Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Home: A time traveller's tales from Britain's prehistory

Digging around the back of his nightshelf, Stephen Town has found another couple of great reads to donate to the Library.

Pryor, F., Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory in the University Library at EA 2.942 PRY

As many students depart the university, the thoughts of some will turn to home, the subject of my next donation. The author, Francis Pryor, is well-known for his popular writings on archaeology and his appearances on Time Team. We already have most of Pryor’s more academic contributions in the Library, but surprisingly not his ‘Britain BC’ which I found an engaging, readable and informative survey of British prehistory, informed by Pryor’s own field experience on Bronze age sites. I will therefore also add this to my intended donation as this week’s bonus.

Our view of what makes a home has changed over time.
Photo: Making mesolithic tea by Hans Splinter. Used under a Creative Commons license

Pryor's 'Home' covers some similar ground to Britain BC, but from the perspective of the family, their homes and lives. There is an initial focus on Star Carr, the Yorkshire Mesolithic settlement, where the first identifiable British house was built around eleven thousand years ago. Pryor then follows the evidence from other settlements through the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, taken from sites such as Durrington Walls and Flag Fen. These reveal the sophistication of these earlier times and emphasise the importance of the family and their immediate broader social groups to developing culture.

Pryor’s basic thesis is that family life was a key change agent before the arrival of centralised control (and force) with the Romans. The style is sometimes irritating in this work, but his enthusiasm and polemical fervour enliven the story. Our own Professor Nicky Milner  also receives a prominent acknowledgement.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Wifi: not as easy as you might think

Why is managing wifi on a large scale so tricky? Matthew Seymour explains.

Netflix would need more than 23 days to buffer
an episode of Game of Thrones (1)
For those who remember a time before wifi, when internet access was via a slow modem and viewing videos an impossible dream, it often seems amazing we can move so much data, so quickly, without wires.

Wifi is now everywhere, almost... It's such an ubiquitous technology that we just expect it to be there, we rely on it and make the mistake of thinking it's an easy thing to implement.

The impression of simplicity is understandable because on a small scale, wifi is pretty easy. Scaling it up to a large building and campus is a different story.

There’s always a place to escape from wifi (2)
To understand why wifi gets tricky for big networks it's helpful to know a little bit about how it works and one crucial way in which it's very different to a modern wired network. So here's a tiny bit of history.

Most computer networks are built with Ethernet. It was designed in the early 70s and has seen a lot of development over the years. In its early days all computers on an Ethernet segment shared the wire with everything transmitted on the network visible to all machines.

Because it was a shared wire, only one computer could talk at once and part of what made Ethernet so successful was the simplicity of the system for handling this. If two computers talked at the same time, both detected the resulting collision on the wire almost immediately. They'd both stop, then wait a random amount of time before trying again and hoping for the best. This is really effective, up to a point.

Network switches - loved by network technicians and kittens alike (3)
As you might imagine, as you increase the amount of data traffic you can reach a point where collisions become so frequent that all the machines spend most of their time waiting to try again. A previously fast Ethernet network could be brought to its knees by excessive collisions caused by too many computers, too much traffic or even a faulty computer belching out rubbish onto the wire.

Fast forward a few years and we no longer use a shared wire, each computer connects to a network switch capable of two-way communication and collisions are (or at least should be) a thing of the past.

But what has this got to do with wifi?

If I tell you that wifi uses a shared medium (the air) and that only one station can talk at a time… does that sound familiar? Because we haven't yet found a way to provide a separate universe for each wifi user to occupy, this time there's no option but to share the air.

How different wifi devices use the network affects this shared air time. Older devices that connect at a slower speed therefore take up more air time. They talk more slowly, and while they’re doing so nobody else can get a word in. But even the latest, super fast Macbook with AC wireless will drop to a slow connection speed if the signal level isn't so good, or there's a lot of interference. What people do is even more significant: a single access point might support 150 clients happily if they're just doing email and a bit of web browsing; bursty traffic works well on a shared medium. The same setup might only support two clients streaming Netflix, which requires a reliable high speed connection.

