captain Jack!).

His character outlined, the strange circumstances of his “death” leave us wanting to know more.

Within a few pages of the curious narrative Carter left behind him, he has discovered a rich gold seam and attempted the single-handed rescue of his friend from “half a hundred red savages” in an episode of furious action that sets the pace for much of the book.

Escaping from pursuing Apaches, Captain Carter hides up in a cave, where a mysterious influence paralyses him. He escapes from his seemingly dead body and, by sheer force of will, is transported to Mars, where his real adventures begin.

We want to know about the landscape, flora and inhabitants of Mars, and the reader soon gets used to the long but beautifully written information dumps, which describe the alien world and it’s peoples.

Captured by Green Martian warriors, magnificent 15 feet tall warlike barbarians, Carter soon impresses them with his marvellous agility, due to the lesser gravity of Mars, and his fighting skills.

The Greens live in a Spartan warrior society in which everything except personal adornments and weapons are held in common. Hatchlings (The Greens, like all Martians, are egg-laying reptiles) are raised in common and there is no concept of family, compassion, or love.

However, they are not alone on Mars, and soon an airborne expedition of the technically advanced and (relatively) peaceful Red Martians is attacked; a battleship and our heroine, the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, are captured.

It is love at first sight for Captain Jack!

There follow furious hand-to-hand combat, hairsbreadth escapes, the saving of Dejah Thoris from a fate worse than death, and a full-scale war, before the princess is reunited with her father.

In an interesting and important interlude, John Carter visits what is possibly the first terraforming (…er, Marsforming?) plant in SF.

By the end, Carter has the love of a beautiful (if oviparous) woman, staunch companions, both Red & Green, and a faithful hound. The stage is set for more adventure…

This is the kind of rollicking action novel which drew many a lad into SF : and as has been noted elsewhere, it lacks the racist and sexual unpleasantness which mar many of it’s imitators.
Great stuff.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Reading "Matilda", Reading "Matilda", We'll go a'Reading "Matilda" to you..."

Reading "Matilda" in Leigh….

We had a grand day for it, in Leigh.

“Read a book in a day” day, Friday 8th September, found Wendy Heaton, Library Operations Manager, Swlrir, , and a slightly Ruffled dragon*, along with Sarah Corree & Anne-Marie Pugh from Leigh Staff & our bouncy volunteer reader, Carole Ogden from the Get Connected project, out in the library square and surrounding areas, reading Roald Dahl's "Matilda" aloud to bemused passers-by and pigeons.

We were joined by Andy Burnham, MP, who read with gusto, posed for several photographs, and took a tour of the Library, Gallery, & Derby Room. This was the day after the Brown/Blair showdown, so he was glad to do something positive, and fun.

The Dragon* was a great hit, and was followed about by small children, some of whose mums and grans joined in and read with us. He wasn’t allowed on the coach taking pop fans to see Robbie Williams in Leeds, though.

Among the passers-by who read for us was Philip Butler, from the History Shop, who kindly did a whole chapter.

In the afternoon, eight members of Leigh’s Bookchat group joined us and we managed to finish our allotted portion in fine style, sitting out in the afternoon sunshine.

Everyone enjoyed the experience, and even people who didn’t want to read listened with pleasure.

We gave out lots of library information and promoted the Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust's upcoming Everything Free Day to many people.

Two days later, the Sunday Telegraph gave away a large “Matilda” poster by Quentin Blake!

*Wigan Libraries' Service Development Manager, Stephen Ruffley

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's new in women's fiction: a useful source of reviews

You may find this blogstyle site useful : it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Regularly updated, there are 25 plus reviews of new titles with jacket image and full details.

Covers the whole range of popular (as opposed to literary) women's fiction : chicklit, historical romance, family sagas, female crime, and more.

We may not read this stuff ourselves (I know I don't!) but our readers do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Radio, someone still loves you!

Swlrir's adventures in Radioland : Wednesday 4th October:

Swlrir went with Hazel Wellings & Pam Buxton from Leigh Library Bookchat group to take part in Eamonn O'Neal & Diane Oxberry's Radio Manchester morning show : which has a book club slot between 11-12 every other Wednesday.

He says:

"It was great!

Being a typical soggy Manchester morning we got wet in both directions, but that was the only downer.

We arrived at Oxford Rd about 10.15, and had time for a coffee before we were "on".

The BBC had supplied us with 3 copies of our book "The Island" by Victoria Hislop, (Ian's wife), which was the most popular of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads.
It's the story of three generations of one family from Crete whose members are afflicted by leprosy and spend much of their lives on Spinalonga : the offshore island which was the Cretan Leper Colony until 1957.

It doesn't sound promising, but it was a deep and gripping read that we all enjoyed very much.

Also taking part in the programme was Jonathan Cole from Borders Bookshop who recommended "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire :a book about the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz : a strange and powerful adult novel which I am reading now.

We had an interesting discussion about folklore, fairytales, and films.

We were all made very welcome and put at our ease, and given enough time to talk about the books at some length.

Eamonn O'Neal & Diane Oxberry were very nice people, keeping the tone light while asking sensible questions to keep the discussion flowing.

Everyone was pleased with our bit and we have been invited back (on the 13th December).

I have a CD of our section of the show, and we sound better than I thought we would.

I'm looking forward to the next one!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Batman graphic novels

This month's Graphic novel group meets tomorrow (Saturday October 7th) at Bolton Central Library. It kicks off at 3.30pm, with free tea and biccies and the usual excellent company.

October's discussion topic is Batman. There's a lot to talk about there! There are plenty of Batman books in Bolton's libraries and I'm willing to bet that most of the group will have a couple of their own Bat-books at home. I know I have...

Come to the meeting, leave your views on Bruce Wayne's alter-ego via the Comments below, or do both.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Larry Niven : "Ringworld" review

This is a strange one : I read it first in 1970 and loved it : A whole new, strange, wonderful BIG new world to explore.

