Archive for January, 2013

Through the SHARP-L mailing list I learned about a recent BBC radio programme about audio books. It’s just under half an hour long, and worth listening to for anyone who reads books in this form, or is interested in book history in general. Issues covered include the practicalities of recording audio books, and the long history of audio books and readers’ experiences of them. It also touches on the continuing debate about whether listening to an audio book is an equivalent form of reading to using print books.

The only major downside for me was that there was no input from contemporary listeners of audio books giving their own experiences, with far more focus, for example via Germaine Greer’s example, on authors and how they viewed their books being turned into audio books. Though Dr Matthew Rubery provided academic coverage of some reader experiences, helping redress things somewhat. I’m planning to follow up some of his writings on this subject.

The programme can be listened to online, and also downloaded in MP3 format for keeping to listen to later.

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I received word that my conference talk proposal has been accepted, so I need to write that talk for definite now. And I now have a deadline for the revised version of the accepted professionals paper, by June, so I can deal with other more looming things first.

My immediate priority now is to write the talk for the archivists conference, or at least finish developing the mind map version of its content, which I could turn very easily into a talk nearer the conference in April.

After that I will look afresh at the chapmen material and see where things stand with that. I’m still gathering secondary material, for me to read and assimilate. Masses! But that is good. And I will start to transcribe the other detailed chapmen inventories I found, focusing on any reading material that was recorded. There is a chance that I could have something ready to submit to a journal before the 1st April 2013 open access deadline, but I’m not too worried if not, and will just expunge anything necessary to avoid problems.

I’m also taking a bit of time to work on some fun non-academic articles for a planned ebook project. It’s fun being creative like this, and a bit different from my usual academic writing, which is a welcome change.

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I blogged earlier this month about my research and writing plans for the month. I’m checking in here with a progress update, continuing in the spirit of Academic Writing Month, which I found so motivating.

A few days ago I submitted my Melrose journal paper by email. I’ve already had a reply from the editors, and it will now go through the due consideration process to see if they want to publish it. So that’s nicely out of the way and in their hands.

Regarding the chapmen paper I sent a query to the SHARP-L mailing list, asking for advice on comparative research in a mainland European context. That has given me lots of valuable leads. I now have a mass of relevant books in the house, most bought new or secondhand, and it is going to take me some time work through those. They are unlikely to change my conclusions, but they may give me valuable new ideas for areas to explore in a Scottish context. And I will be able to add excellent discussion of comparative research.

Because of this, indeed the sheer mass of relevant comparative literature which is too interesting to overlook, I am going to postpone submitting this paper until after the 1st April 2013 deadline I had set myself. The paper will probably have to have some PhD-related context expunged, to avoid costly pay-to-publish fees, but the bulk will stay intact.

I’ve also been chasing up more possibly relevant records in the National Records of Scotland. For a short while I thought I might have located a register of chapmen, recording names and addresses, but it just gives total numbers. But even those could be interesting, though they will take time to work through. The NRS also have manuscript records relating to one of the Scottish chapmen I found with a detailed after-death inventory, including his license to sell gold.

So the chapmen paper is now downgraded as less urgent, and I will allow myself adequate time to soak up the ideas in the relevant literature. This should lead to a much better paper in the long-run, and it will be a fun process to work through. But I can’t put a likely timescale on how long this process will take, given the volume of reading required, as well as more primary source research.

I haven’t heard back yet about the required revision timescale for the accepted professionals paper, but I have heard from another editor that another paper of mine is now with the new editor for that journal. So that makes it two papers with editors for review.

So going back to my recent to-do list for this month my next priority is to write the talk that I may be giving to a conference for archivists in Dundee in April, if my proposal is accepted. That shouldn’t be too time-consuming. I’ll mainly write it in my mind-mapping app iThoughtsHD on my iPad.

And I will continue to soak up the chapmen literature. I have also identified a number of additional detailed after-death inventories for chapmen from the period I’m focusing on, and can transcribe those slowly as I’m able to.

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Another interesting article about open access in the digital era. Includes the particularly alarming comment that “I am honestly not sure libraries are going to exist anymore in a couple decades.”

Bibliographic Wilderness

Why did you decide to become a librarian or work in libraries? For me, like many of us, working in a library wasn’t just an arbitrary job to pay the bills, we have a special affinity for the mission and values of libraries. A mission and values which focus on connecting people to the research and information they need to make informed decisions and actions, through a democratic and egalitarian approach that serves all in need, rather than focusing on maximizing profit that can be extracted from our customers.

In fact, libraries are just about the only ‘information institutions’ whose business interests are centered on aiding our users, not in commodifying our users as demographic data, ‘eyeballs’, or paying customers.

Even the university library has historically been a center of knowledge distribution to the public at wide, not just the university community. Especially — but not only — at public…

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Interesting article about academic publishing, paywalls, and open access:

Academic paywalls mean publish and perish – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

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I have a new blog post on the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship Reading & Publishing) website arguing for greater engagement by book historians, and SHARP members in particular, with the digital publishing revolution. See here.

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I couldn’t resist scanning a few more pages from the advertisement portion at the back of Black’s Picturesque Guide to Scotland. After all the lists of hotels there are adverts for other items of interest to brave travellers of the time.

