Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hell Island

Matthew Reilly wrote this novella in 2005 for the Australian Books Alive Program designed to encourage Australians to read mor books, particularly Australian books. From 27 July to 32 August a copy of the novella was given away to anyone purchasing a copy of a book from a selected booklist prepared for the promotion. The novella was published for sale in 2007.

Hell Island is part of the Scarecrow series of books. Scarecrow and Mother are part of a team sent to Hell Island for an undisclosed project. Once there they discover a world of horror that they need to destroy and from which they have to attempt to escape. Tension packed excitement in 108 pages.

The invention of Hugo Cabret

One of the better films in cinemas in Australia this summer was Hugo which we enjoyed viewing in 3D. Consequently I decided to borrow the book by Brian Selznick on which the film is based.

Published in 2007 this novel in words and pictures deservedly won the 2008 Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration. Both in content and size (more than 500 pages)  it is however designed as a book for upper primary - lower secondary students but in fact can be enjoyed by adults as well.

The story starts with a series of double page pencil sketched illustrations with black borders that start with a picture of the moon and then show the wider view of Paris just before sunrise, followed by the  view of the railway station as it gradually becomes busier. Among the throng we first encounter our hero, Hugo Cabret, as he travels to his room hidden behind the clock tower. From this vantage point he is able to watch the toy stall wher an elderly gentleman, Georges Melies, works. In 21 double pages the scene for the story is set and the reader meets the two protagonists. On page 46 the first words of the novel appear, placing the images we have observed in contect. The story then unfolds primarily via image pages intersperced with sections of text and it works really well.

Initially the plot involves Hugo's attempts to rebuild the automaton that his father had been working on at the museum before his death in the hope that the machine would provide a message from his father. The message from the automation then leads Hugo and Isabelle on a quest revealing the development of the early motion picture industry.

There are, of course, a few differences between the book and the film but the film is generally faithful to the book and many of the illustrations from the book are incorporated into the film.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret website provides additional information about the book and the film and also about Georges Melies.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Well done those men: memoirs of a Vietnam veteran

Barry Heard had a happy childhood growing up in country Victoria. He left school at 15, worked in a number of jobs and generally life was good.Then in 1964 his number was drawn in the National Service ballot. Due to illness his enlistment was deferred but towards the end of 1965 he had another medical and was told to join the Army and his life changed.

The book is divided into major sections - Training - Vietnam - Home.

Training was at Puckapunyal, Singleton, back at Puckapunyal and then to Queensland for experience in jungle conditions. At the end of training Barry was a lance corporal and a radio operator.

Barry (or Turd as he was known to his Army mates) was sent to Vietnam ahead of the main group from the 7RAR to learn from the troops of the 5RAR who were returning to Australia. The book describes the experiences faced by soldiers in Vietnam, the climate, the terrain, life in camp, the noise, the fear of not knowing who in the local population was friend or foe, lack of sleep and, of course, battles with the enemy. It was a long twelve months. The worst day was an operation on the 6th August 1967 when, in the jungle, their party came under heavy fire from the Viet Cong with many of the Australians killed or wounded.

When the men had left Australia they were given an enthusiastic send-off from their communities. When they returned home attitudes towards Australia's involvement in Vietnam had changed and the welcome home was only from their families. This was the era of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and it was advisable not to admit having served in Vietnam. The men had also changed and found it impossible to return to their former lives. Poor health, nightmares, inability to settle down, inability to relate to former friends and family were some of the challenges encountered. Although he did not know it for many years, Barry was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He decided the only way to cope with life back home was to work and study almost continuously, driving himself as hard as he could in the hope that he might sleep at night and avoid the memories of Vietnam that troubled him, particularly towards the 6th of August each year. The book describes his breakdown and how he slowly began to get his life together again with the help of his wife, doctors and especially his friends who had also served in Vietnam.

This is a moving account of the many aspects of Australia's involvement in Vietnam from the viewpoint of a participant and provides us with a greater understanding of that segment of our country's history. A must read book especially for those of us who lived during this period and only knew what was reported in the media.

All hell let loose: the world at war 1939-1945

Max Hastings attempts to provide an outline of the events of World War II in 700 pages - quite a task. From events in Poland in 1939 to the bombing of Japan in 1945 the book provides an excellent intoduction to the horrific events that occurred in so many countries during those years. Accounts from those involved provide additional information to the story instead of just an account from official records.

I was particularly interested in the chapter on the Mediterrean which covered the war in northern Africa, Greece and Crete and then Palestine. This book can be used a reference resource allowing the reader to investigate a particular batttle or theatre of war though I am sure that many will read it from cover to cover.