Coming back to it now, it's still entertaining in a shallow way : it reads like, and feels like, an episodic TV series with a new peril every episode, or perhaps an RPG : A defined party with racial & other characteristic differences built in (Speaker, my favourite character, could be Worf or Teal'c) have to explore a potentially infinite alien world/artifact, with limited chances of ever surviving or making it back home.

The major theme of breeding for defined characteristics (lucky human, docile kzin) is uncomfortable from 2006, but to be fair, the punchline on Teela's luck only occurs in "Ringworld Engineers" and I will say no more.

The Ringworld itself must stand as one of SF's better attempts at a BDO story: along wirh Rama. From the view of hindsight, the writing, especially the character development, could have been much improved.

Random species (Slavers, Outsiders) exist only to provide technology or creatures or move the plot along. (I know there is more information in the rest of LN's "Tales of known Space")

I enjoyed revisiting the Ringworld, but ended up unsatisfied as the book wasn't as good as I remembered. This could be partly my fault as I have just reluctantly emerged from the end of "Jonathan Strange" : a novel you can live in. I will read "Ringworld Engineers" again. in the hope that that will work better._________________

Friday, September 29, 2006

Shakespeare Searched

Clusty is a fun search engine. It does things differently to the usual (i.e. Google) everyday search engines. One thing it does differently is Shakespeare Searched.

This little package offers you a searchable database of Will's plays and sonnets. Before you fret about the demotion of the works of the finest English dramatist to a series of soulless ones and zeroes, don't: it's not intended to replace authoritative, annotated, scholarly editions of the texts. It just offers another way in.

You can search by keyword or phrase, and limit that search by individual characters or plays. My sketchy recollection of A-level English lit tells me that Richard mumbles something about bread in Richard II: Shakespeare Searched confirms exactly what he says, without me having to dig out a copy of the play and flick through the pages until I find it. Act 3, Scene 2, if you're interested.

Project Gutenberg has been providing soulless ones-and-zeroes online versions of texts, including Shakespeare, for yonks. You could always look at this .txt file of Richard II, hit Ctrl+F and search for "bread", but Shakespeare Searched seems to do the job with less hassle and more style. Similarly, you could try to Explore Shakespeare with Google, and end up with a scanned image of the relevant lines.

Shakespeare Searched is more "webby" than the competition. The Google approach searches scanned images of actual books, and Gutenberg offers the full text of books as typed in by volunteers. Shakespeare Searched gives me a nice, clean web interface and something closer to a proper search engine, and that's what I really like.

There is a permanent link to Shakespeare Searched in Signpost's Drama and theatres list. I'm planning on developing literature and homework areas on Signpost as well, and it would be equally at home there.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Interesting article on reading groups

Apologies for this slightly library-geekish post, but this appeared on one of the library mailing lists today. It's an article about online reading groups which is one of the directions we're hoping to go in with this blog.

In fact, online communities are something of a flavour of the month at the moment: I've just read Train Man by Nakano Hitori, a book which is something of a phenomenon in Japan. The book consists of transcripts of bulletin board threads, posted by the eponymous Train Man and his online friends. Simply put, it's the story of a young Japanese geek (an otaku) who saves a woman from the attentions of a drunk on the subway and is coached in his consequent wooing of her by the posters on the bulletin board he subscribes to. It's already spawned manga comics, two tv series and a film in Japan as well as pages and pages of internet debate.

The odd thing about it is that noone really knows if any of the events actually happened or whether it's an elaborate internet hoax on the lines of the famous lonelygirl15 podcasts.

You never know, perhaps one day the Signpost Blog will scale the summits of internet greatness...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

CD : "Where's Neil when you need him?"

I've just acquired from Amazon "Where's Neil when you need him?" : seventeen tracks inspired by the works of Neil Gaiman, written and performed by seventeen musicians and groups including Tori Amos.

The music is varied, strange and often magical : ranging from the chilling "Vandemar" in doom laden German, to the beautiful and sad "Raven Star" based on the end of "Stardust.

So far (Fifth consequtive listen to the whole album) my favourites are "Wake the White Queen" a Mirrormask song by The Cruxshadows, and Schandmaul's "Magda Treadgold's Marchen" : a German (again) Celtic folk rock take on the dark fairy tale from "The Kindly Ones".

These tracks are all interesting at least, some of them are great, and if you are a Gaiman completist this CD is essential.

Neil has provided an introduction and notes, and the CD art is original stuff from Dave McKean.

Great! (But not in stock in libraries?)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

If, like me, you've spent the last two years avoiding Susanna Clarke's "Strange & Norrell" because it's the size, shape & weight of a house brick, please think again.

It's deep, and rich, and wonderful : the most gripping and immersive read I've come accross for ages.

The language is elegant, precise, and witty : if Jane Austen had written a magical "War & Peace" it might come out like this.

With evocative illustrations by Portia Rosenberg, and extensive and delightfully dry footnotes by the author, it is a book you can live in : it's irksome to have to come back to 2006 to, for instance, work, or eat.

Neil Gaiman says it's "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last 70 years". He's right, as usual.

If you read it & love it, or perhaps want to try something shorter first,Susanna's short fiction collection "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" which is illustrated by the magnificent Charles Vess, is published mid October. I can't wait.

Friday, September 22, 2006

swlrir strikes again

My subscription copy of SFX was waiting for me when I got home last night.

Turning to the page on the SFX Book Club's discussion of Ray Bradbury's Martian chronicles, I had a quick look for comments from our very own SF critic.

It didn't take me long to find what I was looking for. He's featured at the top of the right-hand column. Go swlrir!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Film Club?

After many more months' deprivation than I'd care to remember, I've finally got hold of Season Two of the 'reimagined' (a horrible word, but in this case is shorthand for 'vast improvement on the original') Battlestar Galactica. Not wishing to wax too lyrical about this show but I think it constitutes some of the best science-fiction to grace either the big or small screen in some time. Has anybody else fallen prey to its charms? I've barely seen daylight for 2 days now, sustained as I have been by PepsiMax and Pringles...