For example here is an advert for the latest fashionable outdoor clothing, suitably rubberised:

Rubberised clothing from 1892

And here are two adverts for tonics for many of the ills that might befall a traveller:

Health tonics from 1892

And, finally, what traveller would be complete without suitable luggage to carry all their belongings and purchases in:

Luggage from 1892

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A TV series which I’ve enjoyed in recent years is Paul Murton’s Grand Tours of Scotland using an old 19th century guidebook as his guide. I bought a copy of the same guidebook, Black’s Picturesque Guide to Scotland, in my case the 1892 edition, and have been enjoying reading it. It has useful descriptions – often illustrated – of the main tourist destinations, as well as information on lesser-known attractions.

Edinburgh pages in 1892 guidebook

Although it’s hardly the main focus of the book I particularly like the series of advertisements at the back, many from Scotland, but some from other parts of the UK and Ireland too. These include adverts from hotels touting for guests. The one that really made me grin was the thought of buses transporting people from the railway station at Melrose to the George & Abbotsford Hotel. It’s only about 2 minutes walk round the corner! But I guess if you were a high-falutin guest you would not want to walk and get your shoes and clothes – especially skirts for ladies – dirty or wet.

Hotel advertisements from 1892 book

I used travel guides and similar books quite a bit during my year working as a Research Assistant looking at towns in Angus in the late 18th and early 19th century. Such books were a very useful insight into how the different towns were perceived by outsiders at this time. In a similar way I used travel guides in my postgraduate Masters degree in Cultural and Urban History, using them for an essay looking at urbanisation in the Borders, and specifically whether individual places were regarded at the time as towns (with all the appropriate trappings and facilities) or were the lesser-regarded villages.

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I’m a graduate member of a nearby university library. I used to nip in regularly to check their book history journals (per Z) whose recent issues, along with other journals, were shelved on open shelves on the ground floor. When I nipped in the other day – albeit after some time since the last time, and since a library redevelopment project – I found that recent journals were now on the main shelves, not in a separate section as before. But not the per Z journals I was looking for, which, like most of the other Z (book history) books, are stored locked away in the library store, not on open access.

The librarian I spoke to initially said “We have electronic subscriptions to some of these”, but of course, as I pointed out, I have no way of accessing these. As is common with university libraries such electronic subscriptions are restricted to staff and current matriculated students, and other members of the library, including life graduate members like myself, have no means of accessing them. But increasingly university libraries provide electronic subscriptions as the only means of access to journals, with no paper copies shelved. This is fine for staff/current students, but no good for external readers, including independent scholars like myself. I understand the restrictions are imposed by the copyright holders / publishers, and individual universities rarely negotiate for wider access.

I was told I could order up recent copies of the issues I wanted through the computer system. That’s fine in theory, except that when I used to scan them on the current journal shelves I would look through dozens of journal issues at a time: both recent issues of a number of book history journals, and some older issues published since my last visit. I can put individual requests for them, but doubt the library system will like the numbers I would ask for. And I’m not even sure what all the relevant titles are: again with them on open shelves I could scan through them quickly and easily. Now I need to know what they are all called, and I’m not sure about that. Plus I need to arrange recalling all of the required issues in for a time I know I will be back in St Andrews.

Of course I am lucky to be able to access another university library nearby, as an honorary research fellow. Indeed I asked for that fellowship after finishing my PhD in order for me to continue to have good access to library journals, in particular electronic journals. But Dundee University doesn’t subscribe to the same range of journals as St Andrews, and in particular misses out a lot of book history journals which I could only access locally at St Andrews. And are now locked away in the library store, rather unhelpfully.

Still I should be grateful they are getting them at all. But it’s requiring a lot more organisation for me to see them than in the past. And I wonder if it means that these journals will be read less, now they are not on open shelves. And that in itself might lead to an argument being made by libraries for reducing their subscriptions/numbers held.

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In the last few days I’ve had one journal paper accepted (yay!) and another rejected (nay!) – though the latter wasn’t a big surprise, because I was aiming it at a very ambitious general interest journal. Its readers recommended two more specialist journals I could aim it at instead, so I’m going to try one of those next. However that, together with the accepted paper which has to be slightly revised in line with its readers’ comments, gives me more things to focus on in the short term.

So, mainly for my own benefit, I’m drawing up here a list of things I need to work on in the immediate future. It’s sort of roughly in order from most urgent to less urgent, but the order is somewhat fluid.

  • finish and submit chapmen paper – before 1st april 2013 (costly open access deadline), cos it’s partially based on research council funded PhD research (more partial as time goes on and do new research, but still falls under open access rules)
  • revise and resubmit melrose paper – preferably in next month, certainly next two (not open access concern, cos it was from a self-funded pg masters, but i’d still like to get it out of the way and submitted in a timely manner)
  • revise accepted professionals paper – waiting for timescale from editor, which might bump it up above melrose in priority
  • write talk for archivists’ conference – before end of march, for conference to be held in april

Then I can refer back to this list as a guideline to what I need to do, and get it done. I have space to finish off these things, in the limited good patches I have to get on with things, but the sooner they are out of the way the quicker I can get on with other tasks.

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