Thursday, 20 December 2012

Edmund de Waal on tact *Christmas Special*

This post is a Christmas special, designed to give you something to think about at this time of year, when you meet up with friends and family and remember those who are no longer with us.  As the title has already announced, it is Edmund de Waal's talk on tact: as important at Christmas as mince pies, wine, and wrapping skills. 

This talk was given as part of the School of Life's Sunday Sermons earlier this year, and was one of the most engaging of these sermons I have attended.  I heartily recommend finding somewhere quiet, without other distractions, and watching.

  Edmund de Waal On Tact from The School of Life on Vimeo.

Further Reading

de Waal, E. (2010).  The hare with amber eyes; a hidden inheritance. Chatto & Windus. 

In Memory of W. B. Yeats (1940) from Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The story of LIFE magazine... another programme I have found on BOB. Photographer Rankin profiles, "the treasured photographic magazine that chronicled the 20th Century" here (or embedded below).

Incidentally, Life is now available online courtesy of Google Books. You will find every issue from 1936, when the magazine was first issued, until 1972. It's fantastic!

This recording is to be used only for non-commercial educational purposes under the terms of an ERA Licence. For terms of use and to find and record more programmes please visit BoB National.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Begin at the beginning - researching your assignment

“Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

- Lewis Carrol, Alice’s adventures in wonderland (1865), ch. 12 

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog post on Improving your essay writing skills, which is quickly becoming one of the most frequently accessed posts I’ve written. If you are currently writing your first academic assignment, it’s worth a look, as it sets out the process in brief and covers two key elements – the introduction and the conclusion.

I wrote very little about how to go about looking for literature to support your writing in that post, and I want to address that here – albeit in part only. Specifically, I want to write about starting your research, covering how to begin, using table of contents and indexes, and coping with unfamiliar terms and concepts.

Where shall I begin?

It is very natural to begin your search for supporting material by typing some version of the essay title into Google or Library Search, hoping to find material that covers the topic. This is sometimes a productive strategy – especially as some works in the library may be in high demand - but can just as often send you down blind alleys, make you miss more useful material or plunge you into writing that you are not yet able to understand. Try and resist.

Before searching for material to help you answer the question, start reviewing what you know already. The questions you are asked to research always relate to material that is covered to some degree in the modules that you are taking, so you shouldn’t be starting with a blank slate. Review the reading and thinking you have already done.  Then try to pose a series of questions you need to find answers for. This will help you get the most out of the literature when you start reading.

Your lecturers have supplied a reading list, and although you are often required to go beyond this, you should start here before moving on to other works.   

Using table of contents and indexes

Look in the table of contents and the index of books to try to pinpoint sections which relate to the topic you will be writing on. Think laterally about the terms you are looking for – you will need to consider synonyms, antonyms, and alternative terms which may be broader or narrower than the topic as defined in the question. This is also true when using Library Search or any other database to find resources.

Unfamiliar terms and concepts

Look for terms that you are unfamiliar with in textbooks, or in encyclopedias. Wikipedia can help, but concentrate on more authoritative sources such as subject-specific encyclopedias. The e-resource CredoReference provided by the library can really help here, providing authoritative articles on many topics – especially in the area of philosophy and cultural studies.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Referencing guides

Advice about referencing was one of the things that came up at the recent training sessions I ran on finding information sources for a disseration.  This is not surprising I suppose, since I called the session, 'Exciting Citing.'

The basics are covered in the University of Westminster's guide, 'Referencing your work'.  However, this is a general guide for all students, so does not cover some aspects - such as referencing images.  The guides referred to below do cover this using the Harvard system, so I hope they will be useful. NB: Please also refer to the 'dissertation guidelines' given by the teaching staff, and modify accordingly.

  1. University of the Arts London.  Guide to the Harvard system of referencing
  2. University for the Creative Arts.  Referencing.
  3. Glasgow School of Art.  Bibliographies [part of InfoSmart Module 4]

I have also bought an e-book, which covers referencing in depth, shown below and also on the Study Skills section of this blog. 