One of my colleagues here at Bolton has floated the idea of a library film club; AV loans have been part of our library world for nearly 2 decades, it may be a logical extension of our outreach activities. Were it not for those pesky performance licensing and copyright regulations I'm sure we here at Bolton could make ample use of our fabulous vintage lecture theatre (complete with projection room and screen).

We could even ask Michael to go round with choc ices in the interval.

Friday, September 15, 2006


In an effort to tie the blog in better with Signpost, I've rejigged the colour scheme. The blog now features the same purple-heavy colour combo as Signpost.

Thanks go to Jenny at Trafford for the suggestion. Since Signpost's move is imminent, I've stuck with Bolton's colour scheme in order to give myself an easier life.

So: any thoughts? What should the colours be, for the blog and for Signpost? And what colours would we want to see on a newfangled community information product, if we happened to have one?

Man Booker Prize: shortlist announced

The shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize has been announced.

The list looks to be a good mix of established and up-and-coming authors, which is probably going to make it an interesting selection to read.

Signpost has a Man Booker Prize 2006 section, complete with links to copies at your library. Join in the official forums at the Prize website and leave your comments here.

Happy reading!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The detectives strike back

Just to let you all know that members of 'How Novel' have helped to write a murder mystery evening and are the majority of suspects. Its being held this Friday at 7pm in Blackburn Central Library and its free.

Personally I'm intrigued by how many Preacher quotes they manage to slip into their characters this time round. (Oh, and I'm playing Mrs Nora Charles)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Graphic Novels: September

Yes, once again, I've managed to mess up and organise something that clashes with the meeting tomorrow (September 9th) at Bolton Central Library. I am considering tattooing the meeting dates somewhere about my person. In my defense, tomorrow's fun activity was booked before the meeting dates were rejigged...

This month's theme is the Man of Steel. Superman is a big favourite of mine, so I'm especially cross with myself for not being able to make it. As compensation, here are my favourite Superman books:

Red son
An Elseworlds book about a Soviet Superman. Mark Millar wrote it, the Communist "look" is spot-on and it's the book that got me back into comics, after I read a review in the Observer. Politics, personalities and upscaled imagery make this one of my favourite books full stop, not just a favourite book on the Last Son of Krypton or a fave graphic novel. Brilliant.

Superman for all seasons
This one really moved me. There was something about the way it showed Clark growing up, Jonathan and Martha coming to terms with their son's awesome powers, that appealed to the big softy in me. The approach is a bit nostalgic, even corny, but it's so well-executed that it broke down my anti-schmaltz barriers. It's a Loeb and Sale book, but it's quite far removed from Batman: the long Halloween.

Secret identity
I've mentioned this one before, and it turns out that Blackburn with Darwen Libraries' GN group, How Novel, loved it as well. It's technically not an Elseworlds book, but it has that vibe: an alternate Earth, which knows Superman through comics has its very own Clark Kent. It looks wonderful and the story drew me in.

I've been watching Lois and Clark: the new adventures of Superman on ITV2 (week nights at 7, lycra fans!), which has been, erm, interesting. I watched it the first time around, and yes, it's still that patchy. The HG Wells/time travel storyline ran last week, and this week Clark has mostly been trying to tell Lois that he's actually Superman. Such hijinks!!

So: your thoughts please. What's your favourite Superman book? And what will next month's topic be?

In other news, Judge Dredd's origin storyline begins in next week's 2000AD (Prog 1505). And we've got some Dredd books to get you warmed up!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google News releases Archive Search

Thanks to Bibliothecary for tipping me off to this via email this morning: it took my RSS aggregator a couple of hours to catch up with him.

Google has had Google News for what seems like ages now. I've never really used it, having been content with BBC News and the Guardian website for "proper" news.

Today, the Google News Archive Search was unleashed. You can search for news topics of your choice, and you'll find results going back quite some time. Over 200 years in some cases, in fact. This could be very useful for finding contemporary reports on big news events: the outbreak of war (Vietnam, WWII, the Boer War, take your pick); Thatcher leaving Downing Street; Star Wars; the list could go on indefinitely.

There are some genuinely useful touches here as well. At the click of a hyperlink, you can show your results as a timeline, in chronological order. Those search results include snippets of relevant text, as we've come to expect from Google. And it has the nice, clean interface we've come to expect.

There are even some sample searches to get you started. One of them, Groucho Marx, led me to this letters page from Time. Scroll down about half way for a missive from the man himself. The potential for easy access to articles that could really provide some context.

It's not all good , though. There is a strong US bias, which is explained as a result of the service being in its infancy. Google intends to balance the American sources with others as the Archive Search grows (see the FAQ).

The big blow, though, is that you have to pay to actually read a lot of the content. Admittedly, all of the summaries are free. Time Magazine, the BBC and the Guardian are among the free services searched, and they're all pretty good.

But with the other newspapers, you either have to pay a fee per article, or you have to have a subscription. When media stories about new online resources circulate widely, touting the new wealth of information we can access, they tend not to mention the cost. This makes me sad.

For recent "old" news, your library subscribes to a database I *do* like. It's called NewsUK. Go here if you're in a library; to get to it from home, you need the number on your library card and you need to go to your library's website first. Bolton, Trafford and Wigan all have different pages; scroll down to find the link (there's usually something about external access or similar).

NewsUK includes the full text of all UK national papers, with the exception of the share prices from the Financial Times. It also covers some local papers, including the Manchester Evening News and the Wigan Observer. This coverage goes back, in some cases, to the early 1990s. It also includes the Economist, New Statesman and the Spectator. Try it.

See Signpost's News section for a range of local, national and international news sources tried and tested by your favourite librarians.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tidying up

I've made some ever-so-insignificant changes to the extra gubbins on the blog:

First, I've streamlined the library search boxes in the sidebar. You now get a drop-down menu for each library, allowing a choice between keyword, author and title. It's much neater, it takes up less space and I'm far happier with it. I've also abandoned the Talis deep linking API, as it doesn't allow keyword searching. I've reverted to pointing the search boxes directly at the relevant OPACs, which seem stable enough from where I'm sitting.