The good, the bad & the unlikely: Australia's prime ministers

Since Federation in 1901 Australia has had twenty-seven prime ministers. Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia for eighteen years. Frank Forde, however, was only Prime Minister for eight days. Political journalist, Mungo MacCallum, has endeavoured to provide information about the twenty-six men and one woman who have so far held this most important role in our country. He writes not only about the time period when they held this office but also provides an account of their contribution to parliament and politics in general. He provides a readable insight into what is involved in reaching and keeping the top job.

Love in a nutshell

When Kate Appleton was employed by Matt Culhane to investigate a series of events occurring at his brewery she never imagined that her life would be in danger, especially as she only undertook the position to raise money in order to save and renovate her family home.

A romantic mystery co-written by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly.

Death comes to Pemberley

PD James has written an account of a murder investigation and subsequent trial set in the realms of Jane Austen's Pemberley, the home of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

It is the evening before Lady Anne's Ball when an eratically driven coach carrying an hysterical Lydia Wickham arrives at Pemberley. Lydia is convinced that her husband has been murdered. Thus the tranquility at Pemberley is interrupted. Darcy, Colonel Fizwilliam and the young lawyer, Alverston, go into the woods to investigate Lydia's claims to find Wickham alive but bending over the body of Captain Denny.

PD James obviously enjoys the opportunity to set a crime story in the world created by Jane Austen and tries to remain faithful to the characters that Jane Austean created.

Two different approaches to Trove

Two of the concurrent session revolved around the use of Trove ( –Allison Dellit and Sarah Schindler from NLA spoke about a trial using social media with Trove both as a marketing exercise and communication tool. Alison’s talk was entitled, Trove: terrors & triumphs of service based social media.
Trove and social media
Web 2.0 features used in Trove include tags, comments, lists of resources plus a social media trial involving Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
Using the corporate brand as an online identity elevates the brand name and allows one voice to speak to all users.

Lessons learned from the social media trial include:
Diverse followers – to some the content will be irrelevant – in some cases libraries talking to libraries. Time and resources involved in generating content – additional costs.
In Trove, cannot predict the next big thing – Lionel Logue for example.
Strategies developed:
Niche targets used, designed for a specific group – library and museum blogs for example.
Target content to audience and engage with them. Realise that not possible to cater for all groups.
Aims of the social media trial:
·         To increase the use of Trove 
·         To increase the visibility of Trove
·         To provide customer service
·         To solicit feedback in order to improve service
Not all social media is the same.
Problems using Facebook – more difficult to promote services as different type of people interaction
Twitter was found to be a better way to promote Trove – exposure of content – can say a lot in 140 characters – effective way to reach the media – possible to connect between past events and present events with links to articles in Trove – army of goodwill concept – effective way to reach the media – people tend to comment via Tweets rather than email.
More details about the trial are in the full article provided before the conference.
Mining the treasures of Trove
Tim Sheratt’s session was about using text analysis tools to explore large amounts of text material such as articles in Trove. He used as an example research about how people in 1913 viewed the future and showed how text analysis programs could aid historical and social research. and are his web links.

He uses topic modelling in order to find themes and uses and has developed tools for looking for patterns and clues in large text databases. The tools that he has developed are available free from his website. His blog provides examples of research that can be undertaken.
Historical research is changing. Currently there are more than 60 million newspaper articles in Trove making it a magnificent resource.  With topic modelling explore the whole resource, not just a section – look for patterns and trends and large scale changes – interact with material, not just retrieve material – analyse material using tools and play (experiment) [freedom, curiosity – what happens if? – surprise and serendipity] – products of research can be linked with resources – new interfaces
Constructed 1913 word cloud using a variety of tools
There is now a digital humanities community in Australia – Australian Association for Digital Humanities -
ANU now has a digital communities hub -

There is now a do it yourself emphasis – create a tool to do something – share it
Challenges in this type of research:
  • Showing the inaccuracy of material
  • Challenges of scale
  • Dangers of scale
  • Must not forget what the research is about
  • Keep perspective
  • Don't concentrate on just one case
An example of a project using new research methods is the Invisible Australian project -

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

First plenary

The speaker at the first plenary session was Jason Griffey – Associate Professor / Head of Library Information Technology at University of Technology at Chattanooga, Tennessee -  on the topic Libraries and the Post PC era, especially mobile technologies. He has written a book Mobile Technologies and Libraries. .