Neville, C. (2010).  The complete guide to referencing and avoiding plagiarism, 2nd ed. Open University Press. 

This covers how to reference images, and just about everything else you might want to refer to.  It also a discusses the main types of referencing - author/date (i.e. Harvard style), consecutive numbering, and recurrent numbering. 

A couple of points that don't get good coverage are dealing with translations and reprints.  Pears and Shield (2010) suggest adding a statement of translation after the title.  For reprints, they suggest citing the original date of publication, but not the original publisher.  My interpretation of this is below.

Barthes, R. (1980).  Camera lucida; reflections on photography.  Translated by Richard Howard.  Reprint, London: Vintage, 1993. 

In text this could be Barthes (1980 [1993]).  

There are other ways of doing this, but this seems acceptable to me.

For those of us not familiar with Latin, a short explanation of the terms 'ibid' and 'op cit' follow.  These are not used in the Harvard system, but you will come across them, so its useful to be able to distinguish between the two.

Ibid = ibidim (meaning 'the same place') used to refer to an immediately preceding reference.

Op cit. = opere citato (meaning 'in the work cited') used to refer to a previously cited work, and preceded by a shortened form of the work referred to.


Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2010).  Cite them right; the essential referencing guide, 8th ed.  Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Summer vacation loans

The following information will be useful if you are planning on taking books out over the summer.

From Friday 25 May until Friday 8 June 3 week loans will be issued to a fixed date of Friday 15 June 2012.

From Saturday 9 June 2012 3 week books and 1 week books will be issued over the vacation period to be returned during the week beginning Monday 24 September 2012.

DVDs remain 1 week.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Photographies - new issue

The latest issue of Photographies is available online now.  When trying to access the journal outside of the university, select 'Sign in,' then 'Sign in via shibboleth,' and then 'University of Westminster.'

The following articles are included:

Globalisation and the Art Photography of Joel Sternfeld
Antigoni Memou

A Meditation on Poetry and Photography
Marnie McInnes

Imagining the Image: Photography, psychoanalysis and the affects of latency
Ignaz Cassar

“Venturing Out on a Ledge to Get a Certain Picture”: The “authentic” spaces of Alvin Langdon Coburn's Grand Canyon
Jordan Bear

Madonnas of Warfare, Angels of Poverty: Cutting through press photographs
Marta Zarzycka

Orientalizing the Bayadère/Fabricating Mata Hari
Romita Ray

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

British Council Film Collection - now online

The British Council Film Collection is an archive of over 120 short documentary films made by the British Council during the 1940s designed to show the world how Britain lived, worked and played.

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Informed Researcher - booklet

Vitae have previously published a number of natty little booklets for researchers, with titles such as 'The balanced researcher'; 'The creative researcher'; 'The engaging researcher' and 'The leading researcher'.  Now, at last, we have 'The informed researcher.'  What, as they say themselves, is  research about if not "finding, absorbing, creating and disseminating information?"

This, along with an Information literacy lens has been developed in collaboration with the Research Information Network (RIN) and the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL).

Further reading

Researcher Development Framework [from Vitae]

