Friday, 30 October 2015

Cake with a clear conscience

Everybody needs cake, but some in York are short of everyday food. Joanne Casey explains how Information Services have managed to balance these two facts.

On the last Friday of every month, staff from the Library, IT Services, and the Archives hold a Cake Day to raise money for charity. Any member of staff can nominate a cause to support, volunteers bake cakes, and equally selfless volunteers donate money to eat them. In the past, we've supported local, national, and international charities including Plan's Because I Am A Girl campaign, the Poppy Road Poppy Project, Macmillan, St Leonard's Hospice, and the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

A fine selection of cake
This time, we're supporting the York Foodbank, run by the Trussell Trust, and in a bit of a twist, we've encouraged people to bring along donations of food rather than (or as well as!) cash. The Foodbank provide lists of the items that they currently need to stock up on to fill food parcels for families and individuals in crisis; at this time of year, they also ask people to donate items with Christmas in mind, so our collection boxes contain not just tinned food, tea, coffee, UHT milk, and cereals, but also biscuits, snacks, selection boxes, chocolate advent calendars - things that will make the festive season a little bit brighter for people who are struggling.

Sarah Peace, who suggested this month's charity explained why she chose this cause:
"I chose to nominate York Foodbank for our October cake day as it's a charity that we may all need to turn to at some point in our lives.
The food bank helps people struggling with insecure work, low pay and high living costs. Families and individuals are going hungry and skipping meals in our country to make ends meet. 
I hope that raising money and donating food in the run up to Christmas may make the difference to families in York."
One of our four collection boxes
The Trussell Trust report that in 2014/15, the food banks they operate gave out 1,084,064 emergency three-day parcels of food. They also work with food bank users, to listen to their concerns and point them to other sources of help: their developing More Than Food initiative partners with other advisory agencies to provide support with managing money, learning to cook and eat well, developing job skills, and making benefit claims.

There are many stories of people who have benefited from the intervention of a food bank when they're struggling:
"We resorted to borrowing a tin of soup from next door to feed our 18 month old daughter. The problems came when my partner got ill and received no sick pay. It was snowing and we were struggling to afford food and heating. In the end the cupboards were bare. I don't know what we would have done without the foodbank." 
We're collecting donations of non-perishable food until Tuesday 3 November, so if you'd like to join us, we'd be happy to have your donation - just drop it off at the Library or IT Services. The Foodbank have asked us to say that, while they're grateful for any and all gifts, they do have a lot of beans at the moment!


By the time our collection ended earlier this week, we'd collected vast quantities of food - so much that we had to use the department van to deliver it to York FoodBank. A plan to list how much food we'd collected fell by the wayside as we just didn't have enough space to get it all out of the boxes, but the collection included pasta and sauce, tinned meat, coffee, tea, sugar, soup, cereals, herbs and spices, tinned fruit and puddings, chocolate advent calendars and selection boxes, biscuits, UHT milk, and Christmas puddings and cake. In addition to that, we collected £121 in cash.

The full haul, loaded up and ready to be delivered.

More information:

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Treat yourself to a new dataset on World Statistics Day

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has declared today, 20 October 2015, World Statistics Day, to advance their mission for “Better Statistics, Better Lives”.

You can explore their data by country or theme through the UNdata portal, and use their API to display your chosen data on a webpage or download to local storage for further processing. In addition to publishing National Accounts and Millennium Development Goals indicators, UN departments collect data on population, education, employment, environment, health, industry and trade.

Find links to UN data and other national and international collections of economic and social data on the Library’s E-Resources Guide.  For authoritative country profiles, you might like to try the Statesman’s Yearbook;  industry data and market reports are free-to-view and download with our institutional subscriptions to Mintel and Passport collections; and GIS data can be sourced from our Ordnance Survey, British Geological Society and Bartholomew institutional accounts.

Kirstyn Radford, 
Research Support Librarian and Copyright Advisor

Monday, 19 October 2015

A new book for Special Collections - the sad tale of Mary, the maid of the inn

Sarah Griffin, Special Collections and York Minster Librarian, introduces the new addition to our unique collection of books printed in York.

Title page of Mary, Maid of the inn
One of the strengths of Special Collections is a wonderful selection of books printed in York. Many of these can be seen in the exhibition currently in the cases in the Harry Fairhurst corridor.

