Friday, 27 August 2010


We discussed Serge Gainsburg's bizarre rock operetta Melody Nelson in our Album Group last night. This operates like a book group but involves discussing two albums each month. So far we're covered Elvis Costello, Grizzly Bears, Them Crooked Vultures, Kate Bush, Laura Marling... and last night Serge and Jurassic 5.  Next month it's Sinatra and the wonderful Beirut (see below).
It's a splendid way to spend an evening, especially as we can listen to the music under discussion as we talk.


I bought a didgeridoo at the Green Man festival last weekend but rather than subject you to the farting noises I'm making with mine so far, here's Lyndon Davis, performer and indigenous storyteller performing for us outside Cooroy Library earlier this year. Lyndon is one of the artists working on the NeoGeoGraphy project on the Sunshine Coast. And while we listen, I'll reflect on what a relief it was to be off line for four days whilst attending the Green Man festival in Brecon Beacons. Also I noticed that few people were filming the proceedings on mobiles or flipcams and not many were using their phones at all. Is that simply due to lack of signal or battery life - or are we getting fed up with living  life through the viewfinder on our phones? Not that I've got anything against laptops, iPads, flip cams, twitter etc. as regular readers will well know. But sometimes it's nice to step outside the Apple frame and look directly upon life. Did weblessness  liberate my mind to have more perceptive or poetic thoughts? Nope. Did it make me vow never to blog again? Nope. It did make me think more about how to define and implement some well balanced regime of different kinds of web use - like the idea behind   which invites us to think of what constitutes a 'five a day' regime of healthy thinking. I'd love to get more comments appearing on these pages, so ask for your rules and maxims for a positively digital life.

to be is to doodle

The RSAnimate series on YouTube is magnificent, the only problem being that the animation is so beautiful to watch that it's actually easy to forget to listen to what's being said.
Dan Pink's talk about what drives us is very relevant to the amplified author and big anxiety.

Meanwhile my blog post is out on

Seth Godin's decision to leave his publisher in order to amplify himself is getting lots of attention and many are pointing out that he is uniquely well placed to do this, given that he's turned himself into a brand in his own right some time ago. But publishers miss the point that it's not just Big Cheeses like Godin whose world view is changing. Those at the beginning as well as the height of their careers are increasingly taking control of their own writing lives in just this way. Whether or not they seek publication, they're no longer defined or constrained by publishers, they write at their laptops and broadcast their work from there via blogs, tweets, publications and self publications.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

mappa mundi and the chained library

At the weekend I went to Hereford Cathedral where they house the Mappa Mundi, a 13th Century visualisation of the earth and heavens and all known plants, creatures and monsters. There's also a chained library from the days when books cost the same as farms and were stored with spines inwards so that they could be opened easily on the desks to which they were chained, protected no doubt by curses to ward off copyright infringement. I've been wondering why the place felt so inspirational, as well as reminiscent of the medieval help desk in that famous clip. Here's an analogue web where an overview of all known things can be captured in one image and where users dip into a shared pool of learning using a platform for language whose design has been constantly evolving in the light of technical and economic change.  

I agree completely with those who say that accessing digital 'goods' feels more like borrowing from a library than buying stuff, even if you do pay - and I think this is an exciting transformation. 

All books and information go up to the cloud (of unknowing?) from which individuals draw down what they need in different ways, sometimes for free, sometimes paying for chunks packaged up in more or less attractive ways. The amplified author has the ability to communicate to a circle of readers and writers from his/her desk through social media without needing any intermediary but still needs access to the kinds of skills and services publishers have traditionally provided - to edit, design, promote what she's writing when that feels like a complete work deserving of wider distribution and suitable to sell in some form. 

At the Unlibrary we're planning to experiment with how we can create a (physical and online) hub for writers in the locality to meet, mingle and collaborate. This feels like a very natural setting for writers emerging and established to locate themselves as they find out how to spread their words using all the means now available to them. 

good stuff and things

Fancy mixing your own Korean poetry?

Well, now you can!


Want to read a sentence from The Bastard?

Oh yes you can do that as well.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

poetry in perpetual motion

Itinerant Poetry Librarian is currently in Boston, according to her Facebook page. if:book are big fans of her hands on approach to librarianship. 

