Posts Tagged ‘lending records’

Two of my history journal papers recently went online freely under green open access rules. Prompted in part by that I thought I’d look back on the first of those.

Entitled “Glimpses into a Town’s Reading Habits in Enlightenment Scotland: Analysing the Borrowings of Gray Library, Haddington, 1732-1816”, this paper was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies in 2006. At the time I was about half-way through my part-time history PhD. Every year the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland runs an essay prize for postgraduate students, with a money prize, and the winning paper published in their journal, the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. History postgraduates at Dundee were encouraged in my time to enter. I wrote up my then research, but didn’t complete it in time for the competition deadline because of being particularly ill at the time, causing a delay. But I sent it in anyway. The then editor, one of our Professors, asked me if I’d like him to hold it back for the competition in nearly a year, but I said no, please just consider it as a journal paper submission now. With my life-threatening condition I was keen to get on with things sooner rather than later, and a delay would not help.

My paper was accepted without any revisions, which is rather rare in academic publishing. With hindsight I think it gave me an unrealistic impression of journal publishing as an easy thing to do! I’ve certainly found it harder since, not least as I’ve aimed for more and more ambitious journals. But it at least gave me confidence to try more publishing, and it was a delight to see my research in print, only halfway through my PhD. I remember how thrilled I was to hold the print issues. Even the digital PDF was exciting. I had earlier co-authored publications from my computer science time, including some published after I had to leave that full-time PhD as my neurological illness struck. But this was the first time I had a sole-authored history journal paper, and it was a huge achievement.

The paper was based on research I was doing as part of my PhD on Scottish reading habits. In particular it looked at the borrowing records over 80 years or so of a free town library in Haddington, East Lothian. It was very unusual to have a free library at that time, and one that was open to the whole inhabitants of a town. It opened up all sorts of possibilities for contextualising the borrowings, and also researching the borrowers further.

The core part of the research involved transcribing the Haddington library’s borrowing registers and building up a database of library borrowings. For this I used the relational database system MySQL, drawing on my computer science degree and training. I had three linked tables: one recording the details of borrowers, one recording books in the library, and a third table linking the two, recording details of borrowings. And then I could write SQL queries to interrogate the database, and quickly produce answers to different questions.

For the borrowers, about 700 of whom could be identified, I researched in other local records to find out more about them. Parish registers, both Church of Scotland and other denominations, were useful, as were tax records, wills and inventories, later census returns, and so on. For this I was able to draw on my skills as a genealogist, used to working through such records, and was able to discover significant new information on over 240 of the known borrowers.

This extra information, such as occupation, age, family connections and so on together with the relational database allowed me to analyse the borrowings in a number of different ways. A simple analysis was to look at the numbers of borrowings over time, or, having categorised the library books roughly by subject, the changing subjects borrowed by the library users. Another analysis let me pull out the most popular titles, borrowed the most frequently, in specific decades. But I could also analyse the borrowings of specific occupational groups, or, for example, young girl borrowers. All were easy to pull out using the database structure I had built, allowing queries that would be impossible otherwise.

Results, such as differences between male and female borrower choices, could be compared with findings of other scholars elsewhere. And because I knew so much about many of the borrowers I could also write meaningfully about them. For example I was able to identify a watchmaker father and his daughter borrowing books together. As an added bonus this pair were my own direct ancestors.

I was able to show borrowers working through a multi-part title in sequence, getting hold of successive volumes as best they could, and clearly reading them. Clearly there was often competition for different volumes in the same sequence, but I could trace readers trying their very best to borrow the next volume they needed, and this wasn’t an isolated example. Some other book historians, particularly those associated with the Reading Experience Database, are sceptical about the use of library borrowing records as evidence of reading. But I would argue that the records I studied, with their clear evidence of reading sequentially like this, are very much evidence of that, and should not be dismissed so readily. Significantly they also cover a very sizeable local population, which permits a much greater range of analysis than a single isolated reading reference can.

Another nice thing that the Haddington library records showed was the extent of female reading. Many other Scottish reading institutions at this time were restricted in their membership, and often dominated by men. But the Haddington library was open to all genders, and asked borrowers to indicate when they were borrowing a book for someone else. So there are many loans recorded for female readers, allowing a comparison between male and female borrowing choices – and there was quite a difference – and, as noted already, a study of young female readers, who seemed to congregate in the library, particularly on Saturdays.