Wifi design for Ainsty Court, Halifax College
Looking at the building in 3D shows that we don't have
enough channels to avoid overlap
Just as you begin to see how complex the picture is, there's a whole other challenge presented by the shared medium: wifi works in three dimensions.

Imagine our wifi network is a group of people sitting around a table. We know only one can speak at a time without words colliding into garbled nonsense that nobody understands, but it works because everyone's polite.

Now another meeting has started up next door. Because both groups can hear each other the number of people who can cause a collision by talking at the same time is increased.

Then another meeting kicks off in a room above. Because all three groups can hear each other, collisions become even more likely but worse still some of the people upstairs can't hear some of the people downstairs and vice-versa so collisions become almost guaranteed.

Wifi segments the network by using different channels so our three meetings could all take place on separate, non-interfering channels. But it's rare to have enough channels to go round, so for wifi to cover a whole building there's going to be some channel re-use going on across different access points between floors and they'll be in range of each other. This is known as channel contention.

Not only is wifi design challenging, it's also an iterative process because nothing stays the same. Not that long ago most people had one wifi device (laptop) now it's common to have a smartphone, laptop, tablet, console… and maybe throw a desktop into the mix too.

The way people use the network has changed dramatically too. More of us stream audio and video to our devices, placing a much greater demand on that shared air time.

As a result we're seeing some areas where a network design that worked really well for a few years starts to struggle as more is demanded from it. Because of the channel contention issue, just installing more wireless access points doesn't work, and often makes the problem worse.

IT Services are working hard and investing a lot of money in wifi but essentially all this boils down to: getting wifi right is hard and even when you get it right, it won't be right for long.

Image credits:

  1. By Ralf Kühne - used under a Creative Commons license
  2. By Dushan Hanuska - used under a Creative Commons license
  3. By Michael Himbeault - used under a Creative Commons license

Friday, 19 June 2015

The buried giant

Taking a step away from academic literature, Stephen Town adds a lighter, but no less compelling read to his Nightshelf donations.

Ishiguro, K., The buried giant, coming soon to the University Library

Disclaimer: the book isn't actually about a buried giant
The Awakening by Jeff Kubina. Used under a Creative Commons licence
I have steered clear of novels in my gifts so far, although there is no reason why these do not fall into the category of popular but serious, and I do have a lot of fiction on my nightshelf. As holidays approach it might be helpful to identify at least one item for possible summer reading. I read this book as one of my ‘airport’ selections for a week in Lake Como. Normally I load up my Kindle, but lack of preparation and the need to occupy waiting time meant selecting a hard copy, and as the library already has an electronic version, this can go on the shelves for traditionalists.

Arthurian history is hazy and contradictory.
Licensed under Public Domain
by Wikimedia Commons
I chose this book not only because of Ishiguro’s record of producing great works (Never Let Me Go I found particularly chilling), but also because of my interest in what used to be called the Dark Ages and specifically Arthurian history, literature and speculation. Driving to work through the possible site of the Battle of Badon every day to my previous job never ceased to provide a thrill, and I have an extensive collection of Arthurian related books.

The easiest way to describe this book is strange. Reviewers seem to have had difficulty both categorising and understanding it, and it is not as easy or smooth a read as Ishiguro’s other work. Is it a fable, an allegory, a romance or a comment on contemporary international relations? You can decide for yourself.

A mist has descended on Britain as Britons and Saxons live side by side; but they do so partly because the mist makes them forget past atrocities. An elderly couple seek their son in a landscape which is populated with mythical beasts and remnants of former combatants including Sir Gawain.

The conclusion is disturbing.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Magna Carta manifesto : liberties and commons for all

Marking 800 years since the Magna Carta, Stephen Town adds another compelling read to his Nightshelf donations.

Linebaugh, P., The Magna Carta manifesto, in the University Library at H 2.1 LIN

This is the week of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and so this subject is hard to avoid. The bandwagon of new publications on the topic is large, but I have decided to make a gift of a work published some time ago which I came across in the University of Washington Bookshop in Seattle while at a conference.

