Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Cheer

If you have not already seen the small exhibition outside the Official Publications Unit in Causewayside then hurry along to it. It is entitled Christmas cheer and I searched our collection for items that have a festive feel.
There is a fantastic book from the Victoria and Albert collection, about Christmas lists, a book with headings inside that you can fill in and then consult each year to make a perfect Christmas.
There is also a book about festive dining, some wonderful recipes in this of times gone by.
There is a selection of Christmas cards produced by the NLS, I couldn’t display all of them but did enjoy looking through the collection.
I couldn’t forget to put two parliamentary papers in the display one from Westminster and one from the Scottish Parliament about Christmas trading.
I thoroughly enjoyed looking through the Official Publications collection and I found the most amazing things.
Watch out for future displays.
Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research

These hearings before the U.S. Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications were held in 1978. The subject of the discussion was a program called SETI- Search of Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, and whether it was worth it funding this again. Such a program has many philosophical implications and opens up to an infinite range of scientific questions. Both aspects are explored in these utterly fascinating hearings.
The discussion begins with a very simple, although exciting and potentially scary, calculation: how many “good” planets are out there? how many planets sufficiently close to a star providing the heat and light necessary for the development of intelligent life? Well, the answer may be beyond our capacity to produce a mental image: there are 10 billion “good” planets in our galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the space. The longevity of those civilizations must also be taken in account: some of them will have gone through their histories and have perished. This “reduces” the estimated number of civilized planets to one billion. Although this doesn’t mean that each potentially good planet is actually hosting intelligent life, the chances are still so wide that the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent life is almost certain, according to this discussion.
In spite of this, a visit to another civilized planet still remains unreal: advanced culture would be so far from one another on the average, that none of them could afford, in terms of energy expenditure, to visit their nearest neighbours, even if they knew where those neighbours were. So the ultimate challenge would be to communicate with Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life through radio transmissions.
The discussion goes further on what the SETI program should investigate, all the main issues seem to be related to Biocosmology:
- Extrasolar Planetary Search: “If we discovered that only certain classes of stars had suitable planetary systems it would reduce the number of target stars to be searched.”
- “A second aspect of biocosmology would be to continue to study the origin of life.” The discoveries would confirm our present beliefs on how life began but could also explain how chemicals became DNA and how DNA evolved into the living cell. “Then we could say with confidence: (…) it will happen in other places”.
- “A third aspect of biocosmology should be studies of the evolution of intelligence. We think intelligence has survival value and would be favored in natural selection. The sentient organism withdraws from danger; the insensate organism does not; the intelligent animal uses better strategies to seek food, avoid danger and protect its young.”
Other aspects were investigated during these hearings: which type of radio waves are more likely to succeed? In which directions should they be sent? Every question has many answers, very different from one another. A more practical reason to look for extraterrestrial life is also openly explained: “The discovery of other life is not only a legitimate mission for NASA but it is also an essential one without which popular interest and support will fade. It is probably fair to say the NASA exists because it was felt that a space program might discover other life in the solar system.”
The interest in reading these hearings resides in the combination of exploration and research, in a fascinating but still, 30 years later, obscure matter. Scientific issues might have changed and developed further, but not the philosophical curiosity that makes us look up into the dark sky and ask the question: “Are we alone?…”

Find out more at NLS
…or visit the NASA website, and the Astronomy Picture of the day Archive.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A Glimpse of Heaven

A Glimpse of Heaven Catholic Churches of England and Wales
by Christopher Martin
This item is a beautiful book full of amazing photographs of Catholic Church architecture in England and Wales.
In 1791 Catholic worship and church building became legal again. Previously in the reign of Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603) when the Church of England was established, the Catholics faced stark choices. They had either to conform to the Church of England, using their own parish church but with all the traditional furnishings and images removed, or they would have to face crippling financial penalties and even imprisonment.
In the 1840s the situation was transformed. The confidence and growing wealth encouraged church building on an ambitious scale. The photographs in this book show the amazing splendour of the churches and furnishings and decoration.
English Heritage has only 18% of the Catholic churches listed, and English Heritage are busy in partnership with Catholic dioceses to demonstrate many more deserve recognition for their contribution to the historic environment.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

"Rome Reborn"

Some treasures from the Vatican Library:

- Henry VIII, letters to Anne Boleyn, in English and French, before 1533
The Library acquired these loving letters to Anne Boleyn, from the period, towards the end of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, when he had made Anne Boleyn pregnant and was trying unsuccessfully to obtain a divorce.

- Galileo Galilei, Sunspot observations, 1612
Galileo’s skills as an observer enabled him to create and use the first telescope. These drawings represent sunspots, whose existence proved that the sun wasn’t the perfect, unchanged body that traditional cosmology wanted it to be.

- Homer, Iliad, in Latin and Greek, 1477
These marvellous illustrations were made by a north Italian artist, who here represented Greek and Trojan heroes in ancient armour and costumes, while ships and tents were contemporary. Later images in this series are either merely sketched in or omitted entirely: perhaps funds or time ran out.