"Need free membership of a travelling library of 'lost & forgotten' poetry? Fancy a bit of Bob Cobbing? Kenneth Rexroth translations of O. Milosz? Can't stop yourself from touching the B. Tetenbaum handmade binding? Like to know where we keep our Bukowski (it's a good fit)? 
Since May 2006, The Itinerant Poetry Librarian has been travelling the world with a library of ‘Lost & Forgotten’ poetry, installing the library & librarian and archiving the sounds, poems and poetry of the cities, peoples and countries we meet. 13 countries have taken up the challenge and signed up to the public poetry library cause: Boston will be the 33rd city on the library worldwide itinerary. Come and visit, discover our ever-expanding poetry collection – and add to it yourself if you've an appropriate title to donate (please see our Acquisition Policy for specific details, we don't want to make you bruised by throwing the book back at you:

Got a spot we can operate in? Your house? Your garden? Send us the tip! Know a great coffeehouse/cafe/bar/warehouse/dancestudio/park/theatre/gallery/library who will have us operate there? Send us the tip! Know another spot and who to contact so we can operate there - we do library in: anywhere with people - send us the tip!

The Itinerant Poetry Library
"Reaching the parts other libraries have yet to reach"

reading spaces

Digital reading spaces: how expert readers handle books, the web and electronic paper

By Paul Biba
Editor’s Note: I saw the link to this peer-reviewed paper in Rich Adin’s article below. I found it absolutely fascinating and so I thought I reprint it for you in full as it was published under a Creative Commons license. It is from First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal on the internet.  The original paper is here.
This paper focuses on changing reading characteristics and presents a study among a group of expert readers. Considering technological bases of reading and applying corporeal and material perspectives, this study examines manners in which proficient readers handle printed and digital texts, attempting to explain differences in digital and paper–based reading. Based on findings, this paper reflects on how long–form text can be productively transferred into the digital reading space.

Thanks to Alain Pierrot for pointing this out to me, found at TELEREAD

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

a short summer break

Another place that provides a special dreamspace. Relax and enjoy. (p.s. nothing happens here)


I've posted on O'Reilly's Tools of Change:

  Read my post HERE

Of books as experiences and the ever-increasing need for "unlibraries."

we are startdust we are golden

We're going to the Green Man Festival next weekend - and the weather forecast doesn't sound good. 
Here's a cartoon from a festival of yore. Last year if:book held a debate at the Latitude Festival and I'm very proud that our name appears in the tiniest of letters on the back of the tee-shirt, but we didn't get re-booked. I'm keen to do more festival events though, a fantastic environment for collaborative writing and instant publishing.


lectura lab

The Children's Literacy Lab is an initiative of the Fundacion German Sanchez Rupierez which ran the conference I spoke at in Salamanca earlier this year. It includes interviews with me and Fiona Marriott of Luton Libraries where they're pioneering e-book lending. We're hoping to develop a project with the Fundacion over the coming year. They've been doing some interesting research on e-reading habits:

R&D Project: How do readers live their experience with digital books? It’s the turn of the kids
Research on young readers: don’t disregard the impact of eBooks on reading behaviours

The second stage in our survey on reading behaviour with eBooks
The spread of information and communication technology has already caused a great impact on the act of reading nowadays and it is possible that we still may be experiencing just a small and initial reflection of the effects of the digital dimension on the act of reading.

It is reasonable to think that the increase of media and the emergence of unknown interfaces are relevant to the processes that people put into play when reading; however, the attention at the moment is focused on more instrumental or industrial aspects of the matter. Nevertheless, Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation is looking towards another direction, which is, towards the subject who reads and his/her reading dynamics. We are interested in the skills and habits, in other words, in the competence and behaviour of the reader.

In a broad sense that is the aim of Territorio Ebook R&D Project set up in 2009 by the Fundación.

Previously our team thought that reading in the Web was the first impact to be measured. The metaphor of an inexhaustible library was used to refer to the Internet no more than two years ago. But although it was evocative in a certain sense, it now seems to fall short. The experience of the Foundation libraries raised the doubt whether reading within the web has a qualitative different nature. CITA (the Foundation’s centre devoted to ICT, education and literacy skills) is an inside point of view in that field and members of our team mentioned that users, in the first place, rather than reading in Internet, do something similar to “leafing” through contents throughout our reading rooms. According to this observation, it would not be until this stage of previous taste reading is completed with the choice of a specific content that a deep reading activity begins.

