Tag Archives: computers

Paddington Book Festival and Silver Sunday

Paddington LibraryIt’s been a busy couple of months at Paddington Library! No sooner had the flurry of children’s activities for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge come to an end than it was time for all the many and varied regular events to build up again. But that was not all – there was the Paddington Book Festival to come, followed closely by Silver Sunday.

The Paddington Book Festival is an annual festival which has been has been running for several years. Instigated and supported by a local Westminster Councillor, it is a series of book and reading-related events in September with the aim of engaging the local community in cultural and literary activity. Events do not take place solely in Paddington Library, however – they are spread across four libraries in the north of the Borough.

Queens Park Library hosted Kiera Cohen who introduced her début children’s book Tilly McAnilly and the Rock Pool Adventure. Maida Vale Library hosted a splendiferous party to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl. Paddington Library hosted two events devoted to crime fiction: Elizabeth Flynn spoke about her novels which feature detective Inspector Angela Costello and there was a well attended panel talk given by authors Lisa Cutts and Simon Booker. Finally author MG Robinson visited Church Street Library to discuss her book Sledge: the Soul of Notting Hill, about the life and times of her father, the very first ‘Rasta man of Notting Hill’.

The first weekend in October is now the established date for Silver Sunday, an annual day celebrating older people. We have already reported on a couple of the other Silver Sunday events that took place in Westminster Libraries, but there were many more both on the day itself and the weeks before and after, including those at Paddington Library: For the first time this year, Owen arranged and led bespoke IT workshops on Online Family History and Online Shopping. Lots of people enjoyed chair yoga with Tim or took part in a play reading led by Kate and Laurence from Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’. Additonal taster IT sessions completed the programme.

Silver Sunday 2016 at Paddington Library

Will we be having a rest now? Of course not! Take a look at our events page or follow @WCCLibraries on Twitter to find out what’s next (tip: career networking, Black History Month and spooky Halloween half-term events are on the agenda so far).

[Laurence]

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The digital revolution in our lives

ICT training in Westminster LibrariesWhile helping to plan the forthcoming ‘Computers in the Fall’ IT training for beginners, I began to think about the huge changes the digital revolution has brought about. A great place to start when looking into this topic is Issues Online. We’ve written about this great series before on Books & the City and I went straight to check recent additions to its contents. This can be done by going to Issues Online (log in with your library card number) and selecting a topic: in this case, The Internet. Among recent additions to this resource were surveys and statistics of digital usage.

The first link I checked was a snapshot of key digital statistics (January 2016) which revealed that from a total UK population of 64.91 million there are 59.47 million active internet users. Social media and mobile phone/tablet/pad active accounts statistics were also compiled. ‘Active accounts’ recognises the fact that many people have more than one device and use several social media platforms and therefore does not refer to individuals. The survey found 33 million active mobile phone users and 38 million active social media users.

These figures whilst impressive do not provide much detail. Some idea of how people use the internet can be found in a second survey from YouGov which asked the question ‘Which is the most important consumer invention?’

Issues Online - The Internet of Things Not surprisingly, examples from the digital revolution ranked highly. In first place at 55% was the invention of the smartphone (62% of 18-24 year olds put smartphones first). Age differences are reflected in the methods of digital communication that appear in the survey results. For instance, there was a large age discrepancy in the ranking of Facebook in the survey. It was ranked second by the under 40s but only fifth for older people surveyed. Older people were more likely to use Skype as a means of communication.

If you feel that you are being left behind in the digital revolution, there is hope. Take a look at the topics we’re covering in the ‘Computers in the Fall’ training at Marylebone Library – from mouse skills for beginners to how to shop safely online. Choose your topic or topics and just turn up – there is no need to book in advance.

[Francis]

Spring again

Recently the Home Library Service held its second ‘Spring into Spring’ health and information morning, this time at Pimlico Library (see previous event details).

HLS Spring into Spring event at Pimlico Library

On offer was the chance to sample hand massage, chair yoga (above), laptops and tablets (below), as well as a chance to talk individually to representatives from Open Age, the Health Improvement and Falls Prevention teams and the council’s Environment Team.

