Friday, 30 May 2014

Inconceivable amounts of data: a glimpse at our history

In various guises, we've been providing central computing services to the University since 1966 - in 1969, a proposed upgrade which would have seen the purchase of a fourth 4Mb disk drive was rejected, as it was inconceivable that the University would ever generate that amount of data.

These days, we can see more than 8 terabytes of data fly across our wifi network in a single day, we provide email accounts with 30 GB of storage, and the central filestore is supplemented by Google Drive with unlimited storage for native documents.

You might be tempted to believe that reliance on IT facilities is a modern phenomenon, and certainly the current omnipresence of technology is a significant change. But we were providing a campus network, with access to external networked resources, by the end of the 1970s. By the 1980s some students were so reliant on the facilities provided that they turned to direct action when they were thwarted - a student whose programming error put an entire room of computers out of commission was thrown into the lake by his peers. He was suitably contrite, and sent a letter of apology to the Computing Service newsletter of the day, Printout. All things being equal, it's a source of relief that we now have social media to allow us to vent our frustrations in a more controlled manner.

The 1990s saw the arrival of PCs, the launch of the University's web site, and the introduction of IT training suitable for students across all disciplines - not just the sciences. In 2001, there was outrage from some as the University moved from Corel to Microsoft as its main office software. Concerns were raised about cost, and virus susceptibility, and the spellings M$ and Micro$o£t were seriously over-used in some quarters.

By 2009, we were preparing for the University's most significant expansion, with nearly two kilometres of cable used to create a link between Heslington West and the new Heslington East campus. Today, we are working towards pervasive wifi across the campus, and continue to upgrade the various IT facilities we provide. A lot has changed in the last five decades.

To find out more about our history, please visit 50 years of Information: IT or take a stroll past the timeline in the ground floor Fairhurst corridor.

For even more great pictures of monster servers, tiny terminals and startling fashions, browse through our collection of images in the Digital Library:

Our first IT Services blog post


You've probably already seen that our Library colleagues have been merrily posting here on the Liberating Information blog. The time has now come for IT Services to get in on the act.

We've got posts on a variety of topics lined up - we're hoping to share some useful advice, tell you things that you didn't know, and introduce you to some of our team. There's a lot going on in IT, and we want to keep you informed.

Our first 'proper' post, which looks at the history of IT Services, will be along any minute now.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

‘The Pity of War’ - conflict and remembrance

The latest exhibition from Special Collections looks at conflict and remembrance through material found in the holdings at York.

War affects everyone in some way - whether as a front line soldier, an artist or poet moved to create works inspired by war, or people who feel their conscience will not allow them to fight and kill their fellow men.

The four cases in the Harry Fairhurst corridor focus on War in Yorkshire; Art and War; the First World War; and finally the theme of Remembrance. Highlights include a silk hanky commemorating South African battles, copies of the Tribunal, a newspaper produced by the No Conscription Fellowship, and a book of Rupert Brooke's poetry with an inscription that ties it directly to the poet.

Brooke's Nineteen Fourteen sonnet sequence must be among some of the best known poems in the world. Written at the beginning of the First World War in a time before the reality and horror of trench warfare had started to become apparent, they reflect a spirit of confidence and patriotism that would be gradually eroded over the next four years.

Image from Collected poems of Rupert Brooke London 1918
Brooke was 27 when war broke out and already a published poet. He was commissioned into the Royal Naval Division with many of his friends including Arthur Asquith, son of the Prime Minister. The regiment set sail for Gallipoli but Brooke developed septicaemia from an infected mosquito bite and died off the coast of Greece on 23 April 1915. His friends, including Asquith, buried him on the island of Skyros where his tomb still remains.

Picture: Brooke's tomb on Skyros from Wikipedia - reproduced under a Creative Commons licence. 
After the war the architect Edwin Lutyens was asked to design a memorial in honour of the Royal Naval Division. The first six lines of Brooke's third sonnet were chosen to be engraved on it.