These images can be seen in the catalogue from the first of a series of exhibitions that the Library of Congress presented during the 90s about great libraries of the world. The series began with the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Library), the prototypical research library of western culture. Founded by Pope Nicholas V in the 1450s, its collections are not primarily theological and acquisitions policy was focused upon the liberal arts and sciences. The most comprehensive areas are: history of the exact sciences, East Asian languages and literatures, and music history.
Three hundred and fifty years later, the Vatican Library remains the richest collection of western manuscripts and printed books in the world.
Renaissance intellectuals understood that an individual book- especially a manuscript could often be a historical as well as literary document. Especially when the author was a great scientist and writer, or ruler and statesman.
This book, rich in illustrations as it is, offers an amazing Roman experience to the NLS user: a journey through the Vatican Library collections, without leaving Edinburgh. It is also worth remembering that, even if you’re planning a visit to Rome, it is not normally possible to visit the Library as it is not open to the general public, with strict exceptions for researchers.
Read this book at NLS: shelfmark F1/LC.4/51

Monday, 16 November 2009

Saying sorry

Interesting to see that the Australian government will apologise to the thousands of migrants who were sent to that country as children, and that the British government will follow suit. It's a sad story, these kids were from workhouses and slums, sent by charities and other organisations to have a (hopefully) better life elsewhere. But their parents hadn't given permission for them to be taken away. In 1998, the House of Commons Health Committee made recommendations on this matter (including setting up a database and offering counselling services), which also tackled the issue of a formal apology. It states "[the committee] considers that these policies were misguided. To those and their families who see themselves as still deeply scarred it offers sincere regrets. To all it offers a sympathetic recognition of the special challenges they faced in building their lives". Eleven years later, it seems a formal apology is on the cards.

We featured this story in our blog a while back, about the "New Lives for Old" book published by the National Archives (Kew). It's full of heart-breaking first-hand accounts, pictures and letters and is a moving story about a practice which didn't end until the second world war.

You can read it here at the Library, shelfmark GRO.2008.4.1

Monday, 2 November 2009


"Viewpoints: a selection from the Pictorial Collections of the Library of Congress” was published in 1974 to offer an overview of the American library’s collection of images. From a varied selection of historic photographs, modern and ancient prints and drawings, two images caught my attention.

This first is an engraving by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, a Bolognese artist of 17th century: it is headed in rebus form “il [mondo] e’[per] lo piu’ [gabbia] di [matti]”- the world is, for the most part, a cage for madmen.
Clockwise from the top we find Fortune sitting, then the Artist, near the top and outside the cage, absorbed with his palette and sketchbook, the Astronomer, gluttons in the middle, musician and merrymakers at the bottom. Lying on the floor with glasses, and reading the Cabala, there’s an old Jew. On the left a man with a book under his arm is looking through a magnifying glass (maybe a Scientist?). Others are trying to catch coins that are being thrown down from the top of the cage.

The second image is a drawing from 1910 by Charles Dana Gibson and it looks to me as a tribute to beauty and art. This drawing is simply wonderful: for the technique (pencil and pen-and-ink on paper), the subject, the inspired aesthetic pleasure represented. No wonder it’s called: “The sweetest story ever told”.

These two images seem to capture the two main purposes of art: showing the human condition with all its pain and trouble, and offering a consolation, through the beauty and grace of the artistic creation.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Happy 1st Birthday Wellcome Library Blog

Congratulations to the Wellcome Library Blog on receiving 20,000 visits in its first year from people in 139 countries.

Written by Wellcome Library staff, this is an entertaining and informative blog for those interested in the Wellcome's amazing collection of medical history items. If you haven't had a chance to visit, why not do so on its first birthday?

(Photo credit:

Monday, 26 October 2009

Workers Memorial Day

Workers Memorial Day Public consultation
Department for Work and Pensions
Cm 7563

This consultation paper seeks views on proposals for official recognition of Workers Memorial Day in the UK.
It is a day for remembrance for workers killed, injured or made ill by their work. This day originated in Canada in 1984, and it takes place annually on the 28th April. In 2001 the International Labour Organisation recognised this day and announced that it should be a day of action for safety and health at work. It is now recognised in lots of countries.
From 1992 the day has been informally recognised in the UK and now they are growing calls for Government to provide the day with some form of official recognition, subject to the outcome of the consultation, formal recognition will first take effect in the UK on 28 April 2010.

Out of interest the UK has one of the best health and safety records in the world, but even with the best there were 180 workplace fatalities in Britain in 2008/09 and many more die as a result from diseases incurred when they are working. There are around 4000 cancer deaths due to past exposure to asbestos each year and frighteningly every working day over 400 people are seriously injured at work. It is estimated that it costs society £20 billion a year in accidents and ill health, but of course it is impossible to put a price on human suffering.
It is therefore a stark reminder that the 28th April helps challenge those people that trivialise and undermine health and safety and a chance to focus the minds of everyone to improve health and safety performance.
For the whole consultation paper click here.

(Picture credit

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Keep the red flag flying

One of my favourite libraries is the Working Class Movement Library, based in Salford, which has some great on-line resources. There are milestones in the history of employment rights and trade unions, many of which, of course, feature official publications. It's got a blog, too.
What I love about the library is that it's developed from the personal collection of Ruth and Eddie Frow, both avid book collectors, who devoted their lives to the labour movement.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Who to discriminate against...?

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) currently has a consultation on paternity leave. The proposals would give fathers a right to up to six months extra leave which can be taken once the mother has returned to work. Interesting, in light of the recent row about women's maternity rights allegedly "backfiring" (as reported by millionaire businesswoman Nichola Pearse, to the Treasury Select Committee inquiry "Women in the City"). She claims that "excessive" maternity leave stops employers hiring women of child-bearing age, due to the "nightmare" which ensues if they get pregnant. So, if the BIS proposals go ahead, and in the future men and women get equal amounts of parental leave, this should stop employers quietly discriminating against women of child-bearing age. Or will they simply discriminate against everyone of child-bearing age? But then they may fall foul of the age discrimation regulations. Where are all these employer-friendly automatons who don't have kids, get sick or get old?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Winter microbes

As we move towards winter many knitters (myself included) are busily making hats and scarves to ward off the chill. Keeping warm is considered effective in warding off winter germs, particularly influenza.
But what if knitting and microbes were combined?