HLS Spring into Spring event at Pimlico Library HLS Spring into Spring event at Pimlico Library

We even had two new recruits sign up to borrow a laptop from the Westminster’s Council’s Community Computers Scheme!

HLS Spring into Spring event at Pimlico Library

There was a wealth of library, council and health information leaflets to take away as a reminder of new things learnt.

“Helpful and entertaining”

“Thank you for a wonderful day out”

[Elaine]

Computer Pioneers: The Westminster Connection

Spurred on by spotting Charles Babbage’s (1791–1871) Green Plaque on a building at 1a Dorset Street, Marylebone, I began to investigate the life of this computing pioneer, who began working on the idea of inventing automatic calculating machines at this address from the 1830s. This work followed his invention of a ‘difference engine’, a fixed-function calculator which used existing mathematical formulae to calculate an answer.

Charles Babbage & his calculating engines, by Doron Swade In contrast, the analytical engine was designed to calculate virtually any mathematical function using programmable numerical data, in any sequence, to find the answer. It would have been programmed by using punched cards, a technique used by loom operators at that time to control the patterns of the woven thread.

Punched holes on cards remained as the means for programming computers in many of the IBM and other early 20th century computers. In fact, immediately before the rise of the personal computer, I remember using hole punched cards denoting chosen subject terms as a means of searching for article references.

Babbage’s use of punched cards is important as it would enabled the operator to repeat the same sequence of operations and also choose alternative actions depending on the value of a result. A landmark in Babbage’s continuous development of his design came with a significant change of the machine’s internal organisation. He separated the stored numbers (data) from the section which processed it, thus laying the foundation for modern computers’ storing data together with a processor to manipulate this data.

Unfortunately Babbage never persuaded the British government or private investors to finance the construction of his machines. Luckily his notes and plans together with his correspondence with Westminster’s next computer pioneer have meant that physical reconstructions are possible. You can see examples of reconstructions at London’s Science Museum.

A female genius : how Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, started the computer age, by James EssingerBabbage’s great supporter and an important contributor to his work was Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (1815–1852), the daughter of Lord Byron. Her residence, 12 St James’s Square SW1, displays an English Heritage Blue Plaque celebrating this contribution to computing history.

Lovelace is credited with understanding Babbage’s machine perhaps even better than he did himself, and with devising the first complex computer programme. In a letter to Babbage dated 10 July 1843, she suggests

“I want to put in something about Bernoulli’s Number, in one of my notes, as an example of how an explicit function may be worked out by the engine, without having been worked out by human head and hands first”.

She is posthumously celebrated for this achievement with a modern programming language named after her: Ada. Without the contribution of both parties the design of the analytical machine would not evolved as one of the first programmable computers. In this partnership Babbage was the engineer and Lovelace the programmer and visionary who saw its potential.

The final pioneer, Alan Turing had a much more tenuous link with the borough, being born in Westminster at Warrington Lodge, 2 Warrington Avenue, Maida Vale before being ‘shipped out’ aged one to the to the care of relations when his parents left for several years in India. However fleeting this connection he is also recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on this house.

Prof: Alan Turing Decoded, by Dermot TuringPosthumously famous for his WW2 code breaking efforts at Bletchley Park, about which we have written before, Alan Turing is also widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computing with his design of the Turing machine in the 1930s and his postwar research.

Alan Turing’s work and life is also the subject of the recent feature film ‘The Imitation Game‘.

With pleasing symmetry there is a link between Turing and Lovelace. In the 1930s, whilst working on artificial intelligence and computing, Alan Turing rediscovered her notes on programming and this had a significant influence on his research.

Further biographical details for all three pioneers can also be found using the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in to all of these subscription sites for free with your library membership card). It’s worth looking to the newspaper archives for further insight too – I found several further references to Charles Babbage in The Times Digital Archive as the newspaper published several of his letters relating to various scientific topics. He also wrote to the Illustrated London News describing, with illustrations, a devise which is similar to an early example of a periscope. This was designed for artillery troops to safely line up guns from beneath a parapet. (ILN Saturday, August 18, 1855; pg. 210; Issue 757).