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There's none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

In Special Collections at the University of York is a book of Brooke's collected poems published in 1918. The inscription on the first page reads:
Edwin Lutyens from Arthur Asquith
The first eight lines of sonnet III are the inscription for our Royal Naval Division memorial. July 1924.
Inscription from Collected poems of Rupert Brooke, London, 1918
From the Eliot collection, University of York.
The memorial was unveiled in May 1925 so it would be nice to think that the book was given by Asquith to Lutyens to remind the architect of the exact wording required for the inscription.

Brooke's legacy is very different to the other war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. He has an almost mythical aura, the golden warrior who died before his time. His war poetry does mirror emotions that were widely felt at the beginning of the First World War but most of his work was written before 1914. So perhaps his more enduring legacy is in his pre-war poetry reflecting the sentiments and belief structure of a lost generation.

The exhibition runs until 28 August and can be found in the display cases along the Harry Fairhurst corridor. For more information please contact the Special Collections Librarian Sarah


If you want to explore more on this topic, the Library subscribes to the First World War Poetry Digital Archive; an online repository of over 7000 items of text, images, audio, and video for teaching, learning, and research. You can access it through the E-resources Guide in YorSearch - just scroll down and click the link.

The Library also has access to The Cambridge Companions to Literature and Classics collection; also found in the E-resources Guide. This collection offers thousands of essays on major authors, periods and genres, written by experts and designed for student readers. Among many others there's a Companion to the Poetry of the First World War and a Companion to the Literature of the First World War.

Brooke's poetry can be found on the shelves in the Library at MA 181.9 BRO.

Photo: Poppy Field by Mark Shirley. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The artist JMW Turner in Yorkshire

How many of you knew that the great landscape artist JMW Turner (1775-1851) spent time sketching and painting in Yorkshire?

York Art Gallery held an exhibition in 1980 that featured many of his works from around our area and we have the exhibition catalogue on the Library shelves. It’s only a slim booklet with black and white images but it makes for interesting reading. Turner painted scenes all over the county, including Ilkley Moor, Knaresborough and Whitby, and produced this beautiful painting of York Minster, viewed from the River Ouse, c.1815.

Image of View of York Minster from the River Ouse by JMW Turner
View of York Minster from the River Ouse
Image courtesy of 
 - click to enlarge
It's difficult to tell exactly where the artist must have been positioned for this view. Does anyone have a suggestion?
Snow Storm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps 1812
Image courtesy of - click to enlarge
The picture to the left is Turner's Hannibal Crossing the Alps. According to, the tempestuous backdrop of this famous scene is "reputed to have been inspired by a storm over Otley's Chevin while Turner was staying at Farnley Hall".

(For those readers who have completed the gruelling Boxing Day Chevin Chase run this information will come as no surprise.)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Mind the gaffe!

Many of you will be working on your dissertations right now (unless you really did get sidetracked by this). This is your chance to get your thoughts down on paper on screen and show the world what you know.

Photo: Word Nerd by Ryan Hyde. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence
But how can you be sure you're expressing yourself perfectly?

You probably know the difference between illusion and allusion, but do you know your euphemism from your euphuism? Are you confident you know when to use fortuitous and when to say fortunate?

Well, don't worry, for help is at hand: the Library has plenty of guides to the English language. You can search MZE 140.3 on the catalogue for lots of examples, but my favourite is the no nonsense Mind the gaffe: the Penguin guide to common errors in English by R.L. Trask (MZE 140.3 TRA). In his introduction Trask says quite boldly:
Many other usage handbooks exist, but some of them are a little reluctant to lay down the law. They often tell the reader instead 'Well, some people prefer this, but other people prefer that.' I assume that you don't want to hear this. Instead, I expect, you want to read 'This is right, but that is wrong.' As far as possible, I'll try to say exactly that. This handbook adopts a much blunter tone than do most others. (p.2)
He does go on to moderate this statement (... or is that modify? aargh!) because he acknowledges that the English language is constantly changing, but Trask's approach is refreshing and his advice usually wise. Here are some typical entries:
  • Meaningful - a vastly overused word, and one often used inexplicitly... (p.184)
  • Methodology - a method is a single procedure for achieving some end. In contrast, a methodology is a set of conventional procedures, always principled and usually scientific or at least scholarly, for working in a particular discipline. The longer word is only appropriate in scientific and scholarly contexts, and it should not be used thoughtlessly as a fancy synonym for the shorter word. (p. 185)
  • Comprise, consist, compose, constitute - these four verbs are very frequently confused, producing awful things like "The NATO forces are comprised of soldiers from eight countries"... (p.77)
  • Simplistic - this is not a fancy word for simple… (p.260)

