shelf by shelf 12 – library stuff

Well some stuff, some bits and even a rock. A shiny rock. I can’t quite remember the origins of the rock though I’ve had it since I was a child. It’s not a particularly pretty rock but it does have lots of flecks of shiny, mirror-like bits. Maybe I found it in the bush, or at school or perhaps someone gave it to me. I’ve had it since I was very young.

At the far end of the shelf to the right, I have several years worth of the Australian Library Journal. I still need to add a couple of the recent editions to the shelf and I think the latest edition arrived in the last week. A few years ago I tried to track down a full set in print but didn’t have much luck. I always meant to hunt around some more but there always seems to be other books to pursue. Alongside the journals is a history of LIANZA I picked up at their annual conference a few years ago.

Also on the shelf is an old, old memory: Gareth Powell’sMy Friend Arnold’s Book of Personal Computers“. Many, many years ago in the 80s, Gareth Powell used to edit the computer section in the SMH. He’d actually been the travel editor or writer and somehow moved from there into computers. Lots of computer folk hated him as he was never sufficiently techie nor especially precise. I loved him as he knew how to write and was always throwing in cute affectations “…down in the potting shed I call my office..” and such. His approach was all about being accessible and interesting, and he was willing to take the piss out of himself. Around that time, he put out on a book on how to use computers for folk who didn’t know much about them…like his fictional friend Arnold. I picked up it a copy secondhand a few years ago.

My Friend Arnold’s Book of Personal Com
My Friend Arnold’s Book of Personal Comput
My Friend Arnold’s Book of Personal Compute

in 5 years time…

After yesterday’s 2005 post, I’ve been revisiting some of my old posts from the era. I didn’t use a blogging platform in those days and only started to when I moved to wordpress in 2007. The site started out as a single page template that I grabbed from a template site. Over time, I modified it substantially, moved columns, and eventually achieved a separation of style and content. I learnt stuff around html, css, and even a little xml. The rss feed was painfully handcoded for each post in xml. No easy generation, no scripts; just chunks of reusable code. Even that site was a relocation of an older site that was little more than a basic weblog with occasional commentary.

Brixton Tube Station

Brixton tube station

The handcoded version lasted from 2002 to 2007 which brings me to this post from April 2004 ie just over 10 years ago.  It was all about the old interview question of where do you see yourself in 5 years time? My answer at the time talked about how much my life had varied over the years and ultimately concluded

Grab opportunities when they arise but I’ll be buggered if I can think beyond that.

10 years later and that still rings true for me. Not long after that post I ended up in a place I never expected to be: working on vendor-side for a digital content provider. Spent 7 years there and had lots of fun, one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I was one of those librarians who thought vendorland was the dark side and to be avoided at all costs. I no longer think that.

Detroit fire hydrant

These days, I’m on library-side once more, working at the State Library of NSW again. I wouldn’t have predicted 5 years ago that I’d be at SLNSW, and I certainly couldn’t have predicted working for a vendor at all. I’ve recently had to re-apply for an updated version of my position and was successful. Oddly, this was something of an affirming result. I’m still doing mostly the same sort of job, though there’s room for it to broaden in interesting directions. I have a bit of a sense I had when I initially got the position two years ago, that there were interesting things to be done, and new ways to go.

I still have no idea where I’ll be in 5 years time. As I said 10 years ago, I hope I’m still grabbing interesting opportunities as they arise.

snail i am

snail. A name I call myself…I’lll stop there lest I sing out loud.

I realised on Sunday that it’s probably been 25 years since I started calling myself snail, initially online and later offline. I think I started using it in 1989 and I’ve been online since I discovered electronic bulletin boards (Adventurer’s Realm, Viatel) in 1984…connecting via the wonderful tones of the 1200/75 baud modem that plugged into the cartridge port of my Commodore 64.

I tend to prefer being called “snail” in person though some prefer to use my real name “Sean”. At work, I’ve always defaulted to “Sean” but occasionally wonder whether it’s something I should, or could, change. I remain ever flexible.

snail and snailThere’s big restructures at work (State Library of NSW) and I have recently had to apply for my own position; or rather an updated version of my position. In happy news I have made it through and as of Friday, my job title will change from “Online & Licensing Librarian” to “Online Resources Specialist Librarian”. I first got this job 2 years ago and I s’pose it’s something of an affirming experience that I have been successful in retaining it.