Therefore, reading in Internet varies according to the personal use each reader gives to the contents of this web. Each reader finds his/her own route due to the hyper textual structure, since we all know even the framework of each text contains different paths.

Multimedia skills
The skills for reading this way almost certainly require a more demanding process of comprehension: the reader has to make a greater effort to elaborate the links among the components that each “document” or text integrate. In principle, mental representation seems less complex on paper than a process of navigation. Compared to traditional media, reading digitally has new challenges, which involve information search and selection elements as well as the element of discrimination according to content relevance. No doubt, the latter is an essential competence in reading digital media, if we refer to the Internet: to select and validate sources.

"From the perspective of Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation a great importance is given to the school library as a basic tool for “information literacy” within the school context. It is not a school library conceived as a quarters for books, but as a reading strategy present within the classrooms and within the students’ own homes, in order to develop reading skills in all academic disciplines. This view is precisely what makes the digital a great ally, both because this library can be physically ‘delocalized’ and because it can be socially interactive. The Foundation offers a free Digital School Library, mainly in Spanish language and designed for Spain’s curricula but also open to everyone in the world through the Internet (in fact Americans users are our second in ranking).

Reading in the digital dimension also incorporates other options, such as the possibility for interacting among readers (this is relevant to the experience of our libraries and in the case of the Digital School Library), which maybe is most relevant of all. Therefore, we are considering a reader with multimedia skills, understood also as abilities related to expression and writing, as well as “social intelligence” (latest researche in neuroscience is underlining the great importance of this skill, especially in the case of teenagers).

Youngsters will define the change despite the fact that mainstream opinion underestimates their relationship with reading.
The studies developed by our Foundation detected a crossed variable game of contradictory appearance, especially regarding teenagers and young adults.

Within this context we cannot disregard the strength of the impact that new reading devices for digital books can have over the reading behaviours of the younger ones. The incidence of the geek tendency spreading in different levels among this population can operate as a surprising incentive for frequency and intensity in reading.

That is why after focusing our Territorio Ebook project on adults, we are now willing to research into the effects of the introduction of electronic reading devices within the market will have to be studied, especially if we face the perspective that in the next twelve months they are going to be commercialized under the critic price and their use will spread.

Devices to store and read digital books which appeared in the market in the first wave establish an interaction with the reader similar to that of paper books. However, the introduction of the navigation and communication tools, make a change in the rules of the game rather probable. It is the younger readers who will define this change by integrating their new way of relating to cultural leisure contents.

A general consensus underestimating the relationship of youngsters with reading can be appreciated both in the case of digital books as well as in the rest of the reading ecosystem. On the one hand, according to mainstream discourse is that youngsters read less and worse that those a while ago. On the other hand, youngsters not only internalize that vision (this is probably derived from a mix of the journalistic echo of the PISA and PIRLS studies or the studies on reading habits with a paternalistic and not indulgent look of adults), but oddly they even become the owners of a quite old-fashioned about reading and readers.

In the studies made by the Foundation’s Analysis and Studies Department (DAE) and, other studies that we have evaluated, it can be detected that the up-to-date youngsters do not consider reading about contents that do not belong to literary narrative as reading. When we go deeper in the interviews or the discussion groups on reading habits in Spain can be identified rather frequently, strong reading habits related to different genres other than belles lettres. With the data we have we cannot affirm, as it is frequently done, that youngsters read less o worse than before. What we can suggest is that there are four factors at least that should be considered in relation to the younger ones towards reading on digital mediums:

Contents for reading about certain hobbies such as basketball, surfing, skating, computers, videogames, and music amongst many others.
Reading process linked to communication and, therefore, writing in chats, fan fictions and forums.
Integrated and simultaneous reading with other cultural consumptions such as music, videogames and television.
Finally, the new generation feels the digital environment as something familiar, something of their which favours their privacy (that is, their life within the community without the presence of adults).
It is therefore possible that the digital territory might become within a few years a territory where reading will spread, new reading habits will emerge or rather - a very different thing- that the actual spreading of reading will happen within the digital environment.
Luis González

Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

couch potato two

I'm looking for research on attitudes to reading and our tendency to demonise new platforms and forgive old ones all their sins. I remembered this Radio 4 programme which documented the original moral panic about the brain rotting impact of novels on the minds of the young. Does anyone know of a study of contemporary attitudes along these lines?