So if you're unsure whether you mean to say 'distrust' or 'mistrust', or if you're tied up in knots over whether to say 'due to' or 'owing to' then you might find this a very handy, light-hearted guide. (And for more of the same, I thoroughly recommend Lynne Truss' timeless Eats, shoots and leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation - found at MZE 147 TRU.)

If you need more specific advice on structuring your assignment or developing your argument, then you could try dropping in at The Writing Centre in the Harry Fairhurst building, and for help with other study skills there is lots of advice in the University's Study Skills web pages.

And finally, even if you really can't seem to piece that dissertation together, whatever else you do don't try to fool anyone with this: It won't end well.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Telling Tales

Photo: Stonegate Night bw by Ravensthorpe.
Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

Back in the 1980s student life at the University of York was uninterrupted by social media. The internet was in its infancy and computer science students booked their hour-long sessions in the computer block just down from the Library (where we searched for books on microfiche). For entertainment, there were TV sets in the common rooms. We hunkered down in front of The Young Ones and had all-night horror movie sessions, mesmerised by the special effects in American Werewolf in London. The JB Morrell was closed on Sundays. Some of us (whisper it) read books for fun. We read alone. We didn't talk about it. There were no book clubs, nor did we spend much time recommending to our friends. It wouldn't occur to us to do so.

Tales of the City was just six years old when first I discovered a copy in Godfreys bookshop in Stonegate. A story of a naive young assistant moving from sleepy Cleveland to wide awake, loud and colourful San Francisco was the peak of exotic adventure to a student from North Yorkshire. The girl on the (cord) phone on the cover looked so glamorous. Standing at the back of the shop I read 25 pages (to 'Edgar blows up') and that was it. Hooked. 60p a paperback. In the days when we extracted five pound notes from the cash points in Heslington to last a whole weekend, this purchase was a little luxury.

I loved Mary Ann Singleton. She was embarking on a whole new life adventure. (In later episodes, when Maupin turned his sharp pen to harden her character, I am momentarily saddened, but for now she was the girl I wanted to be.) After the weekend, I headed back into town, back to Godfreys to discover there were sequels - More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City and one, deliciously entitled Babycakes. I read and reread, tracing every nuance, every development, laughing and weeping, but all alone. It never crossed my mind to share my love of these books. We just didn't, then.

Glide forward seven years and there I am, standing at the airport arrivals hall, holding my copy of Maybe the Moon. Feeling a little nervous, a little excited.

Alison Claire Barrow was twenty-one years old when quietly she discovered Armistead Maupin for the first time. Seven years later she is meeting him at Heathrow to accompany him on his UK book tour. Twenty nine years later (pinch me, where did that time go?) she is his long-term UK publicist and proudly out there and loud about it in this, her first ever blog, in the media, in events - and relentlessly on social media. How lucky am I? And still, in my head, sometimes I'm the girl back in Derwent College, flat out on the thin mattress of my bed on the second floor of A block, lit by the angle poise, reading and discovering Barbary Lane for the first time.

