Thursday, 29 September 2011

if:bookshop opens

It's super thursday when all the most exciting book things are launched so here it is: our curated selection of new paperback books for sale at the Unlibrary Cafe, Hornsey, London, and a key element of the future of the book place we're building here. I mean, as people keep telling me, you can't beat the look, feel and smell of one of these. Any book in print can be ordered here, supplied by Big Green Bookshop of Wood Green. We also run digital publishing courses here and are hatching plans for transmedia reading experiences to come. Pop in and buy one (and a coffee) soon from Robin Stevenson, our 18th Century bookseller. More at and follow us on Twitter @unlibrarycafe

conviviality conversation and caroline

On the day we launch the if:bookshop at the Unlibrary Cafe, here's a guest post from 
Dr Caroline Hamilton written following the 3Cs event we ran with Caroline and Carolina Celon at the Free Word Centre. 

The full text can be read here

"One very interesting strand of discussion at our recent workshop related to the change that digital culture has had on our ways of thinking about participation in culture.
To put it very simply, the internet has reshaped our expectations about who gets involved, where and how. At the workshop my attention was directed to a recent lecture given to the British Council by the journalist Ben Hammersley. You can read a transcript or watch a video here. Hammersley explains the way that the internet is shaping the thinking of younger people. It’s a change in thinking he typifies as the difference between a network and a hierarchy. I won’t go into detail explaining what Ben explains very well in his lecture – here I want to reflect on how we might think about how making books and selling them can fit into this new network model…
From my perspective this notion of hierarchies vs networks is very useful for understanding what has changed for readers (and consumers) of books. Once, bookstores were heirarchical places where many people didn’t dare to enter lest they be looked down their noses at by a stiff-looking shop owner who had organised the store (or not organised the store, as the case may be) to suit themselves. Book shopping for most of the 20th century could be an alienating business. Many people just gave up. Would rather buy a book at a news agent or a train station or (later) a supermarket to avoid the discomfort of an antisocial exchange.
This is not so today in a culture increasingly organised according to the network model. Networks not only encourage but necessitate participation from a diverse population. You can’t actually engage with Facebook, for instance, unless you understand that you need to be connected to others. The experience of buying a book today is nothing but networked. Of course, there’s the obvious stuff – buying books online via Amazon and Book Depository… These are networks for books, certainly. But a networked bookstore doesn’t mean an online store. Many online stores are not very well networked at all, or at least, networked in only the most simple ways. Arguably there are much more interesting examples of how books are used, bought, sold and made according to the network experience....

Of course, as the internet proliferated across the world and online retail became legitimate and popular the consumer value system changed. Consumers reassessed their motivations for entering a bookstore. Many books were easier and cheaper to obtain online. Both the network and the value system underpinning it changed. The social and ambient aspects that made the big chain bookstores pleasant were being well satisfied in other locations (in real life and also online). The big bookstores lost the allegiance of their network of customers in deference to the economic hierarchies (and we can see now where that has got them). To quote Ben Hammersley, the glue that holds individuals together across the network is “interest, it’s belief, it’s cultural allegiance.
 And those cultural allegiances can be anything from religion or hard-core politics down to the fact that you and I really like vampire novels and those lot don’t. Or we are Star Wars and they are Star Trek. […] We increasingly find that our allegiance – our social allegiances, our political allegiances – are to people who are likeminded but nowhere near us.”
This is certainly true, but I want to stress the point here that these networks are equally effective and important in creating allegiances closer to home. And indeed, more and more the internet and digital social networks are being used not just to link people with common allegiances who are geographically distant but also proximate. In the small bookshops where I’ve been conducting field work I’ve noticed this happening in almost all cases. Using online networks, these stores involve customers in their community even while they’re not in the shop. This might just be via news updates on Facebook or Twitter, but it also involves more experimental forms of networking: managing events in the store after hours (not necessarily book launches, but quiz nights, sewing classes, music or comedy performances – stuff that has virtually nothing to do with books and how to flog them). The motivation here is to cater to the drives of the network that supports them. Today, a customer at a small independent bookstore needn’t necessarily even be someone who’d identify themselves as a great reader. Instead they find their social and cultural allegiances well catered to by the store and its wider network. Bookstores, it turns out, may not be about books at all…