Second, I've got rid of the rather optimistic list of feeds, in favour of a single one from Add to any (idea stolen from inspired by Phil Bradley). Add to any allows our (theoretical) readers to add the feed to their aggregator of choice, without having to display a huge and unwieldy list here.

Finally, I've binned the OED search box at the bottom of the page. It worked, which was nice, but that's not really a good enough reason to keep anything. Maybe if it worked for our (theoretical) users reading the blog from home, it would have stayed; but it only worked on internal networks subscribed to the OED.

Monday, September 04, 2006

swlrir's books : August

This month I've mostly been reading...

SF : Philip K. Dick : "Flow my tears, the policeman said"
H.G. Wells : "War of the Worlds"
Charles Stross : "Singlarity Sky"
Koji Suzuki : "Loop"

Fantasy: Terry Pratchett : "Colour of Magic"

Graphic Novels : Mark Waid "Superman : Birthright"
Frank Miller : "Dark Knight strikes again"
Jeph Loeb : "Superman/Batman : Public Enemies"
Dave Gibbons : "PTIC : Rann-Thanagar War"

Crime : Agatha Christie : "They do it with mirrors"

Non-Fiction : David Lloyd : "Short History of Ludlow"

And loads of SFX back issues.

...But I have been on holiday!

What are other people reading right now?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Graphic Novel list, at last!

Hi, Michael, Angelaook :

Finally, I've got round to LibraryThinging my GN collection : check them out here

LT really is easy to use and beats the hours I've spent on Excel in the past.

If you or anyone want to borrow any, just say.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How Novel Reading Group

Hello all,
I run the 'How Novel' group in Blackburn Central Library. We've been going a year now and are interested to find out what other reading groups think of things.

At Christmas we voted Superman: Secret Identity as the best graphic novel of the year. And Star Wars: Vaders Quest as the worst, honestly, it really is chronic.

We meet every 2 weeks and have an e-mail discussion group that you are welcome to join.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" : Review

This review is late because I have been on holiday: a great cottage in Ludlow with no PC.

I enjoyed the Martian Chronicles as much on this re-reading as when I first discovered the stories : many years ago.

I love RB's lyrical style, humour and pathos. Nobody in SF/Fantasy and very few authors of any kind are more effective in capturing the tragicomedy of the human condition.

The chronological linking of the stories is effective in holding the book together and keeping it focused, while at the same time allowing side trips into all kinds of interesting places.

The hilarious fate of the second expedition, and the terrifying end of the third,are followed by the outstanding "And the moon be still as bright" in which Spender, perhaps the most filled out character in the whole book, tragically realises that men always bring their own hell with them.
Does this story remind anyone else of Ursula Le Guin's "Vaster than Empires, and more slow"?

I don't remember "Way up in the middle of the air": a powerful evocation of fifties racism and a warning that things don't really change very much, after all: I think it must have been left out of the early edition I read in the seventies.

"There will come soft rains" is one of all time favourite stories as the house continues to live, and finally die, long after the people who lived there were destroyed.

There are so many good things in this slim volume : definitely worth the asking price.

The great thing about the SFX reading group is that it's making us rediscover things we haven't read for years. The next book is Larry Niven's "Ringworld"_________________

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Self praise is no recommendation...

But I'm still as happy as dog with two tails (?or a fox with nine?).

Thanks to SFX I'm now a proper published critic -- well a bit.

Check out the book club ("War of the Worlds") page in the current issue.

Normal hat size will be resumed shortly...

Sad librarian, guilty as charged

Hi, everyone;

I'm back from my holiday in Ludlow, and now very ready for another one.

It's a wonderful unspoilt market town with a fine castle, magnificent church, over 500 listed buildings, and is a foodie and real ale paradise, so I had a great time.

While there I did the traditional sad librarian thing and spent some hours in the splendid new(ish) library and heritage centre.
It really is a fine resource for a small town.

(Heather : "But as to manga, they only had Vol 4 of "Gravitation!")

Photo attached to prove I was there:

(With Christine, my wife and sad library assistant).

Next: I'm going to get "Shropshire Lad" on the ass of my poetry group.

Friday, August 11, 2006

August's Graphic Novel group

The August meeting of the group is tomorrow, at 3.30pm in Bolton Central Library's Adult Fiction section. Tea and biscuits provided!

We'll be talking about GN/movie crossovers - with it being summer, a summer blockbuster-type topic seemed a good idea. Plus it's big enough and vague enough to keep us on-topic for the entire hour, which is pretty much unprecedented...

I might have to sneak out a bit early, but the group will finish at 4.30-ish. Comment on this post if you've got something to say. I'll be adding a follow-up on Monday morning, all being well.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Current security concerns

With the current concern over airport and flight security, a dedicated Terror alert and travel implications section has been added to Signpost.

The section pulls together advice and information from trusted sources, but be warned: some of the Government sites are obviously attracting many more visitors than they are used to. Because of this, their websites are slower than usual. If you experience this problem, use the BBC pages instead.

Travel safely.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

SFX Book Group, take 2

Hi, everyone :

The second book for discussion in the SFX book group is Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" ; a bit of an odd choice, I think, though I love RB's writing.

Review soon.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Domesday online

With much fanfare, the Domesday Book has been made available online.

You can visit the site and search the database by modern place name, 11th Century place name (which, of course, you know...) or by the name of an individual mentioned. The search interface seems reasonably straightforward and results were returned quickly - presumably, lessons have been learned from the 1901 Census fiasco...

Some crushing disappointments for me though: first, the results you get are only records; you have to pay for downloadable, scanned images of pages from Domesday. None of the news I've read in my RSS aggregator or in various emails mentioned this fact, nor did (to my hazy, tea-fuelled recollection) the piece on BBC Breakfast this morning.