Friday, 27 April 2012

Infosmart - Information Skills for Creatives

Award-Winning InfosmART Portfolio Released by Glasgow School of Art Library

Glasgow, April 2012

The Glasgow School of Art Library’s award-winning InfosmART portfolio is now freely available to the UK’s art and design communities, following Innovation and Development funding from the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC)
InfosmART is the Glasgow School of Art Library’s portfolio of online interactive modules in information and research skills, specifically designed for creative practitioners. It has been produced for the learning, teaching and research communities in art, design and architecture, and helps artists and designers to develop and improve their research capabilities and information handling, at either undergraduate, postgraduate or research levels. It does this through an easy-to-follow 5-step programme: Define, Find, Evaluate, Cite and Use.
In 2010, InfosmART was recognised at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards, where its development team was named Outstanding Library Team of the Year. In 2011, its lead developer was named Information Literacy Practitioner of the Year for his work on the resource.
InfosmART was developed in-house by the Library of Glasgow School of Art, which is internationally recognised as one of Europe's foremost higher education institutions for creative education and research in fine art, design and architecture. It is one of only three Small Specialist Institutions within Scotland, with undergraduate, taught postgraduate, and research programmes delivered across architecture, fine art, design, and digital design. The Library forms part of Learning Resources, which also includes e-learning, archives, and collections.
InfosmART has now been released for free non-commercial use and adaptation under Creative Commons licensing at

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Mike Leigh at Regent Street Cinema

My favourite director, Mike Leigh, will be appearing at the Regent Street Cinema next Wednesday at an event organised by Time Out and the London Film Society.  Unfortunatetly, I won't be able to make it!  He will be appearing alongside 'Another Year' star, Lesley Manville, and together they will be talking about screen acting.  Further details here.

For further information about the cinema, which is at our headquarters in Regent Street, take a look at the following websites:  Regent Street Cinema; The Birthplace of Cinema.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Why do Wikipedia entries always appear at the top of Google results?

I had thought that Google ranks results according to the number and significance of links to a particular page, as well as calculating the number of references to your search terms in that page.

So, why when you compare the number of incoming links to the top two results for the search term  'Research' does the top entry (a Wikipedia entry) have 110 million incoming links, compared to the second entry with 947 million?

It could be that the links to the Wikipedia entry are from sites that themselves have lots of links, but I doubt it.  I think, more likely, that links to the Wikipedia domain are also included within the rank, so that individual Wikipedia pages are boosted because of the popularity of the site as a whole.  This means that any entry on Wikipedia is likely to have a high ranking.

Here are some reasons to avoid using Wikipedia.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Tweet your way to academic success

The LSE's Impact of Social Sciences Project aims to look at the ways that the impact of research in the social sciences is achieved and at effective ways that it can be measured.  For academics in any discipline wishing to increase the impact of their research, it is well worth looking at.  The guide on using Twitter to increase your visibility is embedded below.

Follow me on twitter at: @photolbrrn

Third Text - new issue

The new issue of Third Text is now available online from the link below.  The journal is a highly regarded academic publication, which focuses on art practices including art, photography and film.  It looks specifically at work that may be, "marginalised through racial, gender, religious and cultural differences".  For more about the journal read the aims and scope.

 Third Text - Volume 26, Issue 2

Third Text is indexed in the following databases: ARTbibliographies Modern; British Humanities Index; Thomson Reuters’ Arts & Humanities Citation Index.

Google Scholar - citation data

You have probably already noticed that records in Google Scholar include links to articles etc that cite the work referred to.  Click on the 'Cited by...' link and you get a list of works which cite it.

You may have also noticed that the works with the highest number of citations are generally higher in the results list than those with fewer citations.  The reason that this is not always the case is that Google puts a higher weight on citations which have themselves a high number of citations.  This is the same way as Google works, where referring URLs are used rather than references.

Although launched on April 1st, the Google Scholar Metrics for Publications is (I think) a legitimate service from Google.  It takes the citation data already available and uses it to rank publications, in a similar sort of way as that available with the well-established Journal Citation Reports (JCR) or the alternative SCOPUS.

However, whereas JCR only looks at the most highly-ranked journals, the advantage with Google Scholar is that a much wider range of journals are included.  You can have a look at an example for 'cinema OR film.'  One major problem, though, is that you can only group journals by words appearing in their title - thus missing out Screen and Cineaste from the example given (a list with them included is available here).  This makes the service interesting, but in need of development.