Expectations of library users are coloured by experiences. Mobile phones are now used more than computers and almost 50% of Australians with mobile phones have smart phones. Eighty-four per cent of Australians who own mobile phones use them for functions other than just making a phone call. Fifty percent of the smart phones are iphones. media streaming is the most popular use of the devices.

Single purpose devices include Kindle - good for reading books but not for anything else.
Multi purpose devices include Kindle Fire, ipad and tablets.
Librarians need to be aware of platforms people are buying and also how the items are used.
Librarians also need to be aware of new user interfaces such as Touch Screen  - an easy interface to use (it is not a tool), Kinect - gesture based technology recognised movement and gestures and Voice Control. No need for keyboard and a mouse.

Other technology discussed include:
  • Ambient Sensor Devices that go with you everywhere - connect to another service and allows things to connect to you.
  • Flip scanning is a future device allowing the scanning of a book in a minute or two. Could be available eventually via a mobile device.
  • Transparent displays by touch.
  • 3D printing creating three dimensional objects from a digital file using a materials printer similar to printing on paper. Makerbot is working in this field.
Strategies for libraries in the new environment include the need to look outside current services offered - provision for mobile devices should be first priority rather than second or third or not at all. Griffey referred to the book Adaptive web design by Aaron Gustafson to look at changes in web design particularly incorporating progressive enhancement.

Not all libraries need to be at the cutting edge of technology but it is necessary to know extent to which patrons are using technology.

Librarians are still needed. Most people who use the web do not know how to use it well.  Librarians provide human filtering of information, not machine filtering. Public librarians also know their community and can provide appropriate services to those who need them.

With increased access to broadband service there are increased learning opportunities, streaming opportunities and communication opportunities. Over time concepts of privacy will change.

Final plenary

The final plenary session of the VALA conference was presented by Eli Neiburger from Ann Arbor District Library speaking on the topic, ‘Access, schmaccess: libraries in the age of information ubiquity’.
Neiburger contends that in the current web culture the value is provided from the users of the information rather than those who produce the information for the server.  Information on the web is growing at a rapid rate with little time to look for it. When searching he argues that young people type words using probability to locate the item while older people phrase search.
Placing media online is inviting it to be remixed.  In his opinion every transmission is a duplication and once material is online you cannot control what will happen to it after it has been posted. An example demonstrating this was the Nyan cat - a picture of a cartoon cat that moved across the screen not really doing anything. Three people discussed the idea for the cat and one person created the final product and put it online. Nothing much happened until another person provided a sound track of a remixed Japanes tune to the piece and it then took off. Other people use versions of the cat in their projects - just do a search on Google for 'Nyan cat'. The question posed by Neiburger is who owns the cat? with the answer being 'no-one. The full story of the Nyan cat can be found at View the YouTube clip. The Nyan cat also has its own website.   
Neiburger argues that unauthorised duplication of material online is not stealing or piracy as the original material is still there and supply is unlimited. Installing a pay wall will only drive away legitimate customers. When content is released for free, musicians may be rewarded with promotion, publicity and greater attendances at concerts plus sale of other products. 
He also commented on the inflated prices of e-books and argued for open educational resources.
Libraries should produce content that would not be available if not created by the library. They should focus on local product such as digitising the local newspaper, podcasts of talks etc.  Libraries can also encourage local musicians and writers to make their material available online.
Creators of web products should be prepared to share the code. Fair dealings rights need revision.
This session provided a thought provoking and entertaining end to VALA 2012.

Anzacs online

Robyn Van Dyke from the Australian War Memorial spoke about their new major digitisation project for 2015 – Anzacs online -  In its early stages at present Anzacs online will display photographs, diaries and letters, relating to the many Australians who served in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I.
Items in the Australian War Memorial are being digitised as part of a preservation project with lower resolution copies being made available online improving public access to the material. The digitisation occurs in house using outside contractors and 100% checking is made for each item digitised – a slow but accurate process.
Making material available online has been an ongoing function of the Australian War Memorial for many years resulting in a number of management systems for the material. It is envisaged that all digitised material in the Australian War Memorial collections will be consolidated and accessible via one content management system allowing users to undertake one search for all collections.
It is also hoped to incorporate a user transcription service similar to that undertaken by users of Trove for some of the written material.
Records being digitised include Commonwealth records, private records, ephemera and rare books as well as photographs.
In the future, images will be included in catalogue records allowing users to enlarge and / or zoom in to view or read material. Users will also be encouraged to tag items adding names etc to records.
Members of the public are encouraged to submit digital images of people who served during World War I.
On the Anzacs online site two dairies can be located in the Diary section of the website as well as a selection of images. Readers are able to log into the site, post comments with information and photographs relating to service people.
The Australian War Memorial website - - contains many other information resources about World War I which eventually will also be accessible via Anzacs online.