Whilst this is an academic work, like probably most books written on the Charter, it has a bias and a polemical style. It is unusual to commence such a work with a Monty Python quotation.

The book concentrates not solely on the Magna Carta itself, but also the accompanying Charter of the Forest created two years later. This other document may not generate much interest this week, but the Forest Charter was much more significant to ‘common’ people than the Great Charter, and has modern day resonance in relation to the basic necessities of living a free life. As the author, Peter Linebaugh says, “political and legal rights can only exist on an economic foundation. To be free citizens we need to be equal producers and consumers”.

It may not share the spotlight, but the
Forest Charter was much more significant
to 'common' people

I found this a startling book, because it pointed up my ignorance about the history of rights in this country, and suggested that I had not appreciated what the word ‘commons’ really means. Everyone will be talking about rights this week, but this book may be a better source for deeper thought than some of the other contributions lining the bookshop shelves.

Further reading:

The Library also has a number of e-resources on the Magna Carta including excerpts provided by Early English Books online. These can be found through Yorsearch.

Confessions of a 'technically' well behaved library user

James Lythgoe looks back to darker times in the Library...

The Library phone, back in the day
Real Rotary Phone by Joe Monin
Used under a Creative Commons licence
Picture the scene: A peaceful Friday afternoon in the Library, the phone rings:

"University of York Library, how can I help?"

Silence on the line, a disgruntled sigh, then: "Oh damn, never mind, but hi anyway."

It transpired that a postgraduate friend of mine was calling in an attempt to blag their way out of some fines, but as soon as they heard my voice they knew it was hopeless. 1

"I can't help with this, but I can help you get out of lots of fines in the future"


"Yes: just remember to click the ‘renew’ button every couple of weeks!" 2

"Oh, great... thanks. You could have just cut me a break you know, anyway how many fines did you have when you were a student Mr just-click-the-button?"

"Er, one… in my first term. I misread the due time… and I was so embarrassed I think I was actually blushing when I paid the fine off."

"I should have known." *sigh*

At that point they, perhaps unsurprisingly, hung up, but it got me thinking (read: worrying neurotically) about whether I was a 'good' library user, fines or no fines. And I realised that although I always technically followed the rules that didn't stop me being a morally dubious library user.

The rules have changed since I was a student so that nobody will have to face the same kind of moral angst; but for the sake of my uneasy conscience here's a partial confession and a quick delve into the murky past of such unhappy library rules as *dah dah daaaaah*:

Postgraduate loans!

Prior to the glorious advent of flexible loans there was a bibliotechnical dark age when tyrannical academics and their postgraduate lackeys could loan books for whole terms at a time, with no recalls to offer succor or relief to undergraduates languishing under the yoke of inaccessible literature.

Angry Peasant Mob by Eldeem
Used under a Creative Commons licence
Before the researchers among you begin handing out the pitchforks and torches to demand a return to the old ways remember that with no recalls whatsoever this system only benefits the first person to get the book, creating a Hobbesian war of all against all.

Which is why, drunk with academic optimism, the thrill of new-found power and the certain knowledge that if I didn't get them right away I might have to wait a whole term for any book I might potentially want to consult I checked out my full allocation of twenty (3) on the first day of term... and returned quite a few of them at the end of my last term two years later. At least two were entirely unread, and I'd kept many of the ones I actually did use even when I didn't need them "just in case".

Admittedly they could still have been requested… but would you bother to request a book that you could only hope to borrow at the end of the term? It was the fear of being caught in that unhappy twilight which had driven me to such decadent excess in the first place.

But this pales in comparison to the beyond-the-pale of *shocked gasp*:

Key Texts desks!

*on cue dramatic thunder and lightning*

The part of the Library which is now home to the cafe and the light and adventurous sliding-door maze of the entrance, was not always such a happy region. It was once home to the Key Texts area, but a Key Texts area unlike any you could find today, except perhaps in your most febrile, before-deadline nightmares.