The biggest problem, though, is in the results returned. I tried a few places I've known and loved over the years:

Goxhill - it's in North Lincolnshire and I lived there for about six years. My parents are still there. Searching Domesday online for "Goxhill" returns a place of the same name in Yorkshire. This map shows the difference between the two. There is a point, and it is this: I know the Domesday Book includes and entry on "my" Goxhill because I've seen it in a translation of the text in Bolton Central Library's Reference Reserve Stock. So, I searched the catalogue for the book and found this more accessible translation on the open shelves. Lo and behold, the Goxhill in Lincolnshire has several entries in the index.

Caistor - this town in Lincolnshire is where I went to school. It was originally settled by Roman troops and, if memory serves, Roman remains were found while some building work was being done, way before my time. Again, searching Domesday online finds several "wrong" Caistors: but the book I swiped from the shelves lists the "right" one in its index.

There are two possible explanations here - either the index behind the data supplied by the National Archives is not very good, or I'm using the database incorrectly. In both cases, I believe the fault lies with TNA: the data should be comprehensive and it should be easy to search.

The moral of this story: the online service is all very well and good, but maybe you're better off with a book in this case. Try this search at Bolton, Trafford and Wigan and see what you can find. Signpost's link to Domesday online is in the Reference books online section.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Big Brother

No, not the dreadful reality TV show. I'm thinking of something more Orwellian.

I stumbled on ClustrMaps, a nice little app that adds a world map to a website, showing the locations of visitors. I can already look at the geographic location and server names of visitors to the blog using the data I get from Google Analytics, so it doesn't really add anything new for me.

So why is it there, and why am I writing this post? It's there, and the same goes for Google Analytics to some extent, because I can put it there. There's a need to be able to monitor the use made of any service we provide, because that's one of the things we're measured on as a library service. It's useful to know where our hits come from and what technologies people are using (which GA can do), so we can tailor content to identifiable groups at some mythical future point.

The main reason the map is there, at the bottom of the sidebar on the right, is that I think it looks nice. I like colour. It makes things look more interesting. I'm not using the Big Brother-esque stuff to spy on people; I see myself as more of a benevolent dictator. :)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

SFX book group

My copy of SFX was sitting on the doormat when I got home last night, hence this blog post. I thought it might be worth refreshing people's memories of swlrir's post, but you've only got a couple of days to add your thoughts at

The Graphic novel section in Signpost has had a link to SFX for a while now. Any suggestions for other SF, fantasy and horror sites? One thing that's missing, IMHO, from a lot of the mainstream book recommendation services is genre fiction coverage.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The horror, the horror (and the sci-fi, the sci-fi)

In a comment to a post below, swlrir asked for suggestions for recommended reading lists for genre fiction (SF, Fantasy and Horror). Not wishing to clog up the post with a huge comment, I thought I'd start a new thread for suggestions (and brief reasons for their recommendation).

William Gibson - "Virtual Light/Idoru/All Tomorrow's Parties"
The vision of the future in Gibson's "Bridge Trilogy" is either a utopia or a dystopia depending on your viewpoint. More accessible than some of his other work, there are some striking images (a community living on the superstructure of a post-quake Golden Gate Bridge, for instance).

Patrick Tilley - "Fade Out"
Almost forgotten in the wake of Tilley's magnum opus "The Amtrak Wars", this tale of contact with an alien technology has been oft-copied but never bettered. If we were to lose all the technological advantages of the last 70 years, how would we cope? (Hint: It would be a bit like calling our tech support helpdesk...)

Ray Bradbury - "Fahrenheit 451"
It would be remiss of me as a librarian to leave this title out. The tyranny of censorship has never been more eloquently described. A classic example of how science fiction can be best placed to treat the big themes of modern life.

Stephen Donaldson - "The Mirror of Her Dreams/A Man Rides Through"
As with Tilley and Gibson, the less well known works are often gems and this small series is no exception. The central idea, that a young woman is transported to another world where mirrors have a very different, and much more dangerous use, is a great hook. As ever, Donaldson's imagery is striking and his inventive use of language is always interesting.

Robert Holdstock - "Mythago Wood" et al
The "Mythago Wood" series of novels and short stories are an intriguing look at the form and function of myths, especially those Northern European ones we've always taken for granted. Arthurian knights, Robin Hood and the Green Man all crop up in various guises throughout these books, and after reading these you'll never think of British folk traditions as cosy ever again, (not that lonewytch ever would!) nor will you be quite so relaxed walking through woodland in future!

William Goldman - "The Princess Bride"
There are few books that one could honestly say transcends age groups and genres, but this is one of them. Ostensibly it's a fairy story, told to a bedridden boy by his grandfather, but in reality it's much more than that. Yes, it's got beautiful princesses, dread pirates, Spanish swordsmen, giants, albinos and villainous Sicilians; but it also has a lot to say on friendship, honour and dare I say it, true love. Plus the film rocks!

William Peter Blatty - "The Exorcist"
A lot more thought provoking than the publicity surrounding the film suggests, this is a profound look at the nature of evil. It's also a lot more equivocal than the film, leaving it up to the reader to decide in many instances whether the events are religious or psychological in origin.

M.R. James - "The Collected Stories"
M.R. James was the Edwardian Stephen King: he painted a picture of a plausible, recognisable world, then introduced something alien, malign or downright diabolical into it. Some of the stories are legendary, such as "Oh Whistle and I"ll Come To You, My Lad" with its creature posessing "a face of crumpled linen". Others, such as "The Tractate Middoth" are cool because they introduce the idea that libraries can be really creepy places!

Stephen King - "Salem's Lot"
I've always been something of an evangelist for Stephen King: he's a lot more subtle and interesting a writer than he's given credit for. This inventive updating of the vampire mythology, centring on the infestation of a township in New England says as much about small town life as it does about bloodsucking creatures. All you need to know about "Salem's Lot" is that without it, there would be no "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Some men are born great

Some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them... This week greatness is being thrust upon one of our co-bloggers. Today's Times has an article wherein our esteemed e-resources guru Michael is interviewed about working as a librarian. Excellent work, say we all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You'll believe a man can fly at the Graphic Novel Reading Group!

Yes, it's that time again: the GNRG (Graphic Novel Reading Group if you're not too lazy to type) is almost upon us. It's this Saturday (July 15th) at 3.30pm, in the Adult Fiction section at Bolton Central Library.