Part of Manchester Science Festival contains The Big Microbe Knit at the end of this month. For those who fancy a trip to my native Lancashire you can go along and knit the common cold, swine flu (pictured, with beads representing the H and N proteins), cholera and tuberculosis microbes on 31st October. As well as perfecting your purls, you'll be learning scientific facts about the microbes.

Otherwise, you can download the microbe knitting patterns or pick up some inspiration from the Wellcome Image Awards 2009. As the pattern says, "Enjoy, and remember to always wash your hands"!

(Photo credit: Manchester Science Festival 2009 blogger page)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Do women have power?

This 1979 Report to the US Commission on Civil Rights is entitled “Battered Women in Hartford, Connecticut”.
It includes statistics that clarify how serious and widespread the abuse of women was at that time. An interesting paragraph about “Incidence” tells us that abuse occurs in upper and middle income homes as well as poor families. The same incidence is reported in every ethnic group. The level of education does not improve the dramatic situation: the incidence of abuse is similar among professionals, factory workers and unemployed men.
What I personally find amazing about this publication is how it goes straight to the heart of the problem: the reason for abuse against women is officially recognized to be the “institutionalized powerlessness for women”.
The only remedy would be that:
“Women must assume power politically, financially and socially. (…) women must be given equal access to jobs and paid equally for their work, women must be elected to political office”.
Although 30 years old, this report describes an on-going situation: in 2009, in every single democratic country all around the globe, women with the same skills, experience and job title, are paid less than their male colleagues. And women are definitely excluded from certain jobs, like the highest political roles: no Ms President so far…

Friday, 9 October 2009

Explore medical history online

The Intute website has reported several new medical online resources this week, including:

The National Library of Medicine has digitised key volumes from medical history, including De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, Micrographia by Robert Hooke and Historiae Animalium by Conrad Gesner. You can listen to audio commentary, pan and zoom and read notes for each title here.

Small and Special provides free access to the results of a project into the early development of The Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street, in London, which was England's first in-patient hospital for children. The project to analyse the patient registers of the hospital from 1852 to 1914 has been carried out in partnership with Kingston University and funded partly by the Wellcome Trust.

Delta classic public health texts provides free access to full text PDFs of key works in the History of Public Health made possible by Delta Omega - the Honorary Society for graduate studies in Public Health, governed by the National Council. They are generally out of print, or not widely available in libraries. Included from the Nineteenth Century are On the mode of communication of cholera by John Snow, The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever by Wendell Holmes, Notes on Nursing by Florence Nightingale as well as Reports of the Sanitary Commission in Massachusetts.

(Text:, photo credit: National Library of Medicine)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Take a tip from me

Naively, I used to think that tips - to hairdressers, waiters, etc. - helped top up their meagre wages. In fact, their employers used tips as a kind of subsidy to augment the low wages that workers in these industries received. The Department for Business Innovation & Skills has just published The national minimum wage: a code of best practice on service charges, tips, gratuities and cover charges which makes it clear that this practice cannot legally continue, and everyone must receive the National Minimum Wage.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Another NLS

I've been back in Scotland for two weeks now, but on my way back I stopped off at Singapore to break the journey.
For me, no visit to a city is complete without visiting its main library, so I went along to the National Library of Singapore. There was also the added attraction of air-conditioning, my respite from the relentless humid heat....
Seriously, it is an impressive set up. The Central Public Library, the 24-hour bookdrop, study lounge, Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, gardens, exhibition space, rental facilities and library e-kiosks are all housed in a 102.8m high environmentally-friendly building with 59,000 sqm floor space.
Like the National Library of Scotland, the Singapore library collects books under the provision of a Legal Deposit Act (Singapore's National Library Board Act 1995). Unlike the National Library of Scotland which collects one copy, it requires publishers to provide two copies of every publication.
In the northern hemisphere's NLS we have the Bibliography of Scotland; our southern counterpart has Singapore National Bibliography. Both libraries' main function is to preserve works of writers, publishers and producers in all forms and to make them available for public research. It made me feel very close to home.
One thing that is very different to my workplace in Edinburgh is the creation in Singapore's library of its own weather system. An auto irrigation system provides moisture and atrium spaces draw wind in, creating natural ventilation.
So on the next autumnal blustery day here I'll remember the thick heat of Singapore and smile!

(Photos show view of Singapore and the National Library of Singapore main sign)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Dancing and delicacies

It's officially spring here in Australia and the 10th International Congress on Medical Librarianship is in full swing. So far we've been treated to a Brisbane childrens' choir recital and an Aboriginal dance to welcome us to Queensland. We were privileged last night to attend a reception hosted by Her Excellency the Governor of Queensland at her beautiful Victorian home.
Jan has given a paper on the Medical History of British India project and I am due to present my poster this afternoon. We've been delighted to meet so many librarians from 44 countries and discuss our work and the weather (of course!).
There was a fascinating talk on the history of veterinary medicine through postcards yesterday. We learned that in some areas men castrated sheep with their teeth (hence the term "prairie oyster" as a delicacy). And we saw the picture to prove it!