Overall I’m very proud of the paper, and still think that the research it presents stands up to scrutiny. I’m also pleased that I was able to use my computer science training in building up the databases that it relied upon. And although it gave me perhaps an overly optimistic view on academic publishing, I think without its experience I probably wouldn’t have gone on to do so much more.

The open access PDF copy of the paper is available from my publications page in my personal website.

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I’ve blogged here a number of times about my concerns about the new UK Research Councils’ policy on Open Access. I’m in favour of Open Access, but have concerns about the way they are implementing it, particularly the effective push towards Gold Open Access. This is where the author pays the publisher an APC or article processing charge, effectively to compensate them for loss of income from people downloading the article for free. APCs can run into thousands of pounds, and are a particular problem for independent unaffiliated scholars like me. The other form of Open Access, Green Open Access, is virtually unheard of in humanities, unlike in sciences where it is widespread. In this form of open access there is no fee paid by authors up-front, and instead they are allowed, sometimes after an embargo period, to put an online version of their journal paper in an institutional repository, or a personal website, or a central one like ArXiv.

Well I am delighted today to say that two of my old academic journal papers are now available freely online. This is thanks to Edinburgh University Press, which is one of the few humanities publishers which supports Green Open Access. I double-checked their rules with them, and got the go-ahead today to put the final as-published versions of my papers online in my personal website.

One paper was my very first history academic journal paper, published way back in 2006, long before Open Access in its modern form had even been dreamed of. This was derived from part of my history PhD, then still in progress, and looked at the borrowing registers of Gray Library in Haddington, East Lothian, from 1732 through to 1816. This was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies.

The other paper that’s just gone freely online was published a year ago, in Scottish Historical Review, probably the most eminent Scottish history journal, which was a real coup for me to get a single author paper into not long after completing my PhD. This paper, too, developed work studied in my PhD, this time examining books in people’s houses, using a case study of after-death inventories in late 18th century Dumfriesshire.

Both papers, in downloadable PDF form, are available via my publications page in my personal website.

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This week has been graduation week at St Andrews. But the university has also been hosting a conference: The Middle Ages in the Modern World, whose subtitle is ‘A multidisciplinary conference on medievalism in the post-Middle Ages’.

Middle Ages conference programme

Middle Ages conference programme

Now the Middle Ages isn’t my main research period, indeed it’s one I don’t know much about at all. But it’s an interesting theme for a conference, and there were enough intriguing looking talks for me to sign up as a delegate. Coming over from Dundee the conference was almost on my doorstep, only half an hour away from home. It seemed daft to miss it. Also St Andrews seems like a perfect venue for a conference on this, given its rich history, including being a centre for learning since the Middle Ages, and its many medieval buildings, both intact and those, like the Cathedral and Castle, more ruined.

St Andrews Cathedral ruins

St Andrews Cathedral ruins

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend very much of it due to my MS-like illness. The conference runs over three full days, plus a plenary talk on the day before then. But I couldn’t ever hope to do successive days now. In the end I aimed for the plenary on the Tuesday, then would rest on the Wednesday, before coming back for much of the Thursday, and resting again (and missing) the Friday talks.

I’d arranged in advance for my husband to attend free as my carer and wheelchair pusher. He would be bored, but was essential if I was going to get through the time there. Although I don’t usually use my wheelchair I find now that when I attend an academic conference, and have the combination of needing to keep my brain in gear and juggle moving around for different panels and things, all for many hours, the wheelchair lets me keep going for longer, and thus stay and participate in the conference for longer too. We had a few hiccups with the disability support when we turned up to register for the conference on Tuesday, but they were eventually all sorted out. The best help of all came from a university porter at College Gate on North Street, who despite the closed-off university grounds and parking due to graduation waved us through, and walked us round to a suitable parking space, right near the Younger Hall where Terry Jones’s plenary was taking place later that day.