More information about these pioneers and the wider history of computing can be obtained from two further 24/7 reference resources. Credo Reference and Oxford Digital Reference Shelf are both searchable resources which use a number of dictionaries, textbooks and encyclopedias as source material. Just type in the relevant search term, eg: Ada Lovelace, to display a number of links to original text relating to this search.

A brief history of computing by Gerard O'ReganReturning to print, on the shelves of Marylebone Information Service is an useful guide to computing history: A Brief History of Computing by Gerard O’Regan.
The book begins with early civilizations such as the Babylonians and Egyptians, who developed mathematics, geometry and astronomy using methods such as a counting board (an early form of abacus) and algebra to make theoretical calculations, and leads right through to modern computer programming and the internet revolution.

And the computer revolution goes on. Will the next pioneer come from one of our Code Clubs for kids? There are currently regular clubs meeting at Charing CrossChurch Street, Maida Vale and St John’s Wood libraries, but more are planned – ask in your library for details.

[Francis]

It was a library, Jim, but not as we know it

Browne system issue tray. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Happy National Libraries Day!

Ask any person on the street “What is a library?” and they will probably say something like “A public building with books you can borrow”. That is indeed the case, but a modern day library offers much, much more, and a library card is the key. How? It’s all down to the development of computers and especially the Internet and World Wide Web in the 80s and 90s.

St. Marylebone library book label and pocket

Just a generation ago, things were very different. With no computers, most libraries issued books using the Browne system. Books had a pocket holding a card which gave the book’s number and author/title details. Readers were given a number of pocket tickets with their name and address details. They tendered one of these for each book borrowed and the book’s card was placed in the pocket ticket and then filed in a rack before (or behind) a date due marker. On returning a book, the racks would be searched for the matching card and the ticket returned. Returns and renewals could only be done at the library where the books were borrowed. Readers with overdue books would get posted reminders.

City of Westminster catalogue card

The library catalogue was a large set of drawers in which were inserted 5in x 3in cards for each book – one filed by author, and one by title or class number. The catalogue would only show books at that library, and would not show whether the book was in or on loan. When new books were added or old books withdrawn, the cards had to be manually filed or removed. By the 1970s, new technology saw the introduction of a system-wide catalogue on microfilm or microfiche. But it would still not show whether the books were in the library or on loan.

City of Westminster tokens

With fewer alternatives available, reading was a far more popular activity, and the library was so busy, especially at lunchtimes, that in 1952 Westminster dispensed with the Browne system. Instead readers were given plastic tokens which they handed over for all but the most expensive books. There was no record of who had out what books, so no overdue letters could be sent, but once a year each reader was written to and they had to produce all their tokens or pay a forfeit. This system was to last until a computerised management system was introduced from 1984.

City of Westminster renewal letter

As well as books, readers could borrow gramophone records, although there were strict rules about their care. The records themselves were not on the shelves. Instead there were display racks of the cards from which borrowers made their choice and then exchanged the card for the recording – supplied in a carrying case.

City of Westminster Gramophone library rules

Reference libraries had shelves upon shelves of atlases, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias etc, often out of date even before being published. Some directories even came in loose-leaf binders so that update replacement pages could be supplied. [I remember it well. Ed.]

Westminster Libraries still lend books, but now you can browse the catalogue of all the branches from home or while out and about on your phone, check the availability of books and reserve them online. Not just for Westminster but also Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries too. You can renew items online and return them to any library in the three boroughs.

Westminster Libraries catalogue, February 2015

We no longer have gramophone records (or the cassettes which followed them) but we do lend CDs, DVDs and Talking Books on CD. You can even get something to read or listen to without visiting a library building at all, as we have e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks too.