(Photos show Brisbane Children's Choir at ICML 2009 opening ceremony and Francine Millard putting up the Medical History of British India poster)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Winter in Brisbane

ICML 2009 kicked off on Sunday 30th (I think - still a little jet-lagged) with a visit to Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. The librarian, Linda MacMahon, introduced the speakers, Prof. John Pearn and Ross McKinnon.
Prof. Pearn spoke about ethnobotany (indigenous medicine), with fascinating facts such as: the average GP prescribes around 65 types of medicine, yet aboriginal children as young as 5 know 650 different medicinal plants. Of course this knowledge was transferred by oral history rather than written sources. A lot of the plants have both nutritional and medicinal qualities and were treated to extract their various compounds. In fact, one of the first exports from Australia after the "discovery" of the country in 1788 was eucalyptus, used for its many medicinal properties.
Ross McKinnon, director of the garden, gave an entertaining talk on the diverse enquiries a botanic curator can get, such as the case of the exploding trousers (really). In New Zealand, farmers clearing ragwort from their farms using sodium porate found that their clothes literally exploded. One unfortunate man exploded while on his horse (both died...). Of course, this was because the chemical weedkiller reacted to the cotton in the clothes and caused an explosive reaction, The botanical experts at the garden advised using a particular insect to destroy the ragwort rather than a dangerous chemical - problem solved. I think that beats any OPU enquiries into a cocked (bush) hat!

p.s. Winter in Brisbane reached 31 degrees...!

(Photos show Ross McKinnon showing librarians around the gardens and the inside of the BioDome)

A library for all

Jan and I are in Brisbane for the International Congress of Medical Librarianship. We have just had a fabulous and inspiring tour of Queensland State Library. Located on the South Bank, with wonderful views of the river, this library won awards for its architecture. The building has a light airy feel and blends well with the outside environment, with many outdoor spaces for events. Inside, readers can relax on sofas or in armchairs and sleeping is not discouraged.
The John Oxley Library, founded in 1934 by a group of interested members of the public, is a vital part of the State Library. It collects, by gift, donation and legal deposit, items relating to or published in Queensland. Some items on display include specimens of cloth from the three voyages of Captain Cook, a transcription of William Bligh's log from his ship Providence and some early estate maps of the Gold Coast. There are numerous art objects on show, plus a display of handbags.
A children's area, firepit for indigenous story sharing, meeting rooms, theatre, and a large Internet area (where I am now), make this a place for everyone to come and enjoy. Mind you, I would be too busy looking out of the window to do much reading!

(Photos show side view of State Library of Queensland and the view from near the firepit of the riverfront)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

We're moving!

We're moving offices, but our blog's staying right here. However, as we're up to our ears in skips, etc. our posts may be a little sparse for a few days, but keep popping in! (or better still, subscribe, so you don't miss anything).

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

OPU exhibition

Thousands of events are taking place over Edinburgh just now ....the fringe has arrived. However, there is one small event that you will love to see and that is the Offical Publications Exhibition. It is taking place at the National Library of Scotland for the month of August and it is a display entitled Celebrating a Decade of the Scottish Parliament.
Elaine Simpson and Catherine Davies have put a small collection of items together the display cases, outside the reading rooms.
Items on display will be a quiz about the Scottish Parliament, an item in Scots language, code of conduct for the Ministers and other interesting items from the Scottish Parliament first decade.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Celtic Connections?

We've been fortunate to be awarded more funds from the Wellcome Trust to digitise more material for the Medical History of British India Online project, this time the reports of the Lunatic Asylums. They're a fascinating resource for the study of mental illness, but also very revealing of social and moral attitudes of the day.

One, General report no. 6 on the lunatic asylums, vaccination and dispensaries in the Bengal Presidency, 1873 reports that "Burmans are like Celts - clannish; they associate and combine together for mischief ...they defy discipline...and incite misconduct in others..."

Of the types of mental illness documented, most are reported to be the result of ganja, but also includes "40 patients addicted to onanism, which I consider to be a predisposing cause to idiotcy ... in spite of every care and treatment, they still continue to practice this fatal vice, which has already deprived them of reason and is hurrying them to their graves."

These 40 are men, but the women are the subject of study because of the "[probability] of menstrual irregularity being the existing cause of insanity". Anyone who's had PMS ( or been on the receiving end!) will sympathise...

Friday, 31 July 2009

You are what you eat

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) caused a bit of a furore in the press this week when it published its report on organic food which claimed that there was no nutritional benefit in going for the organic food option. Pro-organic campaigners protested that the report had "missed the point", but the FSA had never intended to look at chemical residues in food, such as pesticides in veg. and anti-biotics and growth hormones in livestock. From a purely nutritional aspect, no difference was found in organic compared to non-organic, though of course many people choose organic to avoid chemicals, and for animal welfare and environmental reasons.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

18 inches or less!

Lucile Ltd London, Paris, New York and Chicago 1890s – 1930s
By Valerie D. Mendes and Amy De La Haye
V&A Publishing

This delightful book is my coffee table book choice of the month.
It centres upon an album of fashion designs by Lucile.
Lucile is Lady Duff Gordon, who was an early divorcee and a Titanic survivor.

The dress and coat designs are beautiful, the range and depth of colours is a visual treat. You want to touch the designs as they are rich and vibrant; the sheen of fabric and the drape of material makes you forget that these are pictures and not the real thing.
One thing that stands out is the very noticeable narrow waists 18 inches or less. Even though the women look stunning, what would it have been like to have been pulled and prodded into a corset to achieve the hourglass figure?
Lucile was probably the first designer to have fashion houses in London, Paris, New York and Chicago. She has been credited with starting the first fashion parade now known as the catwalk show.

Monday, 27 July 2009

The all seeing eye

The telescope: a short history has just been catalogued.