We'll be talking about Art Spiegelman's Maus, as well as Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and the usual assortment of stuff we've all been reading. I will no doubt have seen Superman Returns by Saturday, so I expect to be quite excitable. It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Michael wearing a Superman T-shirt!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

SFX Online Reading Group


People out there may like to know that SFX, that indispensible magazine, is starting an online Reading Group.

Each month a classic SF title is up for discussion.

A-list authors like Stephen Baxter & Jon Courtney Grimwood will be joining in the discussions.

You can e-mail your reviews/comments/reactions to, or post on the books section of the website's forum

Each month the magazine will carry a feature on the spotlighted book, starting with issue 148, available 30th August.

The first selected title is HG Wells' "The War of the Worlds", and you have until 3rd August to read and submit your reactions.

I'll be having a go : anyone else interested?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The legend of Peter Brophy

Hi Michael,
Thought I'd post something to see how it's done. It was cool to meet you and put a face to the name yesterday - keep up the good work! I'm still giggling stupidly to myself about the whole Peter Brophy/ legend thing. All those loooong afternoons trying to prop my eyes open and feign interest . . . but he is a very animated guy and manage to did keep our attention more than most lecturers. Don't want to shatter your illusions or anything . . .

Friday, June 23, 2006

Hail to the Chiefs!

This morning, I was invited to present to the Greater Manchester Chief Librarians on Signpost, this blog, and the general e-Resources Project work I'm lucky enough to do for a living.

So, Chiefs, what do you think of the blog? Click on "Comments" at the bottom of this post, type your comment in the box, choose "Other" under "Choose an identity", put a name in the "Name" box and click "Login and publish". Use a pseudonym if you like, it doesn't have to be your full name.

I should probably outline some of the other directions I can see our e-Resources Project moving in:

  • more channels for e-access - instant messaging, chat etc.
  • other uses of PN infrastructure - online computer gaming in libraries
  • more and better reader development support online - library blogs, possibly reading group-specific blogs

Some of these are taboo, especially IM and chat, but they're fast becoming legitimate communication channels within some of the groups we have a hard time reaching. I'm sure there was a time when telephone enquiries, faxes and then emails were verboten, but we couldn't run our services without them now.

Rant over - here's my Signpost list with links to non-Talis OPACs. I've only got Bury on there so far, but I'll add some more before lunch. Thank you all for having me along this morning - I enjoyed it and I hope you all found it useful. My swollen head is returning to normal size now.

Update: I've added links to OPAC records for Bury (III), Manchester (DS), Tameside (Geac), Rochdale (Dynix) and Oldham (Bibliomondo). I've also used two ways of linking to Salford's Talis Prism to illustrate the Open URL protocol and I've linked to one of Manchester's community group records. And all in plenty of time for lunch.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Top 10 graphic novels

Hi, Michael :

Thanks for the invitation.

The graphics group sounds really good : I hope I can get to one in person soon.

Meanwhile, I thought I would post my favourites list :

Sandman : I have recently finished the whole series in sequence : amazing!
Also, the extra volume : Dream Hunters (an illustrated story rather than a graphic, with Yoshitako Amano's illustrations, is the most purely beautiful book I own)

V for Vendetta : I thought the film was a very good effort, but the book is better; dark, complex and scary.

Sin City : Not for the squeamish as Frank Miller takes old style hard boiled film noir and squeezes the pips out of it. Also the very best comic book/film adaptation I've ever seen.

Lucifer : Mike Carey's development on Neil Gaiman's retired lord of hell and lounge pianist has mind boggling cosmology and theology, adventure, sex, drugs and dinner jazz.
Has anyone read Mike's first print novel : "The Devil you Know"? It's worth a look.

Fray : Joss Whedon's fantastic future Slayer, dark, funny, great dialogue.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen : A great idea : a superteam of Victorian adventure heroes battle dastardly perils and otherworldly menaces. References to sensational period fiction, both famous and very obscure, are thick as autumn leaves. Do not be put off by the dreadful film version.

Batman : Year One / The Dark Knight Returns. Both ends of the Caped Crusader's career, dark, rich and powerful. Frank Miller restores Batman to the shadows where he belongs.

Scarlet Traces : What happened after The War of the Worlds as the British Empire masters Martian technology.

Wolverine/Elektra : Redeemer. Greg Rucka's excellent one- off in which the two heroes change the life of a special teenager. Superb illustrations by Yoshitako Amano.

and, of course...

Watchmen : the War and Peace of Superhero books which covers the big questions of power and responsibility, love, hate, patriotism and political manipulation. Long, deep, complex and unforgettable. Is the projected film version still on, and if it is, after X3, should we be very frightened?

There you go :

What does anyone else think?

PS. :Did anyone see Bryan Talbot at Leigh Library last April? A great afternoon!


Friday, June 16, 2006

Graphic novels this Saturday

The next Graphic Novel group is at 3.30pm tomorrow (Saturday June 17th), at Bolton Central Library.

The books I've read this month are on Signpost. We'll be talking about Sandman and Buffy/Angel spin-offs tomorrow, plus the other random stuff that inevitable comes up. We've *got* to talk about X-Men 3 : the last stand... The words "crushing" and "disappointment" come to mind.

Add a comment, say whatever you want about the books mentioned above or any others you've read. I've got plans for some more interactive elements for the blog, so keep your eye on it or subscribe to the RSS feed.

I'm told there was talk at the last meeting of each member producing a list of graphic novels they own, which they're willing to share with the rest of the group. I've created a list at LibraryThing, which lets you build a catalogue of up to 200 items for free. I think I've put all of my graphic novels on the list, but I'll have to have another look at them when I get home tonight. Any thoughts? Do you want to borrow any?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hi Michael

You said it would be easy to sign up and use the blog and it is!! even for a technophobe like me!!Thanks for the info on hosting signpost I will send to Kieron.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Signpost focus group

Yesterday, we had a focus group on Signpost at the Wiend Centre in Wigan.