In a similar vein, Google's previously announced 'my citations' service allows you to create a profile and track works on Google Scholar that cite works that you have authored.  You can then make this profile public if you wish (see Albert Einstein's profile for example), or keep it to yourself.  It is very easy to set up: go to 'my citations,' type in your name, affiliation, email address and areas of interest and then varify the list of publications listed.  It really is very easy and is recommended for academics who wish to promote their work (which is anyone who has published I guess).

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Magazines and journals for photography - new subscriptions

It is really great to be able to announce that the library has recently taken out two new subscriptions in support of photography - foam and Photography and Culture.

The fantastic foam magazine is now available in the library in print.  It was an obvious choice, since I have had students approaching me in the library to ask whether we could get it, and it was well-supported by academic staff.  I am overjoyed to be able to add this to our magazine collection.

Photography & Culture is available online.  It was also a clear favourite with academic staff, and as one of the few peer-reviewed academic journals that focus specifically on photography, I think it is essential for our collection.  Like other similar publications such as History of Photography and Photographies each issue contains several academic research papers, supplemented by reviews of recent books and exhibitions.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Roger Ebert - hero or villain?

My New Year's resolution this year was to watch the hundred films Roger Ebert recommends in his book, The great movies.  I chose this selection in preference to the transparent nationalism of the AFI 100 or the BFI 100 or the encyclopedic selection of David Thomson or of the punchy Sight and Sound polls (which are conducted every ten years - the next one is due this year).  The Ebert list offers a good range of genres, time-periods with nothing too populist (with a couple of exceptions) or too obscure or trendy.  Perhaps its a little dull?

You would think so, anyway, if you read the rebarbative review of Ebert's (admittedly unnecessary) memoir in Sight and Sound in January.  Michael Atkinson decries him as "more of an Everyman's pop-culture figurehead than a critic, in a nation that has little general use for film criticism beyond the crudest consumer recommendations."  Only in America, he suggests, would a newspaper film reviewer, "publish a 400-page autobiography in his autumnal phase."

As well as having recently published a memoir, Ebert is also the subject of an appraisal of his life and work in a new book (see below), which compares him to other prominent critics such as Pauline Kael and John Simon.  One imagines this gives a more balanced appraisal than Atkinson's review.

Further reading

1000 greatest films:

Ebert, R. (2004).  The great movies.  Broadway Books.   [You will find this conveniently located with the DVD collection on the second floor]

Haberski, R. J. (2001).  It's only a movie! Films and critics in American culture.  University Press of Kentucky.

Rendleman, T. (2012).  Rule of thumb; Ebert at the movies. Continuum.

Ebert's 100

2001: A Space Odyssey -- The 400 Blows -- 8 1/2 -- Aguirre, the Wrath of God -- Ali: Fear Eats the Soul -- All About Eve -- The Apartment -- Apocalypse Now -- The Apu Trilogy -- Battleship Potemkin -- Beauty and the Beast -- Belle de Jour -- The Bicycle Thief -- The Big Sleep -- Blowup -- Body Heat -- Bonnie and Clyde -- Bride of Frankenstein -- Broken Blossoms -- Casablanca -- Chinatown -- Citizen Kane -- City Lights -- Days of Heaven -- The Decalogue -- Detour -- Do the Right Thing -- Double Indemnity -- Dracula -- Dr. Stangelove -- Duck Soup -- E.T. -- The Exterminating Angel -- Fargo -- Floating Weeds -- Gates of Heaven -- The General -- The Godfather -- Gone with the Wind -- Grand Illusion -- Greed -- A Hard Day's Night -- Hoop Dreams -- Ikiru -- It's a Wonderful Life -- JFK -- La Dolce Vita -- The Lady Eve -- Last Year at Marienbad -- L'Atalante -- L'Avventura -- Lawrence of Arabia -- Le Samourai -- M -- The Maltese Falcon -- Manhattan -- McCabe & Mrs. Miller -- Metropolis -- Mr. Hulot's Holiday -- My Darling Clementine -- My Life to Live -- Nashville -- Network -- The Night of the Hunter -- Nosferatu -- Notorious -- On the Waterfront -- Pandora's Box -- The Passion of Joan of Arc -- Peeping Tom -- Persona -- Pickpocket -- Pinocchio -- Psycho -- Pulp Fiction -- Raging Bull -- Red River -- Schindler's List -- The Seven Samurai -- The Seventh Seal -- The Shawshank Redemption -- The Silence of the Lambs -- Singin' in the Rain -- Some Like It Hot -- Star Wars -- Sunset Blvd. -- Sweet Smell of Success -- Swing Time -- Taxi Driver -- The Third Man -- Trouble in Paradise -- Un Chien Andalou -- The "Up" Documentaries -- Vertigo -- The Wild Bunch -- Wings of Desire -- The Wizard of Oz -- Woman in the Dunes -- A Woman Under the Influence -- Written on the Wind.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Improving your essay writing skills

