Celebrating The Library!

National Libraries DayNicola here! On Saturday I went to Shoreham-by-Sea to give a talk in celebration of National Libraries Day. It was a wonderful occasion to be surrounded by fellow library fans, have afternoon tea and cake and talk about books, writing and history. Public libraries are so hugely important. The library has always played a big part in my life and in the development of my love of reading and writing. I can remember as a teenager taking the bus a few miles down the road to our closest local library at Oakwood in Leeds where I scoured the shelves to feed my appetite for historical fiction. Our school library was in a grand old building that looked as though it came straight out of a historical novel itself.

Libraries in the UK are under threat as never before from cuts to local government spending. Some have closed down, others have cut back their opening hours and some have had to make cuts in their stock and the facilities they provide. None of this feels like a good thing. These days, libraries provide so much to the communities they serve. It’s not just about the books – though if it was that would still be good enough! Libraries have so many different purposes, contributing to culture and the community. To lose them would be a tragedy.

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Lost in the Ether!

ComputerCara/Andrea here

As you know, we Wenches occasionally talking about the craft of writing here. The creative process has its highs and lows, as the Muse can be moody. And sometimes author must contend with more than Inner Demons—the distractions and challenges to the story come from the tools of the trade

For the modern scribe, it’s both a blessing and a curse. As you might have guessed, I had a Major Disaster yesterday. My desktop i-mac, the repository of all my data, files, book manuscripts, calendars, address books, etc. suddenly gave up the ghost. The hard drive just went kaput.
Stone readerPanicked, I called my IT friend, who was out of town but didn’t like the sound of what I was seeing on the screen when trying to reboot. I suggested I hoof it to the nearest Apple store and have it checked out. So up I trek to New Haven, when a very nice person at the Genius Bar confirmed that it was dead as a doornail. No hope of getting any data retrieved.

Well, thankfully, due to my tech guy’s constant warning that Bad Stuff happens without warning, I have most of the files backed up on CDs. A major pain to rebuild a new computer with them, but it could be worse.

Quill penSo, since I’m there in the store, I start to peruse the latest generation high tech desktop wonders with a twenty-some salesperson. As we’re looking, I start musing on how I will have to upload all my data manually from my storage CDs—which draws a bemused look. "Oh, these models aren't built with CD ports anymore. No one uses that technology these days." I take a deep breath as I'm told I will have to buy an external drive to hook up to the computer.

Then I mention my InDesign and Photoshop programs. Another pitying look. "Oh, those versions don't run on this operating system. You're going to have to buy all new versions. (Note: the programs are very expensive.)

At this point I ask him whether they sell quill pens and paper. That elicits a blank stare. At least he laughs when I ask whether the Genius Bar served double martinis.

JanusAs you can imagine, I left the store muttering a number of very unladylike words. I decided to think over my options before rushing into a purchase . . . but it also got me to thinking about a lecture I recently attended by Susan Gibbons, the Head Librarian of Yale University, which addressed just this topic of technology as both a blessing and a curse.

The talk was all about libraries needing to be “Janus”— that is, they must look both at the past and at the future, and what challenges have to be met in the mission to preserve original material, and therefore history.

BeineckeBooks, manuscripts, codices, scrolls—most of us are familiar with the need for vigilant conservation to preserve papyrus, paper, vellum, leather, old inks and the like for posterity. But it was fascinating—and a little frightening—to hear her talk about the challenges of looking ahead. Libraries are faced with some really tough tasks, she went on to explain. History, original thoughts, which once were passed on mostly as words written on paper, are now being collected in a myriad of different
Owlforms. For example, many oral accounts of genocide in Africa or ethnic cleasing in the balkans have been made on variety of tape recorders and video cameras that are totally obsolete.  Aside from the stability of those forms (who really knows how long floppy disks, CDs, digital USB drives will last) an ancillary worry is how one will “play” them back in the future because the machines that run them disappear so fast. Think about it—rapid obsolescence seems programmed into computers, CD drives, flash drives, televisions, etc.  It seems that every two years we are expected to throw away one technology and upgrade to another. And those obsolete machines get thrown in the trash.

For libraries it’s a huge worry because they can’t plan for how to preserve, because forms of data seem ever changing, and the ways to access them are even more unstable. This, said Gibbons, is a huge issue. And as less and less material is being put on paper, we run the risk that future generations may lose decades—or centuries—of information and knowledge. It’s really quite sobering, isn’t it?

JA's desk 1In the next few days, I will probably upgrade to the latest i-mac . . . which will be ancient history in a year or two. Truly, I am thinking twice about quill and paper.

So what about you? Has technology taken over your life? Have you had any disasters? And are you as worried as I am about the preservation of knowledge and ideas—and books!—in this digital age?

Book Hoarder

PatRice_TheEnglishHeiress_200pxI have been collecting books my entire life, and I won’t tell you how many decades that covers. I still have illustrated nursery rhyme books my great-aunt gave to me in pre-school days. You do not want to pry out of my hands that tattered volume with words underlined by my three-year-old self as I painstakingly figured out how to read on my own.  Up until this last move, I still owned the torn and yellowed paperbacks from my teen years of Bradbury, Asimov, and of course, Erich von Daniken with my treasured ancient alien theories.

When I first started earning money with my writing, I collected beautiful boxed and illustrated classics.  My intent was to pass on to my grandchildren the library that I had wanted when I was a child. By the time I could afford to buy those expensive  volumes, I’d already read most of them, but over the years, I’ve read and re-read treasured stories. The complete collection of Shakespeare alone has been invaluable.

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