Key Texts Area of Yesteryear
Doré's illustration for Dante's Inferno - photo by Rutger Vos
Used under a Creative Commons licence
If the old borrowing rules evoke Hobbes, this was pure Dante; a long, gloom-ridden and low
ceilinged hall where narrow passages between imposing, skeletal shelves revealed terrifying glimpses of the tortured souls who dwelt there in seeming eternity.

And why? For the simple reason that it contained... study desks.

"That doesn't sound bad" you may think, "surely more desk space is a good thing?", you add without quite noticing that you're talking out loud. "Why did you take away our desks?" you demand, startling your loved ones, who are now beginning to worry.

Study desks in key texts mean that it was possible to use a high demand item indefinitely, without checking it out or booking it. This in turn meant that at all hours of the day (because the Library closed in the evenings all year round), especially in deadline season, the most stressed, sleep deprived and desperate would gather there and make it a living hell for themselves and each other. There was fierce competition for the desks, and acquiring one brought out the Cerberus in everyone: more than once I had my place poached and my work left in a messy pile in less time than it took to walk to the bathroom and back. Even when the territorial threat slackened one was left to make panicked sallies to scour the trolley in case that one set text one absolutely needed above all else had finally been returned and suspiciously eyeing anyone who approached in case they were waiting for an opportunity to snatch your books when you weren't looking - this actually happened a lot.

By far and away the worst thing was the guilt.

So you have your desk, and the only remaining copy of the book your whole group has to write about by Monday, everything is going well for you…

That's when they come; the people you recognise from your lectures, the ones who you only spoke to once but they were nice, the ones who made a clever observation that later found its way into that highly-marked essay of yours, the ones who always seemed to be energetic and happy...

Distraught and bedraggled they wander the shelves like wraiths, inevitably rounding on what you know to be the gap where the book you are feverishly gripping should be.

You watch them, you can't look away, this desk is the only desk free. They search in increasing bewilderment then finally slump to the floor, defeated and hopeless. You try to surreptitiously hide your treasure in a pile of papers and avoid eye contact at all costs.


Scenes like this are now nothing more than a dark chapter in Library history. These days this kind of disreputable behaviour is discouraged rather than brought about by Library rules, everyone has fair access to our resources, key texts is open, bright and has absolutely no desk space whatsoever, bells ring, there is dancing in the streets. Even my one fine would never have happened today: DVDs no longer have to be back by 10am the following day with fines per hour regardless of whether or not anyone else wants them.

So if I am disinclined to cut anyone a break, and can be a bit enthusiastic about Library policy; it's only because I know they are the the light of rationality keeping a host of gothic nightmares at bay.

1. I almost wish I could be a bit offended by this; I mean, I'm not exactly a draconian shusher, but it's a fair cop

2. Yes, I really do talk to my friends like this. No, I don't know why I still have friends.

3. Undergraduates and Masters students could only loan twenty items, rather than fifty - it was truly a savage time. 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

56: the story of the Bradford fire

Reflecting on this tragic event 30 years ago, Stephen Town adds another thought provoking read to his Nightshelf collection.

Fletcher, M., 56: the story of the Bradford fire, in the University Library at G 1.823 FLE

Memorial to the Bradford City fire disaster
by Tim GreenUsed under a
Creative Commons licence
Football has been a large part of my life since childhood. I share the earliest memories of the author of this book of a father ‘going to football’, and later being taken along.  As a Leeds United supporter through that great period of success for the team in the 60s and early 70s, one of the players I watched was Terry Yorath, who later was in the Bradford City team on the day of the disastrous fire in 1985. Having been in the crowd as a fourteen-year old when the stand I was in burned down at Nottingham Forest’s ground in 1968, I appreciate the rapidity with which fires could destroy those wooden structures. There were no deaths at Nottingham; 56 people died at Bradford, including the father, brother, uncle and grandfather of the author, Martin Fletcher, who was twelve on that day and survived.