Richard Dunn’s book offers an illustrated overview of the history of the telescope. He writes that the telescope’s true inventor may never be known. Surviving records suggest 1608 when Hans Lipperhey and others applied for a patent. The name ‘telescopium’ was formally announced in 1611, two years after Galileo began making telescopes.
Dunn’s lively narrative chronicles Galileo’s first astronomical observations and Draper’s moon photographs of 1840. He describes the 1957 Jodrell Bank radio telescope dish as Britain’s post-war national pride and tourist attraction. The epilogue looks to the future, building on the legacy of the Hubble Space Telescope and Large Binocular Telescope. The telescope has developed from small instruments to giant radio arrays; beginning as an extension of human sight it allows man to see in previously unimagined ways. From looking out at space to understanding the origin of the universe, this book shows both history and potential of this remarkable instrument.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Vanity Fair portraits and other coffee table books

Sometimes a book comes in that we can all drool over (not literally - we are much too preservation conscious for that), and Vanity Fair Portraits is a beauty. It was published to accompany a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, last year, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, earlier this year. If you missed it you can always hop over to Australia to catch it at the Portrait Gallery in Canberra, 12 June-30 August 2009...

Lived in London is all about those "blue plaques and the stories behind them", and is another richly illustrated official publication (English Heritage this time). A bit too hefty to carry with you on a London walk, nevertheless it is full of fascinating stuff about famous London inhabitants. In Bedford Square alone you can find such diverse figures as the Indian scholar and reformer Ram Mohun Roy, Anthony Hope (who wrote the Prisoner of Zenda), Thomas Wakley, founder of The Lancet,the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and, just round the corner, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage.

We get lots of "art" books, usually exhibition catalogues from government-funded institutions, both UK and overseas, so don't think it's all "dry" government statistics here!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Pound in your pocket

The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) today (Thursday 9th July) decided to keep interest rates at .05%. If you're in the dark about how they reach their decisions, and wonder if black magic and possibly chicken's entrails are involved, then you can find out all about them on the Bank of England website (where you'll also read all you ever wanted to know about quantitative easing...).
We get lots of publications by the Bank and about the Bank, including those from the House of Commons Treasury Committee on appointments to the MPC, such as the scrutiny of Spencer Dale's appointment.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

2009 influenza pandemic

Last week the World Health Organization announced the first flu pandemic since 1968.
The Lancet's H1N1 flu resource centre has free resources, pdf documents, video and links and is well worth a visit. You can sign up for email updates, too.

(Photo credit: The Lancet)

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Knitty gritty

Knitting has become a very fashionable pastime; perhaps it is a bid to step out of our hi-tech busy lives and create handcrafted items and gifts at home or with others. This feature on the Victoria and Albert Museum's website includes 1940's knitting patterns and knitting podcasts.
A fine example of Official Publications white propaganda on the NLS Propaganda web feature shows a booklet of patterns. Dating from 1941 (see photo opposite) the booklet encourages women to do their bit for Britain by knitting for the army.

OPU also collects publications from the V&A. Recent acquisitions include:

Art Deco fashion
Hats: an anthology
Japanese art and design.

If you are feeling inspired to do your bit with yarn and needles, this month celebrates World Wide Knit in Public Day, with "knit-ins" happening all over the globe starting this weekend (13th June).

(Photo credit: National Library of Scotland)

Of germs and men

The third edition of Communicable disease epidemiology and control by Roger Webber has just been catalogued in OPU.
The steady progress of avian influenza and now the emergence and spread of A(H1N1) influenza ("swine flu") mean that communicable diseases are not just a concern for the medical fraternity. Disease seems to be in the headlines daily.
If you wish to find out more about disease, epidemics, sanitation and public health, this revised and updated book is a comprehensive guide. Clearly laid out, it features causes and characteristics of diseases along with methods of transmission, and includes the essentials of parasitology and entomology. New threats to health such as pox diseases, arboviruses and hospital infections are covered as well as bioterrorism.
Summary tables of clinical presentations, diagrams and maps, plus an extensive list of diseases make this book useful to health professionals, epidemiologists and the casual reader.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

You are what you eat

In March 1919, the Royal Society Food (War) Committee published Report on the food requirements of man and their variations according to age, sex, size, and occupation. This fascinating study on diet, energy requirements and food quality has just been added to the online catalogue.
The average height of a man in 1883 was 5 ft 7.4 inches. Women averaged 5 ft 2.7 inches. American and Canadians, measured in 1912, were slightly taller.
Energy and food requirements are divided into job type. A stonemason was deemed to have the most food/energy requirements, at 5,500 calories, a tailor 2,750 calories per day.
"Brain workers" - as the report dubs those who did paperwork and "abstruse calculations" - required more consideration than that of the bodily labourer. It recommends providing these workers with "more expensive animal foods" than "the man who earns his living by the work of his muscles." The reason given was that the food consumed by the desk bound employee has to be light and digestible. This holds true today - most people know that sluggish feeling after a large carbohydrate-based lunch..!

Human Trafficking

The Trade in Human Beings : Human Trafficking in the UK
Sixth report of the Home Affairs Committee
HC paper 23 I-II

This two volume work has recently landed on my desk and as I was cataloguing it I was appalled at the key facts that were mentioned.
Some of the facts are :
1. At a conservative estimate there are at least 5,000 trafficking victims in the UK.
2. There are about 8,000 women work in off-street prostitution in London alone.
3. It is also estimated that 330 child victims will be trafficked into the UK each year 4. That each sex trafficker earns on average £500-£1000 per woman per week.
5. There are only 100-300 prosecutions for trafficking across the EU each year.
6. About 60% of suspected child victims in local authority care go missing and are not subsequently found.
In the introduction it mentions that although we are becoming more aware of human trafficking as we read in the news about the Chinese cockle-pickers that died in Morecombe Bay in 2004. It seems that although slavery has been abolished the insidious form of trading human beings for forced labour and sexual exploitation still takes place in this developed country.
What is Human Trafficking?
The Un defines human trafficking as: the recruitment, transportation, transfer harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat to use force of other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, or deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

It boils down to the victims are in effect “owned” by the traffickers.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

New Chief Veterinary Officer

It was announced today that Simon Hall has been appointed Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland. Simon is currently Head of International Animal Health at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and will succeed Charles Milne in July.