The bookshop is an ideal place to explore networks because at heart they represent not a place to buy books but a place for engagement. In 1960 an American sociologist Edward Shills said of the bookshop, it is a “place for intellectual conviviality, and it has the same value as conversation, not as a “civilized art” but as a necessary part of the habitat of a lively intelligence in touch with the world.” Being in touch with the world now very often takes place via the internet but theres no reason for bookshops not to continue to involve themselves in the conviviality and conversation of these modern networks. Bookshops can be one place (in actual geographic place and also digitally) that nurture the social and cultural networks facilitated by life after the internet."

This is a further extract from the 3Cs discussion. The filming's rubbish (I did it), but the conversation was worth recording and I lost the audio.

Monday, 26 September 2011

patch slam poems 2

Molly Pearson and Eleanor Watkins perform their poems, introduced by Hayden Anyasi.

And finally...

"The air’s ablaze with voices,
Tower to tower, antennae to antennae
All babbling in concert with a Babel of tongues.
Each atom rings with signals,
Sound, light, noise, white heat;
This is a revolution in the works,
Fragile and dangerous on swarming lips.
A demand for us to dissolve
From what was solid
And fill the busy air. "

Work in progress by Alister MacQuarrie
written during the Alpha-ville Patch Slam.

Please spread the word about and join us on Facebook 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

young poets at alpha-ville

I'm at the Alpha-ville festival this weekend with young poets who entered a challenge to write poems about the future on the site which if:book has been working on for the Poetry Society, and the poets are now working with Hayden Anyasi and his team from on a Patch Slam, digitally illuminating their work live and performing it at the end of each day. Here's the first poem, by Alister MacQuarrie.


And here's an interview with poet and producer.

And this was filmed with Alister and fellow YPNer Molly Pearson when they first arrived.

It's been a fascinating weekend, wonderful to see young writers engaging with new ways to make and share work, and great to see how the digital makers respond to poetic sensibility. I enjoyed Joe's pleasure to find that Alister's poem was lyrical and not what he'd expected in this highly digital setting.

A theme of the festival is 'post digital', in other words it's time to think of laptops and apps as just as much part of our everyday lives as motorcars and telephones, they are tools to help us lead our lives, not bizarre arrivals from an alien land. And that's how I want more writers and readers to think too.

Friday, 23 September 2011

3C's at the Free Word

I thought I'd recorded the whole of our 3Cs discussion at Free Word, but summat went wrong with it, so all I've got are snippets of video. Caroline and Carolina will be posting notes here soon of what was a fascinating, reflective conversation sparked off by Carolina's thoughtful questions.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

stratospheric fifth dimension poetry

I interviewed poet Michael Horovitz last week for the Young Poets Network project and in the final section he managed in a few minutes to move from a description of the end of Wholly Communion, the poetry happening he helped to organise at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, to an attack on advertising and a blessing to the poets of the future, the Great Grandchildren of Albion, urging them to make stratospheric fifth dimension poetry together via digital means, "with music, with computer, with space travel, without knives, and without political or Arts Council approval". More to follow but here's Ginsberg and Horovitz together again.

if:lire launch photos

Alain Pierrot, Samuel Petit of if:lire, Marseille, September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

marseille cafe

if:lire is here

if:lire, the Institute for the Future of Reading and Writing, Paris-based sister organisation to if:book uk and the rest of if:books united, was launched in Marseille last friday at the closing event of the Open Edition Summer University. I spoke at the conference on Monday and was lucky enough to be able to spend the week in this exciting city before meeting if:lire's founders, Alain Pierrot, a longstanding contributor of book art links to this blog, and Samuel Petit, publisher and digital innovator. It was a pleasure to meet them at last and see the latest if:thing launched on the world. Alain and Samuel are both fans of comics and graphic novels, so I hope Alain will forgive me for drawing him. if:book London wishes our new partners the very best.