This book is unsurprisingly an emotional read. Fletcher describes his subsequent life in the shadow of that tragedy, and his search for understanding of why and how the fire happened. The Bradford fire is very much the forgotten tragedy in that 1980s decade of disasters, presided over at the time by a government that fostered a culture in which northern football associated deaths seemed to be considered unworthy of any serious investigation. Given Fletcher’s shocking findings, the reluctance of any authority now to reopen a search for the truth on this particular tragedy reflects badly on our continuing inability to deal with our past.

Fletcher does not draw any conclusions in the book about responsibility, but his discovery (largely through research in the British Library’s newspaper collections) of the previous record of the Bradford City Chairman, who had received the equivalent of £27m in today’s money from nine separate fires in his businesses prior to the Bradford fire, seems beyond coincidence. The cursory enquiry into the Bradford fire at the time was set up, conducted and concluded in inappropriate haste, without any serious scientific investigation. This book raises questions that need to be answered, but it is also a very personal and human story of loss. In the process Fletcher demonstrates how a good education and research skills can be a route to what one hopes is at least some redemption.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Customer Service: being excellent

Jackie Knowles talks about our ongoing mission to maintain excellence in the service we provide to our customers.

We are proud to announce that the Information Directorate has successfully been revalidated for the Customer Service Excellence (CSE) accreditation.

In the twelve months since first achieving our CSE accreditation in April 2014 we have been working hard at ensuring we maintain our focus on our users and striving for excellence across everything we do. This has meant continuing to listen and engage with our users, making more improvements based on what we find out, continuing to share our good practice and maintaining our overall culture of putting customers at the heart of everything we do.

Our CSE revalidation visit took place in March and took the form of a 'health check' looking both at areas where we had identified where there was room for improvement and those areas where we excel. Our assessor came on site for a day and a half to meet with our staff and customers. We arranged a packed programme of discussions, tours and meetings for the assessor, including focus groups with users of York Minster Library and telephone interviews with some of our archives depositors and users. We also took the opportunity to showcase some of our best practice projects and ongoing work.

Highlights of the work we presented are:
  • A full review of our feedback routes and complaint handling processes. We have refreshed our complaints policy and created a series of new user friendly complaints pages to explain what to do when things have gone wrong. We are also following up individually when people have complained to check that they are happy with how we handled things:
  • Ensuring that we are measuring and reporting against our agreed service standards:
  • Sharing the results of some work we had been doing on understanding whether our users felt they were fairly treated.
  • Explaining how we are working to track more of our customer interactions through building a Customer Relationship Management database to track our interactions with academic departments, and through the introduction of enquiry logging in the Borthwick.
  • Outlining the creation of the White Rose Libraries office based here in York as a case study of our working in partnership with others:
  • Sharing the details of our reviews and improvements to the start of session experience for users across both the Library and IT Services.
  • Presenting information about negotiations we've undertaken with suppliers to ensure we can offer improvements to functionality, value for money and the user experience of software.

We are happy to report that our assessor was impressed with the range of work we had completed and commented that the Directorate continued to display a "culture of customer service and continual improvement". This continued success is something that we celebrate and is a strong reflection of the hard work of all our staff.

Three of the four areas previously rated as being of partial compliance will now be rated as fully compliant with the standard. In addition, two further areas will now be rated as being Compliance Plus (areas of best practice), these are:
  • We have made the consultation of customers integral to continually improving our service and we advise customers of the results and action taken.
  • Our staff are polite and friendly to customers and have an understanding of customer needs.
Looking ahead we are keen to keep up the good work and look forward to more CSE assessment visits in the years to come. We are already starting to think about our revalidation for spring 2016 and planning for our full re-assessment which will take place in 2017.

Further information

Customer Service Excellence is a government backed industry standard that assesses (against 57 different criteria) whether services are efficient, effective, excellent, equitable and empowering – with the users always and everywhere at the heart of service provision.