I thought it went quite well, and some genuinely useful and interesting ideas came up in discussion. It's not just about me though, so what did those of you who were there think?

Thanks, again, to everyone who attended and to our hosts at Wigan.

Post a comment (click on the "comments" link at the bottom of this blog entry) if you want, and make sure you check out the poll below.

Create polls and vote for free.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mashing up the what?

In a concerted effort to make it look as if more than one person posts on this blog, I thought I'd add another posting. And after Michael's recent posts describing the new products available from our library software suppliers Talis, I thought that I'd add a link to their new competition "Mashing Up The Library". Appalling use of pseudo-hip-hoppery-yoof-speak aside, this is an interesting proposition... especially with £1,000 as a prize!

The point of the whole thing is to come up with innovative ways of enriching the data we already use as libraries (the stock we hold, resources we subscribe to) and developing them in a functional and exciting way. This could be linking to reviews from the OPAC or adding GIS information to locations to that not only can you see whether an item is in, you can find out where the library is that has it. (In fact, with an RFID system, you could find out where it was in the library!)

I just thought I'd say though if anyone came into Bolton Central and tried to mash up my library, I may just have to beat them with newspaper rods.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Library 2.0 a go-go

You wouldn't know it, but I've changed the library search boxes in the sidebar.

The good folk at Talis Information Ltd. have released a few APIs to allow people like me to harness the power of the Talis Platform, the company's vision for the future of automated library service provision.

Basically, using the API means that the search boxes point at a slightly more stable source. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but Talis' Silkworm Directory, the source of online catalogue searching goodness, needs to be kept updated whenever we move our catalogues.

The idea behind this, and many other activities being undertaken by Talis and assorted other parties, is that libraries are moving onto the next phase of their existence. Library 2.0 builds on Web 2.0 principles and pushes a socialising, collaborative, energising agenda on online (and offline) library service provision.

I'm not going to go into any depth about Library 2.0 here, because other people have more time and better words to do that. Start with the Wikipedia article (link above) and trawl Talis' white papers.

In summary, then: the search boxes for Bolton, Trafford and Wigan's library catalogues have been tweaked and should be more stable. Which is not to say they weren't stable before. And Library 2.0 is the future - I've seen it, I've tasted it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bolton graphic novel reading circle

The meeting on Saturday was a resounding success. From the list of books that were discussed (via Signpost), it seems like it was quite busy.

The next meeting (June 17th? I could be wrong - I'll check and update that later) will have a bit of a theme. Everybody's going to read a couple of Neil Gaiman's Sandman books, as well as a Buffy or Angel spin-off. I've put a reservation on the library's copy of Fray, a book about a future Vampire Slayer. Does that count?

We're going to be experimenting with using the blog and Signpost as online support for the group. There are a couple of people who can't make the Saturday meetings because of other commitments, so it would be nice to be able to incorporate what they have to say as well. I'm really impressed by the breadth of knowledge that members of the group have on the subject of graphic novels (I'm struggling to keep up), and I think it would be great to have even more opinions flying around.

Incidentally, you can keep up with what I've been reading here. Not that I'm narcissistic enough to think you're all going to copy me, it's more a demonstration of what I hope to achieve with online support for the group.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Find groups and societies in Wigan

I've added another Signpost search box to the sidebar on the right (the third box under the heading "Search Signpost"). This one lets you find groups and societies in Wigan, but there are some limits:

  • It searches for keywords, like "dogs" or "music". It doesn't search for groups' names. Use the Signpost "Find resource" box for that. I know it's not ideal, but it's the best I can do without it getting more complicated.
  • It only searches for one keyword at a time, so don't try multiple search terms unless it's a phrase like "support group". Searching for "music charities" won't get you any results, but searching for each term on its own will.
  • Boring technical limitation - the field that this box searches can only contain up to 256 characters. This means that there is a finite limit on the amount of information that each record can contain. Any suggestions for new information to add to records would be great - use the Comment link to your heart's content - but bear in mind that there's only so much space.

So, please use this function to find your Wigan-based groups and societies. It's a work in progress though, and there isn't much listed so far! I'll keep plugging away though.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More Batman than Beano

Believe it or not, one of the best reads in my RSS aggregator every morning is a blog for hardcore library geeks (, devoted to the finer points of classification (those numbers on your non-fiction books). As well as providing genuinely stimulating pointers on where we should put those extra-tricky subjects, they suggest handy websites.

One of the resources they use to decide where comics and graphic novels should go is the Lambiek Comiclopedia. This fab little site has entries on over 7000 artists working in the field of comics and graphic novels. Some of the biographical info is sketchy, but there are two mitigating factors here: first, the entries include examples of the artists' work; and second, it's a Dutch site, and since I couldn't even say hello in Dutch, I'm willing to cut them some slack.

Coverage is pretty good, with articles on American (such as Alex Ross) and European artists(including Hergé). So, who's your favourite comic artist? I'm into Mike Mignola and John Romita Jr. at the moment, and I've just got hold of a great-looking book drawn by Stuart Immonen.

Signpost's link to the Comiclopedia is in the Graphic Novel reading circle section.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Search Signpost

I've added a fairly rudimentary search form for Signpost to the sidebar. The form will search the titles of web pages and other resources listed in Signpost, which is something that's not currently available.

Type the name of your resource (e.g. British Standards, IMDb etc.) then click on Find. It's not the best search function ever, but it will be improved.

The Signpost search function has been improved slightly, after a bit of a rethink. It will still only search items' titles, but since nothing in Signpost itself will do that, I think it's pretty valid.

I've added another search box for Signpost, so it's now possible to search for a subject. It's still a bit clunky, but it seems to work.Type in your subject (e.g. business, books, cycling) and you should find some lists of websites and other resources in Signpost that suit your needs.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Search the library from here

I've butchered some forms from Talis Ltd's Silkworm Directory to search your library from the blog. The search forms are in the sidebar on the right, and there's one for each library service we cover (Bolton, Trafford and Wigan, which you knew already).