Friday, 29 May 2009

It shouldn't happen to a vet

I’ve just read The Several lives of a Victorian vet by Jean Ware and Hugh Hunt, covering the career of Griffith Evans.
Evans arrived in Bombay in 1877 at the instigation of Queen Victoria’s Principal Veterinary Surgeon, and began work on anthrax at Sialkot. He was the first man to diagnose the disease in India and went on to discover the pathogenic trypanosome which caused the disease surra (meaning “gone rotten”). In 1880 he wrote his Report on surra disease, but his colleagues regarded him as a “crank”, and the Governor-General lamented that Evans had not managed to find a cure in the 4 week period he’d been given to research the disease.
Evans’ hope of being promoted to Principal Veterinary Surgeon of India was dashed when he was effectively banished to Madras.
Evans was serving as a Veterinary Surgeon in poor, hot conditions and trying to promote his findings on surra. Evans describes his daily work in trying to locate the surra parasite, “I had to work with the microscope for many hours a day out-of-doors at the sick lines, or else in a stable, when the thermometer was 82 degrees within a cool bungalow, and the sun pouring down its rays through a cloudless sky…very few investigators know what that means.”
However in the early 1880’s John Henry Steel (pictured courtesy of BVC), of Bombay Veterinary College, hailed Evans as the discoverer of the surra microbe. Abroad, Pasteur and Koch had also taken notice of Evans’ work and in 1883 Evans was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, leaving India a year later. Steel’s own report on a fatal disease among transport mules in Burma contains Evans' original surra findings and is part of the Veterinary project I am working on.

Beavering away

After a 400 year absence, eleven beavers have been re-introduced in Argyll, Scotland. This is part of Scottish Natural Heritage's Species Action Framework, but is also the culmination of a 13-year investigation by SNH into the practicalities of the re-introduction. There were public consultations, and reports on possible risks to public health (apparently beavers can carry giardia and cryptosporidium bacteria).

There has been opposition, mainly from angling enthusiasts and some landowners, who are concerned at possible disruption to fisheries and damage to the landscape, but the scheme will be constantly monitored by a group including SNH and the Argyll Fisheries Trust.

I hope it's a success - people wiped out beavers through over-hunting, so it'd be great to see them back where they belong.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Rogue states

On Monday North Korea tested a nuclear device reportedly as large as the Hiroshima bomb (picture from U.S. National Archives and Records Administration), and has since then tested short range missiles, restarted its nuclear reactor and declared it is no longer bound by the terms of the ending of the 1953 Korean war.

North Korea objects to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a grouping initiated by the Bush Administration in 2003 to prevent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from "reaching or leaving states or sub-state actors of proliferation concern" - in effect, to stop and search ships suspected of carrying WMD. The grouping is outwith the authority of the United Nations, reflecting the Bush's disdain for the UN. South Korea on Wednesday became the 95th member of the PSI.

Friday, 15 May 2009

"Starter for 10" answers

Passing the Life in the UK test

How did you get on with the questions? Could you have passed the test to live permanently in the UK or apply for British Citizenship.
What is a quango? - a non-departmental body.
Why did the Huguenots come to Britain? - to avoid religious persecution.
How many days a year must schools be open? - 190.
In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband? - 1857.
How many parliamentary constiuencies are there? - 646.
and how many senior MPs make up the cabinet? - 20.

Order! Order!

The Official Report [Hansard] House of Commons publication "Centenary volume 1909-2009:
An anthology of historic and memorable House of Commons speeches to celebrate the first 100 years"
makes an interesting read.
The Rt. Hon. Michael J. Martin (Speaker) says in his foreword that he thinks that it was Tony Benn who described Hansard as the “only uncensored newspaper in Britain”. It starts with a concise history of how Hansard came about and then goes on to famous speeches that have been chosen by various people.
There are a few gems from unfortunate mps that have managed to say the wrong thing, for example:-
“It took the trees some time to recover as they had been chopped down.”
“The number of firearms offences has shot through the roof.”
“I have the misfortune to represent more irradiated sheep than any other hon. Member.” (Chernobyl Nuclear disaster).

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Snouts in the trough, or legitimate expenses?

Extensive media coverage means we're all aware that MPs' "Claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties. Allowances are reimbursed only for the purpose of a Member carrying out his or her parliamentary duties".

However, public opinion on this matter means that certain MPs have not carefully considered the following:
"Members must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else"

And they may have to be reminded that "Members are committed to openness about what expenditure has been incurred and for what purposes".

You can read all about it in The Green Book, or guide to MPs' expenses.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Scrimp and Save

As well as the little piece I did for Discover NLS on "make do and mend" (on page 9, entitled "Three publications intended for hard times"), I noticed that the Imperial War Museum had done something similar with their "Top Tips for Hard Times" on their website. They also have Tweets from "Mrs Sew-and-Sew"!