We killed time until the talk by wheeling along to the university’s Main Library, where there’s now a very comfortable cafe, that kept me topped up with hot chocolate, while I worked on an academic paper on my iPad and my husband read. I’d printed a floorplan of the library before travelling. It was renovated recently, and I’ve been a bit bamboozled by the new layout. It has changed enormously from the library I knew from 1990 onwards. My husband and I are life graduate members of St Andrews university library, and could have gone into the main area to sit at study desks, but it was more comfortable to kill time in the new library cafe with informal seating and hot drinks machines nearby.

Terry Jones’s plenary talk was being put on as a joint conference opening plenary and lecture to celebrate the university’s 600th anniversary. It was held in the Younger Hall, where I graduated with my husband in 1994, and there was a large audience of conference delegates – who got the good seats at the front – and other members of the public. The principal, Louise Richardson, introduced the speaker, and then he spoke for about 45 minutes on ‘Columbus, America and the Flat Earth’. Overall it was a very well presented talk: funny, educational, and challenging at the same time. It also had, appropriately, a very Pythonesque series of PowerPoint slides, making hilarious use of pop-up speech bubbles. And he got away with a very risque picture at the end. As the principal commented afterwards, it was unlikely that any picture like that had ever been shown in that venue before! It was thoroughly entertaining, and the appreciative audience enjoyed it immensely.

We’d booked a meal in my favourite restaurant, but because the plenary finished very promptly we were able to nip round first to a former computer science lecturer of mine’s home, and have a cup of tea and a chat and catchup with him, which was really nice. And then the restaurant meal was as good as expected.

Sadly of course I had to miss the Wednesday talks. That included a panel on furniture and furnishings, including a talk on the 18th century, that I had been really keen to go to, but then it was moved at a late stage in the programme from Thursday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon. Drat! And I knew I was also going to miss two other talks on the Friday that would have really appealed to me: one about representing the Middle Ages in computer strategy games, and another about weird fiction of M.R. James. Drat again! Still couldn’t be helped.

So rest (actually sleep all night and day) on the Wednesday, then back on the Thursday. We missed the opening plenary, to keep things manageable for me, and turned up around 10.30. The main conference is at the Gateway building at the North Haugh, not far from where my husband and I were science undergraduates in the early 1990s. I hadn’t been back to the North Haugh since I left my full-time computer science PhD in 1996, as my developing neurological illness got too much to battle on with. So it was quite a big thing for me to be back in the area. The Gateway centre is nice: modern, with some good facilities. But there were downsides as a wheelchair user. The lifts are tight if you are in a wheelchair, and I couldn’t have managed them on my own. And there are also lots of doors to negotiate, again something I couldn’t have managed without help. Also from the perspective of a conference venue we found, in theatre 3, that there was a lot of sound coming through from theatre 4 next door, and from the kitchen. Sound proofing in the building does not seem as good as it should be.

On the plus side I really enjoyed my time on Thursday. In the end I only stayed for two panels. Had the furniture panel still been on in the last slot I’d have hung on for that, but as it was it was better to head off before I got too weak. The first panel I went to was on Arthuriana in the Modern World, and included discussions of the Once & Future King, Tolkien’s epic poem Fall of Arthur, and some German Arthurian texts. All were enjoyable, and all prompted me to check what books I have on my Kindle (already Fall of Arthur, going to buy Once & Future King to reread, and bought an English version of medieval romance Parzival).

Lunch followed, and was tasty and well organised, and provided a welcome break before the afternoon panel. It also gave me a chance to look through the book Treasures of St Andrews University Library which I’d bought at a discount in the morning. I was particularly intrigued to read about the library borrowing records they hold, because I studied lots of such records for my history PhD investigating reading habits. And I also spotted that they have three manuscripts of Sir Isaac Newton, so immediately texted my physicist Dad to tell him!

Treasures of St Andrews University Library

Treasures of St Andrews University Library

The final panel I went to was on Modern War and the Medieval Past. I particularly liked Carol Symes’s talk about the Middle Ages of World War I, including the ways in which the Middle Ages was used by the various sides in propaganda. This was well illustrated and used PowerPoint well, showing us posters, postcards, photos and news reports from the time. Thoroughly well done. And then I also enjoyed Andrew Lynch’s talk about the Medieval in Children’s Histories of England. Though on the downside he declared up front that he was talking about four histories: one from the 18th century, two from the 19th, and one from the early 20th. In the end he only really talked about the 19th century ones, which for me as an 18th century book historian was a pity. But I can always try to get a copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s children’s history – another for the Kindle!