Aperotweet and Egyptian bookhistory found in Marseille

the line

Two classic videos recommended by Samuel. 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

riot acts

RIOT ACTS: CALL FOR PROPOSALS from Penned In The Margins

Are you a performer, theatre maker, playwright, writer, poet or live artist?

Riot Acts is seeking proposals for new live/performance work in response to the August riots in London and across cities in England.
We will select three ideas to be presented as scratch performances on Saturday 19 Novemberat Rich Mix in East London.
This is not a showcase for finished pieces but a presentation of work that is as exciting as it is rough and ready. This is a great opportunity to develop or test out an idea in a supportive, critical setting and get a variety of responses to your work.
Fee: £100-150
Deadline for applications: Friday 14 October at 5pm
Full details and application form:

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

brill biff

Biff's wonderful cartoon about the launch of the Poetry Cafe, from the Guardian circa 1998, 
can now be seen in the Unlibrary Cafe, our second literary coffee place.

Monday, 5 September 2011


Well, I hope you all had a good summer on the beach reading your Kindles. Did you get sand in yours? Did you relish the lightness of your bag as you slipped through customs so unladen down by hefty tomes? It's all over now. Name tags and pencil sharpening and laptop recharging. 

We're getting straight down to work with our CREATE CURATE CONSUME seminar on September 19th. Places are going fast, so book now if you'd like to come.

Oh but before that I'm off to Marseille from the 12th to 16th  September to speak at the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing  which is holding its its Electronic publishing Summer sessions focused on the circulation of knowledge and the alliances between authors, publishers, librarians and readers around the digital book. 

Early in November we'll be presenting the Young Poets Network with the Poetry Society at a major conference in London on poetry and schools.

Working with if:book associate Kati Rynne we're continuing our research work, funded by the Gulbenkian, looking at the use of Winged Chariot's apps and other digital materials in schools. 

There are a couple of exciting proposals we're been involved with that have gone to that NESTA fund what everyone's gone for. We live in hope, and the certainty that we'll be furthering our plans for the Unlibrary Cafe and a new model for digital community publishing.

I'm giving a talk at Ljubljana Book Fair's  'Publishing Academia' conference on 23 and 24 November, and in December I'm going back to Melbourne to speak at the OWOVM Conference

Hosted by Victoria University, the Oral, the Written and Other Verbal Media (OWOVM) Conference on Poetics and Discourse will be held in Melbourne, Australia from 12 to 14 December 2011.

With the theme of ‘Testimony, Witness, Authority: the politics and poetics of experience’, the conference brings together practitioners and researchers in a forum to explore the variety of ways experience is reproduced and cultures built through oral, written and other verbal media.
To be held at Victoria University’s city campus in Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne, the 2011 conference will feature language, voice and text from scholars, composers and performers.
IN THE NEW YEAR if:book will be touring around the UK running IFSOFLO seminars and workshops on DIGITAL PUBLISHING.
And of course there will be other stuff too, so please keep in touch. 

Friday, 2 September 2011

3Cs: Creating, Curating, Consuming - the social life of books Monday, September 19, FREE WORD CENTRE, LONDON

How do the practical realities of selling books to customers relate to collaborative creative projects between authors and publishers?
Dr Caroline Hamilton from University of Melbourne is studying the future of bookselling and the key words curation and community. Carolina Ceron, MA student at Goldsmiths College, is looking at how experiments in curating books relate to the history of art curation. Both have been looking at the work of Chris Meade, Director of think and do tank if:book uk and founder of the Unlibrary Cafe, an experiment in building a local, digital culture for reading, writing and publishing. if:book recently curated a series of events at the Free Word Centre on HOW POWER CORRUPTS, a text by Dr Ricardo Blaug. 
Caroline, Carolina and Chris will be talking about their work and proposing a series of questions for general debate:
Publish Post
How does
 growing interest in collective creative work extend how we understand the definition of the book?
How important is the figure of the curator in modern digital culture and how can this be used to stimulate interest and involvement in books and publishing?
How can these ideas help to actually sell stuff to people?  
Places for this roundtable discussion are very limited.