Tuesday 9 Jan 07
Jonathan Freedland puts  the panic over video games into historical perspective by going back to the scandal surrounding the arrival of the early English novel.

Fears over the dangers of video games have been raised in Parliament and there is an ongoing debate as to whether they lead to irresponsible copycat behaviour and deprive the young of an active lifestyle. In the 1740’s similar concerns were raised when Samuel Richardson’s novel ‘Pamela’ took the public imagination by storm. For the first time readers were entering a hyper-realistic world - one where a servant girl being pursued by her master - and the line between reality and fiction became blurred; the novel’s arrival also coincided with the introduction of the sofa to the nation’s reading rooms giving birth to the first ‘couch potatoes’.

Jonathan retraces the footsteps of the ‘Pamela’ controversy via Richardson’s printers near Fleet Street; an image from the novel buried deep in the Tate stores and beside an elegant 17th century sofa in a London town house. Whilst exploring the shockwaves caused by ‘Pamela’ he also explores the controversy’s parallels with today’s debate about video games.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

from Newsweek

i am a camera (well, she is)

Canon 7D vs. Barbie Video Girl from Brandon Bloch on Vimeo.

Stream of Consciousness Barbie

shuffling shandy

Nice image from's forthcoming version 
of Tristram Shandy with introduction by Will Self. 
And talking of beautiful books 
I've been talking to Hornsey-based artist Ruth Franklin about running an artists' bookmaking session 
at the ifsoflo unconference we're planning for the Unlibrary this autumn, date to be confirmed 
- will keep you informed of our plans. 

Monday, 9 August 2010

sea view

unshow unmeet

View more presentations from ifbook.

Slides from a presentation at the (soft) launch of the Unlibrary at Hornsey Library.
We're planning our first MEET UP on 17th AUGUST from 12.30 to 2.30 for local businesses, writers, teachers... and anyone else interested in what we're doing. There's a cafe too.

Meanwhile check out the delights of Robert The's,  recommended by book art seeker Alain Pierrot

Friday, 6 August 2010

the big anxiety

I went to a fascinating day last week organised by the Big Society Network, set up by networking supremo Steve Moore, and Unltd, the supporters of all kinds of community enterprise. It was a chance to meet some hugely committed and inventive people working on community projects of all kinds, like Mind Apples, the mental health initiative from (some of) the people who brought you School of Everything. It was Mind Apples' founder who asked the big question about the Big Society: why should any of these initiatives want to speak to Government when there's so little support coming from them, and no clear plan to build a coherent strategy for how a plethora of volunteer projects might mesh to create sustainable, trustworthy services? (Well, that's my version of what he said).

Last month I attended the memorial of Colin Ward, writer and anarchist, reminded me how anarchism was my ideology of choice as a student and beyond. the hippy notion of an Alternative Society made up of cool people self organising, getting together their own free schools and crash pads and credit unions in the face of a heartless establishment is very exciting. SO the libertarian side of the new Government's fondness for cutting red tape, encouraging unthinkable thinking has a curious allure.

But if the State fails us by cutting services, surely it can't get away with then branding the peoples' attempts to get by without them as part of their grand national vision?

My kind have moaned for ages that we're too privileged and consumerist as a society so can't complain too much when national fortunes are shown to go down as well as up. And having argued that digital culture has transformed what we can do for free and what we need from libraries and education, we have to bite the bullet and look at the potential to make more with less. But is anyone in Government listening to any arguments about the measurable value of any kind of state funding of culture and community?

So far I don't see a vision of a Big Society, more a tactic of generating Big Anxiety so that the socially enterprising rush in to do whatever they can with not much.

The literature sector will need (as ever) to be inventive and resourceful and radical and honest and ethical as it tries to find new ways to sustain the communities and ideas it cares about. Freed from red tape... and funding, empowered by digital means to amplify their words, writers will also be free to bite the hand that doesn't feed them.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

24 hour book

Here is Sasha Hoare's film of the amazing 24 hour novel project we ran with Spread the Word, and the Society of Young Publishers last year. There are exciting plans afoot for a follow up and if:book is keen to explore many literary collaborations at the Unlibrary.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

on the edge with jason nelson

Multiplatform Storytelling from The Edge on Vimeo.

I just found this nice video made about a collaboration which we didn't manage to polish off over the weekend of our residency so still have to complete.
I'll get onto Jason immediately and see what can be done!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

the amplified author

This is an extract from a longer article written for the International symposium "STATIONERY. The book and its future" to beh held in Freiburg this December. Picture from the Unlibrary launch. 