One illustration that couldn't be fitted into the Discover NLS article is the one featured here, which was meant to show that ‘growing your own’ added to the war effort by lessening the need to import food, therefore freeing up ships to load cargoes of weapons and other wartime essentials instead. This is in the publication Food from the garden. The other 2 publications featured are "Make Do and Mend and Wise eating in wartime.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Shrinking the malaria map

25th April was World Malaria Day and today I was listening to the excellent Lancet podcast about the latest global programmes to control and eliminate malaria. Pam Das and Sir Richard Feacham discuss why, in the last 2 years, funding has made significant effect on controlling malaria particularly in the malaria heartland of tropical Africa and in other areas such as Sri Lanka, China and Latin America. Goals have been set to eradicate malaria by 2050. This involves a 3 pronged "Roll Back Malaria" programme: aggressive control in malaria heartlands; progressive elimination in endemic margins (also known as Shrinking the Malaria Map); intensive research.
World Malaria Day was the start of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) partnership's "Counting Malaria out" campaign, which aims to provide effective intervention in 100% of the population of endemic countries by 2010. This will involve indoor spraying of 200 million homes annually, the installation of 700 million insecticide-treated bednets, 1.5 billion annual diagnostic tests and more than 200 million doses of treatment.
Online documents and multimedia resources are on the World Malaria Day website.
The WHO's World Malaria report 2008 is available in our Official Publications collection.

Friday, 17 April 2009

All horses great and small

The Civil Veterinary Department of India had 3 main duties: horse-breeding; animal disease research and control; instruction in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry.
While adding metadata for several India-wide CVD volumes (this is one example from 1893-94) I came across interesting correspondence between Veterinary Officers about procurement of good quality horses in the early 1890's. Troop horses from Arabia and Hungary were particularly sought after as they could work for longer in the hot climate on less food than UK horses. "[Hungarian horses] are strong, with great stamina and stand fatique...better than any other horse," wrote J.B. Hallen.
Transit from Buda Pesth to Bombay by rail and steamer cost £10-15 per horse, including the groom's wages and expenses, so it wasn't cheap to import the animals.
Australian Thoroughbreds were also recommended as excellent breeding stock for cavalry mounts.
There are many tables in these volumes recording Government stallions and mules. Some of the names are fascinating - there are occupational names like The Doctor, The Butler and The Lawyer, royal names such as Silver King, Black Prince and His Grace, Imperial names like Colony Boy and East Indian, men's monikers such as Stanley, Stuart and David, and funny ones like Martini Henry, Sinbad the Sailor and Not Beaton. The Arabs were more exotically christened; there are Pasha, Silvermane, Khushnuma and Ali Abdoolah. My favourites are Wigwam, Safety Valve and Leotard!

Starter for 10

Life in the United Kingdom
Passing the life in the UK test - official practice questions and answers.

This book is based on the content of the Official Home Office Life in the UK handbook. It is a guide to the questions asked in the Life in the UK test, so if you want to live permanently in the UK or apply for British Citizen, you need to take the test.
It contains over 400 questions in a variety of formats such a multiple choice, true or false statements, etc. and maybe more importantly has the answers to the questions.
The instructions are simple to follow and each test should be answered in 45 minutes. The pass rate is 18 out of the 24 questions in each test which is a 75% pass mark.
Some of the questions are:
What is a quango?
Why did the Huguenots come to Britain?
How many days a year must schools be open?
In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband?
How many parliamentary constituencies are there?
And how many senior MPS make up the cabinet?
Do you know the answers to these questions?
I will post the answers on the blog next week.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Photo feature

Have a look at our new feature, our Flickr badge, which has photos of some of our collections, an exhibition launch party, and the Kolkata Book Fair (more to come). You'll find it on the right hand side under the "Subscribe" information. Just click on any of the wee boxes in the "badge" and you'll be taken to the Flickr page with my photstream where you can view all the pics.

The lurking plague

During retroconversion of our printed catalogue, my colleagues discovered The plague manual, published by the World Health Organization in 1976. It was bubonic plague, caused by Yersinia pestis, which caused over 25 million people to die between 1347-1352.
There are several forms of plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicaemic. Plague is certainly not a disease of the distant past; it is endemic throughout the world today.
The Plague Manual describes plague survey teams, the Central Plague Laboratory guidelines, serological and bacteriological examination of plague-suspect material, fleas and plague control methods. Annexes contain diagrams showing how to skin a small mammal and flea anatomy.
The WHO's webpage on plague contains today's plague manual, plus factsheets and disease outbreak information.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Rate for the job?

The National Minimum Wage came into force 10 years ago today (Wednesday 1st April) despite fears from some quarters that it would "destroy" thousands of jobs; research shows that this has not been the case. The legislation is backed by penalties for employers who do not pay the minimum wage and these have been strengthened in recent years.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A site for bored eyes

The Science Museum's History of Medicine site, Brought to Life, is well worth a visit if you are interested in learning more about diseases, surgery, medical techniques and objects and famous scientists.
The site is split into areas which makes it handy to surf in small chunks. There is material to support both GCSE and undergraduate study and the selected links and bibliographies offer further tantalising information at the end of each article.
The site is funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Photo credit: Science Museum home page

Monday, 23 March 2009

Operation "Allied Force" - 10 years on

It's the 10th anniversary tomorrow (24th March) of Operation Allied Force, which was a bombing campaign by NATO in the former Yugoslavia as a response to Slobodan Milosevic's military action in Kosovo. Looking through our Kosovo resorces, it just brought home to me how much official information is now on-line, and also what a great resource the House of Commons Library Research paper series is. There's a very good background paper by the Library staff of the first few days of the NATO air strikes, and it's certainly worth looking amongst these papers for information on just about any issue, international or otherwise, that the UK has a vested interest in. They're all at shelfmark GHC-I.9, so you can browse our online catalogue using the "Shelfmark" search.