E-books from Westminster Libraries

When you visit ‘in-library’ there is more on offer than just what we lend. There may be reading clubs or writing groups, author talks, computing or English classes, careers advice sessions, and a range of health promotions. There may be children’s homework clubs and holiday reading clubs and craft events. It varies from library to library, but the website will have all the details – and if you follow us on Twitter – or just keep an eye on the right hand column of this blog – you’ll get updates on all our special events as well!

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014

Those groaning shelves of reference books are much reduced now, replaced by public computers to use and study space with free wi-fi access. But don’t go thinking that there is any less information available – far from it! With the 24/7 library your library card gives you access to a staggering wealth of information for free on our subscription databases. Business information, the arts, family history and worldwide newspapers are amongst the resources available – much of it accessible from anywhere that you can get online and, as it says, available 24/7 – not just when the library is open.

Marketline - one of our many online resources

People have predicted the end of libraries in our present digital, connected world. Well they may have changed in ways unimaginable a generation ago but they are still a thriving, valued part of the community. Who knows what changes another generation will bring? I expect and hope there will still be something people call a ‘library’. But will it contain books? – well perhaps the trend is already starting…

Charing Cross Library 1948

[Malcolm, who has seen and embraced it all in his 40+ years at Westminster]

Adventures on the Internet

ICT training in Westminster LibrariesThe thing about our public computer training sessions is that they are attended by the public. Real people, people from outside libraries, who have real lives and urgent things they need to do on computers. This is very good.

For example, I do a session on shopping online – “get the bargains and stay safe”. I prepare a plan of attack, based on my own experience, feedback from previous sessions, together with some essential stuff about safety on the Internet.

I’m not at all bad at this preparation, but after a few minutes of interaction with the people who turn up to the course, things start to fizz. Your average punter doesn’t want to know about online commerce in any theoretical fashion – he/she wants actual fashion, specific goods and the best possible service. It’s all very well me using Amazon as an example, although it’s a very useful example. If someone has heard that Etsy is the go-to place for retro dresses, that’s what we talk about.

I’m not going to give you a lot of coy stuff about not being an expert on retro dresses, because that’s not the point. I can probably help the frock-hunter to search out what they’re looking for, and I can use any selling website to demonstrate how you can protect yourself against unnecessary risk.

I always have a Powerpoint slideshow of screen grabs in reserve, in case we run out of genuine requests and questions. I don’t often have to use it.

“Adventures on the Internet”, a series of six public training sessions starts at Mayfair Library on Tuesday 25 November, at 11.00am. And if you miss any of those, we will be doing them all again at Church Street Library in March and April!

Adventures on the Internet - public training sessions

[David]

We have lift off!

Bob at St John's Wood LibraryBob Rawlinson has lived in St John’s Wood for over 50 years and visits the library regularly. Until this month he had never explored the lower ground floor, which is where all the adult non-fiction books, newspapers, magazines and the adult computers are located (originally a store room, the space was refurbished and opened to the public in August 2008).

So, there is a lot down there that he was missing out on! There is a lift, but it is a basic platform lift and as a wheelchair user Bob preferred to check the non-fiction returns on the upstairs trolley than have the bother of going down to check all the shelves. As for the computers, he would have liked to have a go, but the lift really put him off.

During the Paralympics, we got a reminder email about Go On Gold, a national campaign to raise awareness about the barriers facing disabled people in accessing computers. As he is our most regular wheelchair-bound customer, I asked Bob if he would like to learn about computers. I admit that I was surprised when he said ‘Yes, when should I come?!’

Bob using the lift at St John's Wood LibraryThe prospect of this learning opportunity meant that Bob faced his fear of the lift and conquered it – he now comes twice a week to join in the Go On courses with a member of library staff.

He is becoming increasingly independent when using the computer, having set up an email account and explored online newspapers. He’s also enjoying having access to a much wider range of books and materials on the lower ground floor shelves.

The next challenge for Bob is to discover what’s possible online that he may not even have imagined. He has committed to coming every week so library staff will continue to introduce him to a wide range of online activities and resources and seeing what fires his imagination. The sky’s the limit!

[Amy]