As a librarian, I am often called upon to teach students research skills.  In an attempt to broaden my perspective on study skills more generally, I have been attending some of the Learning and Study Skills workshops, the latest of which was ‘Improving your essay writing skills.’  Writing good essays is a skill which takes a long time to develop, however there are some simple tips which can help you now.  I will briefly outline these below.

1. Understand the process

Your final goal is to hand the essay in on time, but before this happens there are a number of steps you have to go through – and preferably not in the evening before the hand-in date.

(i)    Make sure you understand the essay title.  Read the 'questions' section in Andy Gillet’s ‘Using English for Academic Purposes [Writing]' website.  This explains the meaning of commonly used words in essay questions.  For subject-specific terms use a subject-specific dictionary, encyclopedia or try CREDOreference (via Library Search).

(ii)    Do some research.  This means going to the library or using some of our online resources, selecting resources, and reading them.  Read the material in order to understand the topic, not just to find a few choice quotations.  Move from basic sources to complex ones rather than the other way around.

(iii)    Plan what you are going to write.  Use brainstorming, jot down headings, write down your ideas and select quotations that you might use. You will probably want to do some of this while you are doing the research.

(iv)    Write a first draft.  Manchester University’s ‘Phrasebank’ may help by suggesting commonly used forms of words.

(v)    Proofread your first draft. It is often a good idea to leave it for a couple of days before you do this.

(vi)    Re-write/modify

2. Get the introduction right

A good introduction will tell your reader clearly what you are writing about, and how you are tackling that particular topic.  It will probably comprise between 5-10% of your total essay, and you should try to include some of the following (suggested by McCormack & Slaght, 2005):

  • Introduction to the topic
  • Background information
  • Definition of key terms (if necessary)
  • Thesis statement (your argument)
  • Writer’s purpose
  • Outline of structure
As with all writing, don't try too hard to sound clever.  Try to imagine that you are introducing your topic to an informed and intelligent friend. 

3. Basic features of a conclusion

While the introduction sets out for the reader where you are going, the conclusion reminds them where they have been.  It may also be a good place to suggest where they may go in the future.  Try to include some of the following (suggested by McCormack & Slaght, 2005) and keep it to  5-10% of your total word count.
  • A brief summary of the main points
  • Logical conclusions
  • Comments on these ideas
  • Predictions (optional)
  • Limitations of the work (optional)
  • Mention of further research required (optional)

I have summarised the main points covered in the session I attended – the process, introductions and conclusions.  Even though I have a couple of degrees under my belt and one or two professional qualifications, I found them useful and I hope you do to.  This isn’t the last word on writing essays, however; and we haven’t looked at writing the main body of the text.  If you want to explore the topic further you could try some of the resources below.


Academic Phrasebank [University of Manchester]

McCormack, J. & Slaght (2005).  Extended writing & researching skills.  Garnet Education: Reading.

Learning and Study Skills Support [University of Westminster] (helpsheets, workshops, one-to-ones).

UEfAP: Academic Writing

Further reading

Study Skills – intro [selected study skills resources]