If you're interested in learning more about Customer Service Excellence we'd be happy to share our experiences. Please contact Jackie Knowles, Head of Customer Services.

Friday, 5 June 2015

How to write a thesis - the latest donation from Stephen Town's nightshelf

Stephen Town goes back to basics with some advice on academic writing.

Eco, U., How to write a thesis, in the University Library at 029.6 ECO

Sunrise at the Rifugio Giacoletti by Fulvio Spada.
Used under a Creative Commons licence.
When I left my first professional library post in 1984, one of my colleagues gave me a present of Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’, published in English the year before and rapidly achieving sensational success for this Italian academic’s first novel. The book is attractive to librarians; the byzantine nature of the inaccessible library of the monastery described therein probably has a secret fascination for many in our profession. Eco’s appeal apparently still persists, as all our library copies of this novel appear to be on loan as I write.

As a follower of Eco’s work, and embarking on the creation of a thesis myself, I thought this slim manual (now published in English for the first time) would be a valuable addition to our substantial collection of advice on how to write for academic purposes. Starting to write a thesis can feel like a mountainous task, and there is an immediate question of how a book originally written in 1977 might still have any relevance for a modern audience. In a world where many of the tools of research have been transformed,  it is indeed odd to see even a picture of an index card these days. But the core of Eco’s advice on how to build a thesis as ‘an object that will serve others’ remains relevant, helpful and practical even today. I read the book straight off in one evening on the same day as I met my supervisor, and some of the messages about how to write were the same; there is much timeless sense in this work.

Eco writes with style and humour, and librarians are treated to some gentle stereotyping in this book, as he writes: “You must consider that the librarian (if not overworked or neurotic) is happy when he can demonstrate two things: the quality of his memory and erudition and the richness of his library, especially if it is small … A person who asks for help makes the librarian happy.”

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Kettles and iMacs - how we respond to your comments

Joanne Casey highlights some of the changes and developments we've made in response to your feedback.

Your comments and feedback - whether you pass them to us in writing, by email, in person or on social media - are a crucial element in our service development. Feedback is considered on receipt, and again by managers within Library, IT and Archives. We can't always act on your suggestions, but when we do, we like to let you know.

These recent developments have all been informed by your comments.

Book Delivery Service

This facility has been in place since Summer 2014, allowing staff and students based at King's Manor
to request items held at the main University Library for delivery to King's Manor, and vice versa.

This scheme was well-received from its implementation, but recently we were asked to further raise awareness of the service, especially amongst students at King's Manor. We've responded to this with posts on social media, information on the digital screens around campus, and information sent to the department to share with students.

We continue to receive positive feedback about the service:
  • Fantastic service - many thanks.
  • It's great! Fast & efficient and really useful.
  • I love this service ... so easy, and the book turns up quickly, thank you!

Behaviour and space 

As ever in the approach to exams, the Library has been busy - much as we'd like to have a seat for every student, space and fire regulations don't allow for this.

However, we've done our best to make your life easier and to encourage best use of the space available in a number of ways:

  • Our seating availability page shows where there is space in the Library - it's on the web, and also displayed on the digital screens.
  • We've worked with the University to provide and promote pop-up study spaces across campus - our blog post 'Taking your Library home' introduces the Library resources that you can access wherever you are.
  • We've encouraged use of our 'Text a problem' service so that we can take quick action where people aren't respecting the needs of other Library users - whether this means talking in the silent area, or reserving seats with bags, coats and books when they leave.
  • We've received repeated reports of people leaving property here overnight to keep a place for the morning, so our overnight teams check the Library and note any apparently abandoned property - if it's still there at 9am when we start to get busy, it's removed to free up the space.

Find out more about how we believe we can work together to make the Library a happy and effective place for all - and please get in touch if you have any suggestions:

Hot water in the Library cafe

The kettle by Benjamin Lehman
Used under a Creative Commons licence
Over the years, lots of people have asked us to provide hot water in the Library, for drinking, for
making tea and coffee, and for adding to instant meals like noodles.