We headed off after that. I was quite weak by this stage, and it was better to head home. We took the chance to look at the museum exhibits on the ground floor of the Gateway, before driving round to Jannetta’s ice cream parlour, to have a treat, and use the 10% discount voucher I had from the conference (great idea organisers: thanks!). 52 flavours to choose from, which is really hard, but I plumped for some wacky ones: a 2-scoop tub of spiced peach and hazelnut ice cream. Was good, and served with a wafer.

Ice cream from Jannettas

Ice cream from Jannettas

Tonight the delegates are dining at University Hall, which the conference programme describes as a “turreted, gothic confection of a building”. I stayed there in 1990-1991, and that description just about sums it up, at least the older prettier bits. Lucky diners!

Am I glad that I went? Yes, though I wish I could have gone to more events, and I wish I could have attended some of the other talks I was interested in, particularly the panel whose day was moved. But I had to compromise, and I think I found enough things of interest to me. I also found the talks that I attended well aimed, so they would appeal to both specialists and general (like me) audience members. And my Kindle now has many more books to read. So thanks very much to the organisers, speakers and fellow delegates.

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Early this morning I sent off the revised version of an accepted journal paper to the editor. So that’s taken care of. Good. But I thought for my own benefit I’d make a note here of other things I’m working on, as an aide-memoire.

I’ve agreed to write a book review for a Scottish history academic journal. I was approached for this, because of the specific book, and my research interests. So that’s next on the list. I have the book in the house – my own copy actually – and just need to read it, and pull together some thoughts. That shouldn’t take too long, fingers crossed, and should be fun. The review is needed by the end of this year, but I should easily finish it many months ahead of then.

In September I’m hoping to go to a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth, and have offered to give a short talk about my Cavers one-name study. I’ve jotted down some ideas in a mind map already, but need to finish writing it, including the PowerPoint presentation I’ll use.

I’ve a series of articles ongoing that are a cross between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and need to resume writing these. They were put on hold, as I battled the illness and completing other things. I’ve done seven articles so far, and am part-way through one on Montrose, with more planned. I’m hoping to publish them as a PDF booklet, once completed.

My interactive fiction game work in progress needs to be picked up again. I’d completed the prologue, and was at a point where I was going to start coding up the main middle section. I should be able to make good progress with this. I find writing the dialogue and interaction quite hard, but the coding side, in Inform 7 – a natural language programming language – is much easier for me. It’s funny, I can’t do much computer programming now, since the brain damage got really bad. But I get on well with Inform 7 – yay!

I have two other academic articles currently with journal editors and reviewers. One was derived from part of my PhD, the other from my MPhil. And I could hear back about those at any time. With luck I’d be offered some sort of revision, even a revise and resubmit would be good. But even if these editors reject the pieces outright I’d want to revise them myself before submitting them to a different journal. So I need to allow a little bit of space to be able to work on that.

I need to put together a proposal for the Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850 project. I can’t attend the colloquium in Chicago, about digital approaches to library history. But I hope to be able to attend the London colloquium in 2015, which is looking at libraries in the community. I could put together a good discussion piece for that, based on what I did for the library in Haddington, researching the readers using a huge range of genealogical and historical records, to be able to contextualise their borrowings properly. I’m also planning similar research in future for the Balquhidder Parish Library in Perthshire, and to that end am currently in the middle of a small-scale pilot study of another set of library borrowings. But I need to put something together for the London meeting, and submit it before the September 2013 deadline for abstracts.

I recently blogged about the 17th century poem I’m transcribing. I’d like to publish the transcript in an academic journal, with a suitable introduction and text contextualising it. So that’s another paper idea I’m working on. But I need to finish transcribing the poem first. For the record it’s massive. Three pages of two columns of tight text. Many many lines of poem.

I have another couple of paper ideas in progress, but they are at early stages, and unlikely to reach editors anytime soon.