I first worked as a contractor for SLNSW around 10-12 years ago and while I did and learnt lots, always felt I hadn’t quite got the hang of the place. I seem to be doing better this time round, some of the time at least. I used to travel around NSW training librarians in how to search online. In the intervening years, I was an electronic solutions consultant on the vendor side. Best job I ever had and I loved it much. 7 years was enough and a good time to move on. Prior to that I was part of the reference team at Bankstown Public Library and have also worked in the NSW Parliamentary Library and a big law firm.

I’ve been blogging on one platform or another (previous versions were handcoded) for more years than I can remember and my posting has become, #blogjune aside, increasingly erratic. That’s ok, it’s still my space; I have other spaces too.


I wrote up a splendid summary of filmfest on Sat…but was using a wordpress tab that had been open a few days…I thought it was saving ok but it died when I tried to publish – lost the entire post. Not been in the mood to blog since….#firstworldproblems as they say on twitter. Right now, I’m two weeks into new job and a job where end of financial year matters. It feels a little like I have to learn the entire job in two weeks…with that said, it is going well and I have a lot of background knowledge to bring in to play. I just had a day of liaising with vendors, discussing price points and getting a discount or two. Got all the hard stuff done.

Tomorrow I seem to be presenting again…just a 5 minute talk on the fascinating topic of OAI and API…probably to a not so technical audience of librarians. There’s currently a good chance that my 2 co-speakers won’t make it. If that proves to be the case, I have a backup topic where I can talk about Trove lists and DigitalNZ sets…and lo, some bright spark has created a digitalnz fan tumblr. I even put together a quick set on snails. Actually, I think I’m having more fun with my backup topic :-)

a day for chilling

It’s wet. Again. I don’t mind as I’ve mostly been indoors with filmfest so I’ve not been affected greatly but it would be nice to see some sun. Today is the second last day of filmfest and I only have two movies to see starting around 6pm tonight, with the final two (a two parter) tomorrow afternoon. I had to get up early as there was potential for the annual visit from the smoke detector inspector. Alas there was no sign…or I didn’t hear the knock.

It’s been an exhausting week, combining filmfest and first week in a new job. The job in question is in a busy time itself as the end of financial year is important, though it wasn’t in the previous one. It’s a busy job and I’m busy learning the ropes. With that said, whilst I’m still getting the hang of the basics (how do I get an order number, who do I give invoices to…etc) I already have a sense of ownership. It’s a pivotal role in dealing with the provision and access of information online. There’s basic stuff and there’s thinking stuff and future thinking stuff as I explore how to bring my own perspective to the role and push it forward.

Today, I can’t be bothered thinking. Due to the weather, I’m having a very pleasant afternoon chilling at home. I’ve been up the road for brekky and got a table inside for a change. Outside would have been fine as there’s no wind today and no physical chill. The downside of my current cafe is that inside can be a bit dark to read the papers. The only other plan today was to get a new pair of sneakers, for which I was going to drive out to Homebush to the direct sales outlets. Thankfully, a local shoe shop had the brand I like, and in my size though not as big a range as the outlet store. Plus they were on special. I was able to get new sneakers and avoid a drive and carparks on a wet Saturday arvo.

Instead, I am sitting at home, sipping on a cider and reading various articles online eg

  • Here be bogans – a discussion from an outsider’s perspective of Sydney’s segmentation
  • Storm Publishing – this is a comic site belonging to some of my oldest friends, and promotes the comics they create. Friends for whom I am alas, long overdue to visit. I grew up with them.
  • Biblioburbia – exploring Sydney’s libraries (via ALIA Sydney’s blog)

another change

Been an odd few weeks. As I mentioned a while back, I have a new job. Today was the last day in old job, and I start the new job on Tuesday. Whilst I’m looking forward to the new position, it’s also sad as I’m leaving a job I was 10 months into. I’d found my feet and had settled well, getting on fine with the boss and team.