Whatever else is going on, there's a revolution happening in how we use words to connect with each other. Blogs and microblogging tools like Twitter give every citizen the potential to amplify their words by publishing them on the global bookshelves of the web. Most blogs are read only by a handful of friends, but there’s nothing to stop ripples of interest forming around compelling content so that thousands can alight on an unknown writer’s work.

The amplified author doesn’t wait for a publisher to decide if his or her work deserves a readership or not. Before considering sending a manuscript to a traditional publisher, the writer may have tested out their ideas on a circle of readers via a blog, drawn new readers in through Twitter and a variety of online networks. Acceptance from a quality publisher gives a boost to profile and reputation, but the amplified author doesn’t need to cede control to any one gatekeeper.

A writer who has one book bought by a conventional publisher might want to self publish the next one, freed from the constraints of editors and marketing departments who have a view on what kind of book they think they can sell most effectively. And this approach can be adopted by writers at all levels, from emerging writers to global bestsellers.

Amplified authors aren’t prey to vanity presses selling them a pretence of publication; they study the analytics and comments to find out who actually reads their work and what they make of it. Few ‘conventional’ authors make anything like a living wage from the books they publish, yet labour under the belief that they are failing if they can't. Amplified authors know they don’t need cash up front to put their work into the world, and can develop techniques to expand their readership and market their wares if they wish, buying in design, editorial and promotional skills when they choose. Amplified authors drive their own careers forward.

The question is how long creators will think of themselves as working in the literary arts at all. Looking back to the invention of the scroll, the codex, broadcasting and film, DVD and download, there are moments when cultural forms split apart forever.
We don’t think of movies as an extension of literary fiction, of newspapers as a continuation of the tradition of the ancient traveling bard, but of course they share common roots. Likewise I doubt the next generation of digital storytellers will queue up for the services of literary agents and publishers, they will do deals with whoever can best help them produce their ‘thing’, reach an audience and make a living.

LAST WEEKEND If:book opened the first UNLIBRARY, a social network linked to a wi-fi enabled work space in Hornsey's thriving local library, in Crouch End, North London.

Whereas not long ago the perceived problem for libraries was how to afford to buy enough books for the shelves, now search engines  and the web give all those with a computer access to a massive collection of free information and imagination.

But far from being rendered redundant by these technological changes, public libraries are ever more important, both to bridge the technological divide between rich and poor, and to provide a local setting in which to share the contents of our laptops. Where else can we go to locate people living locally who share our enthusiasms, who can help us get to grip with Twitter and all the new tools for learning? The Unlibrary aims to create the unique atmosphere of the traditional library, its role as an accessible and democratic space for learning, browsing, mingling and dreaming,
a public space where we can read privately and freely but in the context of a global network of information and imagination.

How can we recreate the essence of that library experience while recognizing how digital culture has transformed so much about how we find what we want to read? Libraries represent our right to read freely, deeply and on our own terms. The Unlibrary aims to protect that right in changing times when the role of so many public institutions is under pressure from the repercussions of recession and digitization.

Thanks to the newly formed if:book Australia, in May 2010 I visited Cooroy, a small town on the sunshine coast of Australia where five amazing artists and writers are collaborating on a project about identity. I was invited to help them explore ideas for developing some kind of digital anthology. Cooroy’s new library has high speed broadband, workshop spaces, a collection of books and other resources, plus amazing local talent. I realized there is nothing to stop such a place anywhere in the world from becoming a globally recognized cultural generator.

Publishers see only a new market for their products, but the web has set the word free. Imagine a world full of Unlibraries, places for free reading and reflection, creation and curation, collaboration and illumination.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

the unlibrary is born

Well... it isn't actually open to the public yet, but today we opened up the room soon to become the UNLIBRARY at Hornsey Library, Crouch End. Here's artist Ruth Franklin, graphic artist Bill Mayblin, writer Kati Rynne, play maker Hattie Coppard, Orange prize winning and now Booker longlisted author Andrea Levy and my co-Unlibrarian, Anke Holst, social media marketeer.

You can hear interviews with Andrea and myself at and our temporary site is at Follow @theunlibrary on Twitter too for more news of this new work space linked to an online network.

Andrea in the Unlibrary