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I woke this evening to a very welcome email, telling me that one of the journal papers I submitted in November had been accepted. Both readers really liked it, and recommended acceptance, subject to relatively minor revisions that I’m very happy to make. This was particularly satisfying because a previous version of this paper was rejected by another journal, admittedly after they had sort of accepted it, subject to them doing major editorial changes. But then their main editor died, and they couldn’t put that much work in it, so rejected it. I picked myself up, and reworked it as one of my #AcWriMo challenges in November, using the first journal’s readers’ comments as guides to what needed to be reworked. The result was a much better paper, which has now been accepted by a different journal. It will probably be published in 2014, so after another paper published in 2013 that will make it my 5th published paper as a single author academic historian. Fab! It’s also really good news because it’s another PhD-derived paper that had to be submitted by 1st April 2013 to wherever accepted it to avoid me having to pay costly open access fees under the new rules. Big phew!

Meanwhile my chapmen piece is moving on well, and I’ve also been making progress in transcribing the library borrowing registers I want to work on for another proto paper. I did the latter while watching some TV and films over the Christmas period: laptop on my lap, with digital images open in front of me, and a text editor window open to type in the transcript to. Got things done that way.

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At the start of the month I blogged about my research and writing goals for the month. They have moved forward partially, but I’ve been very knocked out, so not able to do as much as hoped.

The chapmen paper has moved on a bit, with me having started to write it up in the WriteRoom app on my iPad. My goal there is to sketch out the overall structure, see where the gaps are, and fill those in. That made progress in spite of everything, and I hope to continue to work on it in the next month, still with the aim of submitting it for publication before 1st April 2013.

The kirk session library borrowings transcribing has not moved on at all, but that is not urgent, and can wait for a longer-term project and when I am stronger and have more time.

In positive news I submitted a proposal for a talk at a conference for archivists about democratising access to archives. As a disabled user I have an unusual but valuable perspective on this, and have spoken about the subject before to trainee archivists. I hope that I will be able to present my experiences and suggestions.

And another positive thing this month was that a previously-accepted journal paper is now moving forward with the editor, and will hopefully see publication in 2013.

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Inspired by various twitterers I’m adopting the #AcWri hashtag to carry on the good results from #AcWriMo. And to help me make progress I am planning to continue to blog about my goals for research and writing, and how I’m getting on, and the outcomes. Hopefully this will encourage me to get more things finished, rather than have vague ideas still lingering about.

My next goals are to move two research projects forward. Both are aiming at journal papers in the end, and one ideally needs to beat that 1st April 2013 open access submission deadline. So I need to push on.

The urgent one, let’s call it Project 1, is to look at the role of chapmen in reading habits in Scotland in the 1700s / early 1800s. I found out quite a lot of useful information about this, including uncovering unanalysed primary source material, in my PhD. And I’ve since found more good stuff, that I now have at home and need to transcribe and analyse. So my goal for Project 1 in the next few weeks is to finish transcribing the list of chapmen admitted to the Fife Chapman Society in the late 1700s. I’m using this rare local record to give me a sense of how numerous and widespread chapmen were throughout Scotland. At this period chapmen, travelling sellars who sold cheap print, are largely invisible in historical records, so to have such a relevant and rich primary source that can be usefully analysed is too good to overlook. Once I’ve done that I’ll be able to start moving the writing forward. The list of chapmen admitted to the society isn’t too long, so it’s just a matter of me sitting down by the microfilm and getting on with it.

The other project I’m looking at is to examine some valuable library borrowing records I found in kirk session collections in the National Records of Scotland. I have two good sets of library borrowing records to work through, in the form of digital images at home. One, a library in Shetland, is particularly appealing because it’s from the 1870s, so I can look for the borrowers – since I have names and addresses – in the census returns, to find out more about them. In the future I’m planning a large-scale study of the Balquhidder library borrowing registers from Perthshire, which can also be studied alongside census returns. But this kirk session example would be an ideal small pilot case study. And it’s worth writing up as a paper. So to move it forward, let’s call it Project 2, I need to transcribe the borrowings for this library from the kirk session records. Not sure I’ll manage that in December, but I can make a start on it. I can work on it on and off, on my laptop, even while sitting on the sofa at night.

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