I s’pose a difference between the two positions is that the old was something of a leap, though a leap I was handling. Whereas the new job follows on from my previous positions, particularly working on the vendor side, not to mention my consortia experience before that. The new position is responsible for managing relationships and subscriptions with vendors of online resources including of course, the company I used to work for. Needless to say I will, and should, be under greater scrutiny. With that said, I do have industry-wide respect and everyone in SLNSW is keen to support me in the position. So too, I’m curious what I can do with it, and where I can take it; it’s an area that will continue to expand.

This afternoon, I packed my belongings and moved my stuff upstairs to my new desk. They’ve already moved the computer to a more sociable position: previously it faced the end wall with back to the entire floor. Now it faces everyone else and I can interact with people passing by. This is also important as my partial deafness means that I often miss conversation behind me. One of the side effects of learning to use hearing aids is that they mess with your perception of distance and direction – that might be a post for another day. In addition, they’ve thankfully installed a widescreen monitor. I’ve been using such for several years now and I would struggle to return to one of the old square ones. The extra width is nice meaning I can have several windows visible, and so many columns on spreadsheets :-)

Hmmm…I keep getting distracted from writing film reviews this year. For the record, I’ve seen 4 films at filmfest so far including a lovely film from Rachel Perkins called Mabo, about the life of the man behind the historic case.


Been a busy time. A major project has gone live and my desire to read has returned. When I commenced at the State Library at the start of August last year, I inherited the Chair of a project group that got underway in late 2010 to revamp the databases pages on the SLNSW website. Interesting. After a couple of years working alone, from home, all of a sudden I was chairing a group that covered several teams and had face to face meetings…in local business hours no less! A novelty after several years of late night teleconferences. A whole bunch of new challenges.

It’s taken some rather unexpected turns since then, I rarely seem to end up in regular projects. Flexible deadlines became tight deadlines, and thankfully I had a boss who pushed me in the right sorts of ways. It’s been a good project to work out how things work at SLNSW, and provided ample opportunity to meet a lot of new people. Very much a learning experience for me. I learnt some new things about me and how I work, some good some bad, and acknowledge that there’s still more to learn. One curious side effect is that for the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve been living from week to week, expecting to go live any day. I would make last minute decisions, only to discover that they weren’t last minute anymore. Some decisions were good, some resulted in additional work.

coffeeThere are things I’m naturally good at eg I can look at a random piece of code and make some sense of it. There are some things that don’t come naturally, like project management, so I have to focus harder on those. This project took my entire focus. Now that it’s over and the stress has lifted, my desire to read has returned; my morningpersonitis has returned – I’d hit a point in recent weeks where I couldn’t seem to wake up properly and caffeine had no effect. I haven’t been able to read in a couple of months.

At the start of the week, before the project had finished, I downloaded Dessaix’s new book of essays, and forced myself to read one. He has a certain style of writing, or rather of digressing, that I s’pose seeps into my subconscious. He plays with writing and puts me at ease. On the bus home this evening, I picked up my reader and got stuck into the second essay…not had the mood in a while, much easier now.

The project finished, stress lifted, and my centre has returned.

sputtering along

Been a while though with some good news: I’ve passed my 6 month probation at the State Library. I think that means I’m safe-ish for the next 18 months, until my contract ends. This is good news. I was saying to someone on Friday that while there are pluses and minuses, it feels like I’m in the place I should be. A different sort of work and a different sort of pace. One of the aspects of the job I’m hoping to develop more this year is dealing with data, particularly OAI and API type stuff. I’m still somewhat new at this sort of thing but have been pushing myself out into associated communities. Plus I’ve done a couple of coding workshops at conferences on interacting with such. Early days though.

However, it’s not all good as I managed to put back on all the weight I lost in my first 3 months in the new job. I totally blame an addiction to a computer game called Skyrim that lasted about 3 months or so. Very addictive. Most days, I would return home after work and sit on the couch, playing through til well past bedtime. Needless to say, weekends disappeared all too quickly. Food was rushed and consumed while playing. Not a healthy lifestyle. Though I’ve racked up a few hundred hours of actual game play, it remains unfinished. I stopped playing 3 weeks ago and have been rediscovering my life since, even cooking and eating at, if not a decent time, not too late either.