I've kept ISBN, title, author's last name and author's first name in the forms, because I think they're the most useful options. Having had a lecture at Library School about the general uselessness of ISBNs to non-librarians (I disagree - it's a unique identifier and it's something bookshops are likely to ask you for as well) I'm open to heated debate on the issue of searching libraries.

Search the Oxford English Dictionary from here

I've added an OED search box at the bottom of the blog, with code that comes from the nice folk at OED Customer Service. Scroll down, type your word in, and find a definition from one of the most authoritative dictionaries available.

A word of warning - it will only work if you're in a library with a subscription. If you're in one of Bolton, Trafford or Wigan's libraries, you'll be fine; but not if you're at home or work.

Of course, you can still access the OED using your library card number via Signpost's list of online dictionaries, no matter where you (and your computer) are.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Telly addicts

No, this post is not an homage to Noel Edmonds, currently of Deal or No Deal "fame": it's about a catalogue of the BBC's programmes going back to the 1930s.

The BBC Programme Catalogue, which I learned about via the Guardian Technology blog, indexes the Beeb's radio and TV shows. It doesn't quite cover everything (yet), nor does it offer downloads of programmes, but it does what it does very well.

You can search for people, programmes and series titles, among other options. Searching for people seems especially useful, as your results will show you what programmes people appeared in, when they were broadcast, and usually a brief description of the programme.

There are some errors, which the BBC site makes clear from the off, but it's worth a try if you're trying to track down details on half-remembered BBC shows. There are plenty of really nice touches - subject category clouds, lists of people your search target appears with (if your target is a person), as well as some feeds for updates.

Noel Gallagher as a search term gets some typical results - 134 broadcast appearances between 1994 and 2006, pop music as the most common/relevant category, but he's got a questionable "often appears with" list of Robbie Williams, Cherie Blair, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Liam Gallagher. Blimey!

You'll find a permanent link to the BBC Programme Catalogue in the Television and TV listings section of Signpost.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Keeping tabs on aging celebs

I found a link to the aptly-named on the brilliant Phil Bradley's blog.

This site answers those questions we all have about famous folk who are, let's face it, getting on a bit. People's birth (and death, where appropriate) dates are listed in helpful categories. I looked up Creedence Clearwater Revival under the Musical Performers category and, whaddayaknow, bassist/drummer Stu Cook is 61 today. Happy birthday Stu!

Who's alive and who's dead is far less morbid than you might expect. Remember to look for it on Signpost's Useful sites list next time you're having one of those "but I thought s/he was dead..." arguments. Or is it just me?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Graphic novels

Bolton Central Library's Graphic novel reading circle will be meeting tomorrow (Saturday April 22nd) at 3.30 - 4.30pm. I aim to be there, having missed the first couple of meetings.

If graphic novels are your thing, give it a try.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Conversion, conversion, conversion

I stumbled across when reading the oh-so-useful Internet Resources Newsletter the other day, and I felt the need to share it.

It lets you convert things from one unit to another - pounds to kilos, miles to kilometres, UK to US shoe size - which is very useful if, like me, you have no idea what all of this stones/pounds/ounces stuff is about. Similarly, if you think kilos are krazy (it actually hurt to type that, would you believe), you might find it handy.

Access it through Signpost's Useful sites list and look at the other stuff we're spreading the word about.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Clone Wars (DVD) review

It's Star Wars, only in cartoon form and better than that "new" trilogy nonsense. No Jar Jar, no whiny brats, plenty of cool Jedi action.

Check it out at Bolton or Trafford.

I thought I should flesh this out a bit, since the original post was added rather hastily.

Clone Wars was originally broadcast as a daily series of 20-odd five-minute shorts on Toonami. When you take out the credits and adverts from each episode, that's more like three minutes each. The best thing by far about this format is that your three minutes have to be action-packed.

The DVD edits all of these shorts together into a feature-length whole. It's quite fast-paced, which is a legacy from the broadcast format. The stylised visuals complement the pace really well - there's always something going on and it always looks impressive. The sound effects we know and love - light sabres, blasters, general space noises - are all present, along with the John Williams theme tune.

Clone Wars is set between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode II: Revenge of the Sith. The DVD has some interesting featurettes, documenting the design and production process, as well as how the cartoon links with the films.

All in all, a very nice DVD. I found watching this much easier than making sure I was in front of the TV at 7am every day for three weeks.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I've seen the future and it's the past

Any of you who have been into Bolton Central Library recently might be interested to see what it looked like before any of the refurbishment and redecoration of the last 68 years. Luckily, thanks to our good buddies in the Archives and Local Studies department and the Museum, you can. The website, called Our Treasures is full of fascinating pictures of Bolton, its people and buildings and of artefacts in the museum and art gallery. Believe me, somethings don't change (except the fashions). One of my favourite images is this. It's graceful neoclassicism wouldn't go amis on a Led Zeppelin album cover. These days it goes by the name of 'UpFront'...

Serenity (DVD) review

If, like me, you think Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Astonishing X-Men, the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie) is brilliant, you probably don't need to be told about this DVD of the 2005 film. If you're not acquainted with the Whedonverse (shame on you!), stick with me. You may have guessed that this is not going to be the most objective review you'll ever read.

Serenity is a space Western, following a group of gun-totin', wise-crackin' space desperadoes trying to carve out a semi-honest living in a less-than-Utopian future. It's a sequel to Whedon's TV series, Firefly, which I hadn't actually seen before watching this movie. The movie is well-constructed enough for the uninitiated to follow it, which I managed quite happily.

The plot follows the crew of a Firefly-class space ship, the Serenity, on a journey of self-discovery and general universe-saving. It's a particularly gritty future, with some very unpleasant baddies to face up to. It's fast-moving, acted well, and it looks absolutely stunning. In refreshing bid for realism, there's no sound in space. The effects are realistically rendered and believable, but it's a character-driven piece at its heart. One for SF fans and you "normal" people as well.

Check it out at Bolton, Trafford or Wigan.

And, for the record, I'm now working my way through the Firefly box set, and it's brilliant.