Alison Barrow
Director of Media Relations
Transworld Publishers

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Flying Saucer Review: tales of our journal collection

Last month was an unusual change of pace for me as I spent many afternoons mucking in with the big journal move out to our new external store in Nether Poppleton. I have yet to visit this voluminous space, but of course like everyone else I have been imagining that vault from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. For someone who normally sits in front of a computer screen all day it was great fun to get my hands dirty. In this case, quite literally as handling dusty back issues of journals is a rather grubby task!
One of the unexpected pleasures of the task has been having a perusal of the weird and wonderful journals which the library has to offer.

Flying Saucer Review
My favourite so far has been the Flying Saucer Review.

At first I was sure that the enticing name would turn out to be a bit of false advertising but no, this magazine is about UFOs and the possible existence of aliens. I could not help but wonder which department had sponsored the acquisition of these periodicals.

Was it Physics? After all the debate about life on other planets and the possible existence of a technologically superior species has become increasingly scientific, or at least pseudo-scientific in some cases. There seems to have been a whole spate of documentaries in recent years investigating with contemporary scientific understanding a range of previously far fetched notions. I have watched everything from a 'serious' investigation into the viability of the warp drive and other futuristic technology seen on Star Trek, to a proposed theory that aliens are really a highly evolved future variant of the human race which has discovered time travel and now travels back to our present time for a reason or reasons unknown. Personally, that last idea is a bit too Terminator for my liking.

Another department who could be interested is Sociology. Surely if there was intelligent life apart from on earth, the potential questions raised about how we view ourselves as a species would be numerous and contentious. Never mind the problems of a global society, what about an intergalactic one? Would we see a revival of etiquette books? Would racial divisions here on earth lessen as we felt drawn together by simply being human? How would world religions be affected? Oh, the questions are entertaining and  endless :-)

If the Flying Saucer Review has whetted your appetite for journal consumption, then let me point you in the direction of a few more of my favourites which cover a broad range of topics:

1. The Penguin Film Review - Number 3 from 1947 has beautiful black and white stills depicting 'Decor in Recent Russian Cinema' and 'Italian Films since the Liberation'. If you want to annoy your film buff friends by knowing what was written about iconic world cinema when it was actually released then this is the journal for you.

2.Corona: The Journal of His Majesty’s Colonial Service -I opened this volume purely by chance and was surprised to find it an entertaining time capsule from a bygone era. With serious Bond-esque undertones, volume 1 from 1947 gave me a selection of materials all relating to the colonies. The open letters were particularly intriguing including the titles: Experimental Power Surf Boat, Foetid Fragrance, Plea for the Camel and Fortune in a Tanganyika Swamp.

North Riding Pictorial Journal
3. North Riding Pictorial Journal (1858-58) -Stunning prints depicting 'Nest of the Mole Cricket' or a Crochet night cape'. Quaint, Victorian and very charming and even better, located firmly in Yorkshire.

Bad Attitude
4. Bad Attitude: The Radical Women’s Newspaper -who could fail to be intrigued by the article Sodomites and Man-Royals as found in the Autumn/Winter issue 8 1995?

Journals, like our books, are catalogued on YorSearch - and even those that have been moved to the external store can be requested and made available to you.

As a final note, when I was writing this blog I could not (much to my shame) remember which Indiana Jones movie had the scene with the huge storage facility in it and had to turn to Google to supply the answer. As I skimmed the list of results, I spotted the link to this article:
Raiders of the Lost Archives

Of course I had to have a look. In the article John Sutherland, an English professor, recalls his own pre-digital world of research which consisted more often than not of hopping on various modes of transport and hoping that the distant archive/library/collection he was heading to would have what he was looking for. Having completed my own MA slap bang in the middle of e-journals and Google books, I couldn't imagine a more different experience. The article struck a chord with something that I had experienced all through the journal moving process: that wondrous shiver of delight at finding something new. I must admit that I even spotted a few volumes I really wish I had known about when I was writing my dissertation. It made me think that while on-line catalogues, research aids and journal databases have revolutionised how we conduct research and indeed have opened up whole new vistas in information gathering, it is no harm to just go and browse. While you are there, spare a thought for researchers and enthusiasts who have gone before us, one dust-covered, grubby hand at a time.