We've talked to Commercial Services, and agreed that we would provide a kettle next to the water cooler when the Library Cafe is closed overnight. Commercial Services are now also providing self-service flasks of hot water during the day.

Please remember to stick to the Library policies on food and drink:

  • if you make yourself hot food like noodles, please only eat these in the cafe; 
  • if you make hot drinks to take to your desk in the Library, always use a lidded mug.

No more printed receipts

We know it's important to many of you that we do as much as we can to protect the environment - over the years, we've introduced power-saving on PCs, provided recycling bins in the Library and IT rooms, and ensured that our printers are filled with paper approved by the Forestry Stewardship Council. Our latest change is to stop issuing printed receipts for standard loans and returns. You can still check due dates online and in the weekly account summary that we email to you.
"Glad to see that @UoYLibrary are doing away with paper receipts. Save the environment and all that jazz!"

Office 365

In the Autumn we announced that we had subscribed to Office 365 in order to provide students with a free copy of the Microsoft Office suite to install on their own PCs, laptops, tablets etc. Almost immediately, members of staff asked whether this could be made available to them too.

Although staff already have access to MS Office for University owned PCs and laptops through the Campus Agreement, it made sense to give them the opportunity to install it for free on their own devices, and on University owned tablets and smartphones, which aren't covered by the campus Agreement. Accordingly, Office 365 was rolled out to staff in May.


We've had lots of comments from students in Constantine College and Halifax College who feel that the wifi service isn't meeting their expectations. Our Networking team have been carrying out some detailed investigations, and have changed the wifi setup in some areas to establish whether this improves the situation. Residents of these areas (Constantine blocks A and E, and Ainsty Court) have been asked to complete a short survey to help us find out whether to continue with the new setup - we hope to be able to report more in our next update.

iMac trial

iMac by Adam Maracz
Used under a Creative Commons licence

From time to time, both staff and students have asked why we don't provide a Mac service. In response to this, our Desktop and Printing Services team have investigated and discovered that this is now something we can feasibly offer. We're running a trial iMac service in the Fairhurst building over the summer, and will decide at the end of the trial whether this is something we should continue, or indeed expand.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Cello Suites: in search of a baroque masterpiece

Tuning into his musical side, Stephen Town sharpens up his Bach with the latest donation in his Nightshelf series.

Siblin, E., The Cello Suites : in search of a baroque masterpiece, in the University Library at LM 7.3 SIB

Cello wall by Ian. Used under
a Creative Commons licence.
A pleasure in retirement will be the opportunity to spend more time on music, and to return to practicing the Bach Cello Suites, which I have been doing (to not much avail) for over 45 years. My next donation, by Eric Siblin, will add to the very few in our collection about cello playing. Siblin is a journalist and a recent convert and enthusiast, but the style is not as irritating as I feared after reading reviews of this work. Siblin is passionate about the music and the story, and whilst there is occasional hyperbole and exaggeration, this is an easy and engaging read. He is of course not the first to tell the tale of the rediscovery of the suites, but it is a story worth re-telling. The greatest cellist of recent times, Pau Casals, found the forgotten scores in a Barcelona music shop, and assiduously practiced them for twelve years before their first public performance. Since then they have become a staple of the repertoire.

Casals’ stand as a Catalan and a Republican led to his refusal to play in countries that recognised the Franco regime in Spain, and this was one of my earliest and formative influences in political understanding. This also helped a great deal when I was teaching in Barcelona, where feelings still ran high against Franco twenty years after democracy was restored, in part because he was still on the coinage in circulation.

Eric Siblin, The Cello Suites, London 2011.
Styles of playing these suites have changed since I began to learn, as part of the reinvention of ‘authentic’ baroque performance, but I hold fast to my original score, as the bowing and fingering were marked up by my teacher, who was herself a student of Casals. Casals said there is no special rule for interpreting Bach, but I treasure this potential link. I hope this book may inspire others to seek out the music for listening, if they have not already done so, and maybe hear the Casals recordings, which we have in the John Barry collection.