Library closures and pornography

Campaign poster from Save Lincolnshire Libraries
Campaign poster from Save Lincolnshire Libraries










Well, that title should get me a few more hits than usual, but I fear sweatier readers will be disappointed. The post is really about library closures and threats to freedom.

Now,  it would be fun to ridicule the hapless Councillor Worth’s selfishness and lack of empathy, as evidenced in this poster featuring a tweet in which he explains why closing virtually all of Lincolnshire’s branch libraries, is not going to cause anyone much inconvenience. (A tweet! Says it all really). Never mind, I try to keep the tone of this blog reasonably restrained. After all I’ve never met the man, so it wouldn’t really be fair.

Anyway I think there’s a more sinister agenda at work. One of the councillor’s earlier pronouncements on the topic was that we didn’t need libraries because everyone has a Kindle, or iPad. (Of course, everyone in Lincolnshire has probably got one of these devices for each of their cars).  Even if that were so, a single computer is about as much use for serious research as a single book. Which is to say “not very much”.  Serious research needs serious reading, and as any academic will tell you the publishing industry is very good at leeching off the work of researchers who quite often have to pay quite large sums to access published versions of their own work, having been forced to hand over the copyright to their publishers in order to get published at all. (There’s that free market at work!)  So maybe the Internet isn’t quite as free as Cllr. Worth and his colleagues would like to believe. I don’t think that’s malice on their part. I think it’s genuine ignorance of the fact that what you can find for free on Google and the like, is only a tiny part of the Internet. It’s not “free” anyway. To access it you have to hand over quite a lot of personal data, which is much more valuable to these companies than the coin in your pocket.

The issue that’s worrying me more though,  comes from elsewhere in Cllr Worth’s party, namely from David Cameron’s pronouncements about “filtering” on-line pornography. Now, I am not about to start defending pornography of any sort, but I wonder how long it will be before “pornography” filters become “unsuitable material” filters, and we’re all told what we can and can’t read, or before we have to register to read the works of Karl Marx, or even, if you prefer, Ayn Rand.  If you can filter one thing, you can filter others.

I am well aware that the filtering idea is completely impractical, (unless you have humans somewhere along the line judging what counts as ‘inappropriate material’), but once these ideas get floated they can be hard to kill, and it’s not entirely inconceivable that some workable system may be found and implemented.  For a party that once claimed to defend individual freedom, the modern Conservatives seem remarkably anxious to control every aspect of our lives in remarkable detail. In fairness I suspect the Labour Party would be just as greedy for this level of control. (I haven’t forgotten the ID card fiasco).  Happily we have a defence, in the shape of our libraries where we can go to the shelves and pick different ideas up in the space of a couple of hours without even having to think of the right words to put into a search engine. We really must not allow ourselves to lose this. And that applies to every county in the UK, not just Lincolnshire.

Oh and by the way if some registration system for on-line pornography (or anything else) is introduced, I urge you to opt in. Not so you can look at the wretched stuff, but so that you remain free to live your life as best you can. My argument is rather based on the “I am Spartacus” principle. Admittedly that didn’t work out all that well for Spartacus’s army, but the principle is sound.  The powerful need to differentiate between us, to break us into smaller groups, in order to control us.

As Shelley said “Ye are many, they are few”. Don’t ever let them forget it.

The practice of writing

Writing is a habit I have let myself neglect since completing my doctorate, and that is a very bad thing. One of the things I am always telling my students is no matter how short of ideas you are, sitting down and writing is a brilliant way of organising your thinking. My own preference is (well, all right, was) to try and force myself to sit down and write for an hour (0utside my normal work activities) at least 5 days a week.  I also believe that you should always keep at least one day a week free of any work, and I think it’s a good idea to keep one evening a week free too. I suppose that makes me a sabbatarian. Good Heavens! That had never crossed my mind before which just goes to show that writing can help you think about yourself  in new ways.

A policy of writing regularly though, does raise some questions. One, of course is what should you write about. For anyone working in an academic department, that shouldn’t present too many problems. There are lots of research questions, and given the “publish or perish” atmosphere of many universities most academics spend their evenings beavering away on some worthy treatise or other anyway.

Blogging, as with my post about attendance monitoring yesterday serves a dual function, of disciplining your thoughts and, of publicising what you’re doing, which might help you network with colleagues working in similar areas.  Another question is that of where you should write. I don’t mean physical location here, but rather should you blog, write word documents, use a tool like Evernote, or just scrawl in an old exercise book. I suppose  you could even spend your writing hour contributing something to Wikipedia. All options have merit, but I do think there’s something to be said for publicly sharing your writing. If nothing else, there’s a potential for a kind of putative peer review, although I think you have to accept that most of your blog posts will never be read. (Come on now, how often do you read your old posts?). That said, it is quite nice to be able to have all your ramblings accessible in one place, so when you do come across an idea or a concept that you remember having talked about before you can at least see what you thought about it last year. And if you really don’t want to write in public there’s always the option of a private post.

The final point I want to make here – and this is really a post to myself, is that writing is hard work. It’s physically demanding, and that shouldn’t be underestimated. I can feel my eyelids beginning to stick together, even as I write and there’s a much more subtle demand it places on the body – that of underactivity. Once the flow does start it’s tempting to sit and bang on for hours. That’s not a good thing, either for ones health, or for one’s readers. So I’ll shut up now.