I’ve also been conferencing. In changing jobs, I was anticipating a drop in the number of conferences I attended. So far the only difference seems to be that I’m now self funding my attendance :-) In my first 6 months in new job, I have been to 5 conferences: NLS5 (Perth), Library Camp (Perth), THATCamp (Canberra), VALA (Melbourne), and Library Camp (Melbourne). Admittedly both library camps were one day events following a major conference. I think I’m enjoying the camp approach the most: there’s room for learning new things, room for talking about new things, and room for generally socialising. All done with a group of people similarly minded; made many new friends.

a coffeeThere’s been an odd development in the last 6 months too: I’ve come to the conclusion that I no longer like staying in hostel dorms. There, I’ve said it. The Perth trip last September was the first time I stayed in a room alone: though it was my own room in a hostel with shared bathroom/dunny. $70/night instead of $25. The privacy was nice. I didn’t feel like I had to be totally paranoid about my belongings…or worry about my snoring, or other people’s snoring. On my recent trip to Melbourne, I found a room discounted from $320 to $90/night and that was fab. I’m getting rather used to this :-)

On the tech front, I now have a mac desktop tower at home, XP based desktop at work, an XP based netbook (ASUS Eee 901), and an android based phone (Samsung Galaxy S2). Whereas in my previous job I had the same XP based laptop for work and home, the same netbook, and an iphone. 6 months on and the mac continues to piss me off regularly. Though I’ve recently been reminded that it has a full unix underneath it and I’ve just set up a web server (XAMPP for Mac as I have XAMPP for XP on the netbook) so I can work through the code from the workshops I’ve been to; not to mention as a space for developing code to handle XML and manage data sets. Some aspects of the mac I like and some aspects I don’t. It doesn’t seem as flexible as the PC or as modifiable. Being a keyboard junkie, I consider some of the keyboard shortcuts on the mac to be utterly stupid. Plus there’s a design ethos for the OS (Lion) to work better with smaller screens rather than my 22″ widescreen desktop.

The Galaxy S2 has been a wonderful delight – I was very fond of the iphone 3GS I had which I had to give up when I changed jobs. This was a few months prior to the launch of the iphone 4S. 6 months of use later, I love the S2 and am very happy that I didn’t wait for the 4S. Speed is good, flexibility is good, and modifiability is excellent. I still haven’t replaced my netbook but I have decided on the replacement: ASUS Transformer Prime. It came out a few weeks ago: looks and feels fab. Unfortunately, only the champagne version has come out locally so I’m holding off until ASUS fixes a couple of design issues (related to GPS/wifi) and releases the amethyst grey version locally. I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to tech and would like to be able to walk into a store and buy it…not to mention return it should there be an issue.

doing fun stuff

I’m still trying to make sense of the job I have, nevermind the job I want. The latter I have no idea. As some know, I was in the throes of gearing up to move to NZ; Wellington specifically ’cause I love it so. Also because the kiwis keep doing cool stuff like EPIC, like DigitalNZ, and that was a sandpit I wanted to play in. I even had approval from my previous employer to move to NZ and keep doing what I do. Of course, I was also keen to somehow tap in to the special sauce that seems to be driving so much kiwi innovation…perhaps throw my own hat into the pool.

Anyway…that didn’t happen. Another cool job popped up and I’m now at the State Library of NSW. With the potential to do some of the stuff I wanted to do in NZ. One of my strengths is running with other people’s ideas. Idea creation itself is hard and I can do it occasionally but I don’t think it’s my strength in the big picture. Within the big picture however all is good, I just need to work out the big picture first…or rather which big picture suits me.

One idea that is fermenting and was initially inspired by a tweet, and follows the line of why can’t I do what I wanted to do in NZ, but in NSW instead? How about I aim for developing fun stuff here…afterall I’ve lived here all my life…and spent most of my life trying to escape.