One of York’s best known printers was James Kendrew who had a shop on Colliergate at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He specialised in producing cheap books for children known as Chapbooks. Chapbooks were so called as they were distributed and sold by the Chapman, another name for a travelling salesman.

Kendrew was also responsible for printing books aimed more at the adult audience and last month one of these came up for sale in London. We were lucky enough to be able to buy it for our collection so here’s a first peek at our latest acquisition.

It’s a terribly sad story called Mary, the maid of the inn and is based on a poem written by Robert Southey in 1796. To settle a bet, Mary has to visit an old abbey (reputed to be Kirkstall Abbey in Yorkshire) at the dead of night to bring back a bough from an alder tree that grows there. Horror strikes when she sees her fiancĂ© Richard burying the body of a murdered man. The coloured woodcut engraving shows the moment when Mary hears the men bringing the body into the Abbey. Richard is hanged for the crime and poor Mary goes mad with grief.

This short tale is a great addition to our Kendrew collection and is available for study, as are all the books in Special Collections. For more information please contact Sarah Griffin, Special Collections Librarian.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Five reasons to consider buying a Chromebook as your next computer...

Thinking about your next computer? Planning your Christmas list? David Barrett has some advice for you...

Acer C7 Chromebook by Luis Roca
Used under a Creative Commons license
Almost everything I do at work makes use of Google tools - Gmail, Google Calendar, Drive
(containing docs, sheets, presentations), or is browser based (Jira, LucidChart, HipChat), so when my Windows laptop needed replacing I decided to give a Chromebook a go.

It's been nearly a year now and I don't regret that decision. In fact,
if you don't need to install and run specialist software as part of your job, I'd recommend doing the same.

Here are five reasons why:

Number 1: It does pretty much everything I need it to do

Pre-Chromebook, my use of Microsoft Office was dwindling. Using Excel to enter my working hours into a spreadsheet was the highlight. But now my timesheet is a Google sheet, so problem solved. Drive is a great way to collaborate on, share and store docs and sheets I'm working on. I've found it far more flexible than working off a shared drive.

  HDMI to VGA Adapter by SparkFun Electronics 
Used under a Creative Commons license
All I needed to add were a couple of cheap, plug & play accessories; an HDMI to VGA adapter lets me connect to projectors or screens in meeting rooms, and if I need a wired connection, the USB to ethernet adapter sorts that.

But what if you're not online? The Chromebook and Google Drive does a reasonable job of caching recently used docs so you can type away when offline and changes are synced when you connect to the Internet again.

Printing? When I really have to print something I use the York Print Plus EPrint service. This works by emailing a copy of the doc you want to print to It's as simple as that.

It's also just as easy to take files away as it is on a traditional laptop. The Chromebook has its own internal storage if you really want to store files, or downloads outside Google Drive and my device has an SD card reader, and of course USB for external storage.

Number 2: You can use the Virtual Desktop Service if you really need to use Windows

A couple of times I've had to attend a webinar using GoToMeeting, or Blackboard Collaborate, both which require a Java client to run. In these cases I've logged onto the Virtual Desktop Service (VDS) and accessed a Windows 7 desktop in a browser tab.

The technology used to access the Desktop is called HTML5 and is a core part of the Chromebook which does not require installing any special software. IT Services have enabled the HTML5 feature on the VDS so anyone on "any client device" can access Windows/Linux desktops and applications.

Number 3: Price

Chromebooks are really cheap compared to mid-range Windows laptops. The cost of the laptop I replaced could buy six Chromebooks.

Number 4: Performance

From pressing the on switch it's ready to accept your login details in seven seconds. Once logged in, it's another couple of seconds before it's loaded the Chrome browser and you're ready to go.

The battery goes a long way. The longest period of time I've managed to use it without recharging is two days. Its internal storage is a solid state drive, which provides fast read times and low battery demand.

It also doesn't appear to get slower the longer I use it, which seems to be a feature of Windows machines, as updates are layered over each other, week after week.

Number 5: Security

The device is encrypted, security is built in, and the whole device is self updating. This is all out of the box and doesn't require you to do anything.


So far, so good. I've found my Chromebook to be an excellent bit of kit and easily up to the job.

If you cannot use one for your main day to day computing requirements, it's certainly worth having one for general office use, taking to meetings or conferences. With its low cost and in-built security, it's a much lower risk than taking an expensive laptop out and about, and is also highly shareable.

Cockatiel sadly not included
Acer Chromebook 11 by Kenming Wang
Used under a Creative Commons license