Student play

I was asked to record a student play as part of the University’s Festival of Teaching and Learning. I’ve never had to do that before, so here, for your edification and delectation is a presentation of the Chicken and the Egg by Daniel Willcocks. The performers are Chloe Stoakes, Jonathon Youl, James Walters and Daniel Willcocks.

I suppose I should add a warning that the play does contain some strong language. Though, I always think that if you know what the words mean it’s too late to worry about it, and if you don’t it doesn’t really matter.


New cycle route

No, nothing whatsoever to do with educational technology but I fancy writing about something else. It’s the first day of spring, (and a nice one at that) and while I’m supposed to be panicking about completing my thesis, I had a far better idea. I thought I’d wheel out my “proper” bike and shake off some of the winter dust it’s been accumulating. I set off down the Cycle route which leads out of Lincoln, through Skellingthorpe, and on to Harby, with the idea of doing a 2o mile loop around Lincoln. The first part is a disused railway line, which I had thought was pretty much abandoned after Harby. However, when I got there , I noticed that the fence that separated the cycle track from the railway  was gone, and a brand new trackbed had been laid. Ever inquisitive I followed it and discovered that it now runs all the way to Fledborough Viaduct, (pictured) a rather impressive structure which carried the railway across the Trent and miraculously appears to have escaped demolition.

Fledborough Viaduct
Fledborough Viaduct

The viaduct itself is still blocked off, but work is clearly going on to re-open it. Which is much needed as the only way to get across the Trent in those parts is by using the Toll Bridge at Dunham a mile or so to the North. If you’re on a bike, that’s not much fun as you have to ride down the very busy A57 for a few miles either side to get to it. Clearly the  work isn’t finished – there are no ramps up to the roads that cross the new cycle route as yet, and while the track bed is perfectly rideable, I think it will need a more rainproof surface in the long term.  All this may explain why there’s been hardly a mention of it in the local press so far. While in truth it’s not the most scenic, or photogenic of routes, it is going to be a fantastic facility for local people. I don’t know how far the plan is to extend the line on the other side of the river, but apart from a short section through Lincoln itself, it’s now possible to have a traffic free ride from Kirkstead Bridge to Fledborough – which I guess to be about 20 miles. And, I’m very pleased to see our industrial heritage being re-used in this way so credit to Nottinghamshire County Council for pushing this through.

Books v E-books

Don’t get me wrong here. I am an enthusiast for all forms of technology, but as my colleague Sue Watling regularly blogs about, sometimes it does disadvantage certain groups of users. That’s not just a question of physical challenges, which is Sue’s primary concern. For example I sometimes wonder how much use e-learning is to a  parent who has to share one family computer.  With this in mind I was greatly amused by these videos produced by the Green Apple Book Store in San Francisco about the book v kindle controversy.

Part 1

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Part 2
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I still want a Kindle though!

(Thanks to Sue for giving me the bit of code that enabled me to embed these videos. It’s not as easy as it looks to embed a video into wordpress, and yes, I am aware of the dangers of webfat so I promise not to do it too often.)

Henry VIII

What, you might ask has he got to do with e-learning, web 2.0, or the sort of stuff I usually blog about. Well, nothing, but bear with me a  bit. On Saturday, acting on an impulse I decided to go to London and see the British Library’s  current exhibition on the old devil.



If you haven’t seen it and have any interest at all in British or European History, I suggest you go at once. Apart from making me realise just how important the events of Henry’s reign were for the future of Europe there really is something quite strange in looking at a document bearing the handwriting of Henry himself. Makes him real in a way that no amount of pictures, or written history can do. Probably the eeriest document was a page of Thomas Cromwell’s “Remembraunces” (What we would call a to do list!) which listed “Discover his (i.e. Henry’s) pleasure regarding Sir Thomas More” as one of the little jobs for a day in the spring of 1536. Not, a matter that I would have thought something Cromwell would have been likely to forget about as More was executed in July of that year.  I was also struck by a contemporary illustration of a man writing in his study by on open window, with his dog curled up at his feet. It was a completely familiar scene, and yet it’s age gave it a weirdly alien feel. Reminded me a bit of Douglas Adams’s crack: “The past is a foreign country, they do things exactly the same there!”

Aside from the history there was some interest from an e-learning perspective. Firstly they include an audio guide in the price of admission. (Which, might I add here, I thought steep at £9.00) Mine was faulty and seemed to deliver incomprehensible gibberish after about the first three sections. You got a few words, then a long silence, followed by a few more words. I guess the recording had been interfered with somehow. I find these things distract me from looking at the exhibits anyway so I was more than happy to turn it off. (Would have been nice to have a choice about paying for it though!)  But it did set me wondering about whether such a thing could actually form a useful part of an exhibition by making them interact with the artefacts on display somehow. They’d have to be a bit more reliable though. Secondly there were also some quite nice flash based interactive exhibits of the actual documents, where you could look in detail at Henry’s annotations, usually where he was trying to find support for his case in his “Great Matter” (Getting his divorce from Katherine of Aragon).  Some of them have been posted on the web at . There was a bit of local interest too in that some of the books he needed for evidence came from St Katherine’s priory in Lincoln. (I wonder where that was). I must confess I hadn’t realised he himself was so deeply involved in making his case.

So the exhibition format may have some value as a learning tool. Of course as I was already interested in the first place, I can’t read too much into that, but given what I’ve been thinking about e-portfolios, there might be some value in concentrating a little more on the presentation side of e-portfolios.