There was another tweet that challenged me: where is the Te Ara for Oz? Instead of viewing NZ as the place to go, how about we view NZ as the first step? What can we do to follow in their path and even better where else can we take it?

a day in the country

As I’m travelling a fair bit the next few weeks, I extended my weekend slightly and had Monday off. A mate and I went for a drive down the Hume to the township of Berrima. I’ve only been there once and that was a couple of years ago. For most of my life, I would hear tales of the delights of the Berrima Book Barn – a barn full of secondhand books, many treasures to be found. As a young bookworm, it sounded like Aladdin’s cave. Many years back, the folk that ran the barn, expanded into Sydney and now have a few shops under the name of Berkelouw, for indeed, it turns out that the barn in question was the wonderfully alliterative Berkelouw’s Berrima Book Barn.

Berrima - a view of the town

Berrima - a view of the town

We spent a lovely day meandering about, having got there for brekky around 10. I wandered through shops and even bought  a jar of Rhubarb & Ginger Jam from Mrs Oldbuck’s Pantry; they did a nice limoncello based jam too, with a nice kick in the aftertaste. Oh geez, I sound like an old fart. Anyways, in the afternoon, we finally made it to the barn. Much to my surprise, and no doubt to that of most folk who know me, I emerged with only 4 books, and kept it under $70 too. A valiant effort. Though there was a rather nice leatherbound edition of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet in the cabinet. It was a bit yum, though I think substantially overpriced at $300. There are much nicer books to be had for that sort of money. By nice, I’m referring to the container, as the content is good regardless. Then there was the lovely, leather bound set of Manning Clark’s “A History of Australia” – they were in really good nick, though an asking price of $1,850 put them firmly out of reach.

As to my purchases, they were an interesting bunch. I have, for some years, been collecting the Penguin wine guides. I like their style, the language used and the down to earth sense of engagement. I’m particularly fond of Huon Hooke’s contributions, not to mention Mark Shield; these days, the annual tome is authored by Nick Stock who seems well suited to continuing the tradition. On my first visit to the Barn, the first book I found was one of the few remaining omissions from my set. So too, this time and I now have the 1995-96 volume. I think this means I need only find one or two volumes to complete the set.The numbering has been rather erratic over the years, which does not help, but I now have these years:


It wasn’t published in 2008. The 1991 edition makes reference to a 1990 edition which I don’t have and there is a 1993-94 edition. The 2005|2006 edition was published in 2005 and the 2007 edition was published in 2006 so there’s no gap there.

My second find was also interesting and fits another area of my interests, and that is the history of language and dictionaries. Side by side on the shelf, were copies of the 1945 and 1966 editions of “The Australian Language” by Sidney J Baker. I was somewhat fortunate a year or two back, to pick up a reprint of “A Dictionary of Austral English” by Morris and as Baker builds on his work, this was a nice continuation. Moreso however, due to a minor controversy, or rather that a work was referred to as being minor, the 1945 edition had additional interest. Acoording to clipped newspaper articles, that someone had placed inside the front cover, a paragraph was to be censored as it referred to the Weekly Bulletin as a “minor weekly” – this upset a few folk though I think the context was clear. So it was decided, according to the clipping, that the reference would be deleted from all unsold copies of the book. This copy was one of the uncensored versions, and the 1966 edition had a differently worded version of the same paragraph. So I grabbed the 1945 edition and left behind the 1966 edition; though I wouldn’t mind tracking down a censored version of the 1945 edition so I could have them sit side by side.

update: As I was adding my new acquisitions to my bookcase, I discovered that I have a paperback reprint of the 1966 edition of The Australian Language. In other words, it was just as well I didn’t buy it today. Yet another reminder that I need to get all my books catalogued into a portable list, if only to avoid potential duplication further down the track.

The remaining two books covered yet another of my interests, that being the history of libraries. The first is entitled “Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain Before 1850” by Thomas Kelly. This looks intriguing and traces the history of public libraries in the UK and the blurb notes that the first public library in Great Britain was established in 1425. The reason this book covers the period prior to 1850, is that was the year that saw the passing of the first Public Libraries Act. The second book is “Australian Libraries” by John Balnaves. This book, published in 1966 purports to be a brief history (90 pages) of libraries in Australia and the author himself acknowledges such.