(Picture credit: NATO)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

TB or not TB

Tuesday 24th March is World TB Day which is a continuation of a two-year campaign to stop TB. The day raises awareness of people who are affected by tuberculosis (TB) throughout the world.
Here in Official Publications, we have many leaflets about TB from the UK's Department of Health as well as information from the World Health Organization.
Some may think TB is an illness of the past - TB is well known for killing writers Katherine Mansfield, Anne and Emily Bronte, Anton Chekhov and John Keats - and that it has no place in today's society. But TB has been on the increase since the 1990's in European cities and whilst antibiotics have been an efficacious treatment for the tuberculosis bacilli, the emergence of Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB) and Extensively drug resistant TB (XDR TB) is a serious concern.
(Picture credit:

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

500 years behind bars

Prison: five hundred years of life behind bars by Edward Marston, has just been added to the OPU collection. It is published by the National Archives and contains information extracted from the documents and photographs held there.
It is a comprehensive history of prisons, from the Tower of London through to Victorian developments and the abolition of hanging. Illustrative plates show records and photographs of prisoners, prison plans and even prolific hangman Albert Pierrepoint's request for execution equipment.
In his conclusion, Marston writes, "Prison involved loss - loss of family, loss of friends, loss of reputation, loss of earning power and loss of control. Most of all, it meant loss of liberty, and this has remained the basic ingredient of imprisonment until the present day."
This book tells how this was implemented throughout history and what impact it had on those who were behind bars.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Clash of cultures

With President Obama recently declaring his intention to begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, I was having a look at some of our Iraq war items. One is a primer for U.S. military personnel deployed to Arab countries, "Through the lens of cultural awareness"*, which lists the various "cultural" mistakes made in their dealings with the Iraqi population, such as: "Soldiers have shown ignorance of Islamic religious practice. For example, Iraqis arrested by US troops have had their heads forced to the ground, a position forbidden by Islam except during prayers. This action offends detainees as well as bystanders . . . the military has enough to worry about without alienating the local population.”

Interestingly, it also includes T.E. Lawrence's 27 articles on working with Arab armies.

You can read it here in NLS* or online.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Great Reform Act

(or more correctly The Representation of the People Act of 1832) was a piece of ground-breaking legislation which began to change the country's electoral system.

The National Archives' Learning Curve website has some original sources on political protest which helped the drive towards electoral reform. The British Library's recent exhibition, "Taking Liberties", on the fight for Britain's freedoms and rights, features the Act.

And of course, the National Library also has a new feature which includes this major event. Plans of 75 Scottish towns were published to implement the Act in Scotland, and you can now see them on our Map Library's
Great Reform Acts plans and reports website, which includes the House of Commons text accompanying each map.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Stop that camel!

The Indian journal of veterinary science and animal husbandry contains hundreds of articles covering a range of subjects such as parasites, tapeworms, animal diseases, nutritional values of animal feed, milk and wool yields, even foetal monstrosities. Following on from Jan's post on cannabis, today I found that camels were used to smuggle opium and charas (handmade hashish formed into balls or sticks).
The article in volume 11 is from 1941 and states: "The Sinai Police are an exceptionally subtle body of men and can almost smell narcotics through a brick wall and eventually nine camels were put under suspicion at Kantara and three others were soon in the lock-up at El Arish."
The drugs were smuggled in the camels' stomachs: "The strange ability of the camel [is] to swallow 25 heavy containers 15 x 4 cm. and to be able to travel and work with little inconvenience to himself."
The inconvenience came when 'guilty' camels were slaughtered and the drugs seized from their first stomachs. Lead was used by the smugglers to prevent the drugs from travelling any further through the animals' systems.
With over 30,000 camels passing annually from the East into Egypt, the authorities proposed using an x-ray's "searching beam" to detect drugs. "An interesting case of the use of science in the perpetration of crime as well as in its detection!" concludes E.S. Farbrother, the Director of Veterinary Services in Bombay.
(Camel photo credit:

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Batholomew Archive - now blogging

Our colleagues in the Map Library now have a blog with regular posts about the Bartholomew Archive. As the site explains, the Archive is the remarkable record of the Edinburgh-based firm of map engravers, printers and publishers, John Bartholomew & Son Ltd. It is one of the most extensive cartographic archives available for research in a public institution.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Smoking is bad for you...

The government's latest public information film warning 11-18 year-olds about the dangers of cannabis continues to stimulate debate about the drug. Over a hundred years ago, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report (the largest ever report into its cultivation, use and effects)was published. You can find it here at the NLS; The first report (there are 8) contains some great sepia photographs.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Obama's blog

President Obama's changes at the White House include a new White House website and a blog (all the best people have a blog...!), though of course, it isn't actually him who's posting the entries. Still, it's worth a look. He's Tweeting as well.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Heading home

After a successful NLS "gig", Kevin and I are heading for home tomorrow. Kevin's talk, "Kolkata Curiosities" went really well at the Book Fair yesterday, and despite me having a rotten cold, I managed to get through my talk at the NLI this afternoon. The assembled librarians were quite a shy bunch, so not many questions, but all contributions were very positive. The NLI director K. K. Banerjee was there (as was ours - Martyn Wade arrived safely this morning) and it all looks very promising for partnerships between our two national libraries. I was interviewed for TV, too (what with the paparazzi earlier in the week and now this, it's quite gone to my head).

Edinburgh's going to seem very strange when we get back.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Malaria capers...

I should mention that yesterday we paid homage to the Scot Sir Ronald Ross, who of course proved the link between anopheles mosquitoes and the transmission of the malaria virus. This plaque is in the grounds of a Calcutta hospital, on the spot where Ross's laboratory stood. We took along the Malaria Giant Microbe to visit his nemesis!