VALA 2012 continued

Thursday 9 February: attended afternoon sessions at VALA.
Ingrid Mason gave a paper on using Linked Open Data providing access to information in collections held in galleries, libraries, archives and museums where she used the analogy of Victorian steam-punk – the concept of presenting old information in new ways. Australian National Data Service -  - and Intersect Australia - – are working in this area. Unfortunately her presentation consisting of rapid fire words interspersed with 56 slides made following the topic, which she often referred to as difficult to understand, not easy to follow.
The second paper presented by Elycia Wallis from Museum Victoria looked at a global project, Biodiversity Heritage Library - a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections making the literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons” – . The Australian component of the project is the Atlas of Living Australia -  The Biodiversity Heritage Library began with 12 libraries in the USA and UK establishing a digital research taxonic community in 2005. Other countries from Europe plus China, Brazil and Egypt as well as Australia are now involved. Scanning of material is continuing with links to articles and citations available. Linkages are also made from Trove and Flickr.
Robyn Van Dyke from the Australian War Memorial spoke about their new major digitisation project for 2015 – Anzacs online - 
The final plenary session for the conference was presented by Eli Neiburger from Ann Arbor District Library speaking on the topic, ‘Access, schmaccess: libraries in the age of information ubiquity'.
More details on the last two sessions in separate posts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

VALA 2012

Tuesday 7 February: attended morning sessions at VALA conference at Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre 
Plenary session was Jason Griffey – Associate Professor / Head of Library Information Technology at University of Technology at Chattanooga, Tennessee – speaking on Libraries and the Post PC era, especially mobile technologies. He has written a book Mobile Technologies and Libraries.
Two of the concurrent session revolved around the use of Trove ( –Allison Dellit and Sarah Schindler from NLA spoke about a trial using social media with Trove both as a marketing exercise and communication tool. This was followed by a talk by Tim Sheratt talking about using text analysis tools to analyse to explore large amounts of text material such as articles in Trove. He used as an example research about how people in 1913 viewed the future and showed how text analysis programs could aid historical and social research. and More information about the above sessions in additional posts.

The final paper for the morning was a presentation from Philip Minchin from Port Phillip Library Service speaking about the use of games (of all sorts) in libraries, games clubs etc. This includes lending suitable games that don't require registration, use of in house board and card games as well as curation of games providing rules only - a gateway to games.
In the wider public gaming is more common than people realise. Games are a non threatening way to meet people - games clubs.
Issues with games in libraries include managing teens, children or rowdies. Games could be chess or scrabble clubs. The games may be informal or self- organised play. At a games club people may play and talk about the game.
Benefits of games in libraries include provision of a welcoming space, increased inter-patron interaction with more visitors and longer stays.
Drawbacks include increased potential for patron disputes, noise level management and staff to keep track of game pieces.
Game Days can be arranged working with clubs.
Tournaments not recommended as more need for supervision.
Self organised event - BYO games.
The concept of including games in library programs was also briefly discussed by Eli Neiburger in the final plenary session.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The hare with the amber eyes: a hidden inheritance

When Edmund De Waal inherited a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke he decided to investigate the story of how these small carved wood and ivory objects came to his family. Several years of investigation led not only to uncovering the story of the netsuke but several generations of his family history. The story began in Odessa, Russia, but as the family business expanded family members settled in and established homes and offices in Paris and Vienna. The first collector of the netsuke lived in Paris but the collection moved to Vienna when he gave them to a family member as a wedding present. Eventually the collection returned to Japan before travelling to London when bequeathed to the author.

This is not just the story of objects. It is also a family history - the story of a wealthy Jewish business family living in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and then in the twentieth century. These initially were good times but became turbulent times with growing prejudice against Jews in Paris and Vienna followed by two wars and the devastation that followed. The book describes what is is like living in a city besieged by war during World War I and then the need for Jewish families to flee from the Germans to safe countries with the approach of the Second World War. There are graphic descriptions of the need for decisions to be made but the inability of especially older people to finally make the break with their country. When one family member moved to Japan after the Second World War the book describes the devastation of war in that country and the comparison of the attitudes of the Japanese to the situation to that of the Americans occupying the country.

There has been a great deal of publicity about The hare with the amber eyes since it was published in 2010. I am glad that I have finally had the opportunity to read it.