A Library With No Books?

old fashioned library

An old-fashioned library

I have always loved libraries, in fact, I have always had a weakness for anywhere that you can find books – antiquarian bookshops, charity paperback shelves, the lovely Deanery secondhand bookstall in Winchester with its honesty box…

But today the Independent has a story about the world’s first paperless library, in Bexar County, Texas, USA. They have tens of thousands of ebooks stored in the cloud and, having never had access to even an old-fashioned library with real books, the people of Bexar County are understandably extremely happy.

The county has 1.7 million residents, so providing a library was never going to be a simple task. The advantages are obvious. It’s cost-effective and well-equipped. “According to its website, the $1.5 million (£920,000) BiblioTech currently has 600 e-readers, 200 pre-loaded enhanced e-readers for children, and 48 computer stations, 10 laptops and 40 tablets to use on-site,” says the Independent.

Its staff, unburdened of the tedious chores of stacking shelves, replacing volumes and cataloguing are free to teach and advise, a clear bonus for those Bexar County residents who are not technology literate.

It’s supremely ironic that the man who set the whole idea in motion, County Judge Nelson Wolff, collects first editions. But good for him, because now BiblioTech is bringing stories and information to people who couldn’t access them before.

But still, a part of me sighs when thinking about a room full of touch screens and laptops instead of bookshelves. There’s something about the feeling of a real book that just can’t be replaced by electronic wizardry. The smell, the weight, the touch – it’s like holding a little bit of magic in your hands.

And we all need magic in our lives, don’t we?


Can Language Influence Our Saving Habits?

It’s obvious that our native tongue is going to have an influence on how we view the world. As a language teacher I spent many a happy hour teaching the conceptual difference between the present continuous, the future simple and the “going to” future and the intentions these different forms convey.

We native English speakers view time in chunks. It’s also amazing how most of us who write from left to write also view the past on the left and the future on the right.

I was fascinated to discover that behavioural economist Keith Chen has found a provable link between the way languages describe the future and that population’s saving habits. It throws up so many more questions!

See what you make of his astounding Ted Talk here.


Team GB – Something to Celebrate in More Ways Than One!

From the moment I saw Danny Boyle's inspired, quirky Olympics opening ceremony I was gripped by a patriotic fever that has been increasing as fast as Team GB's medal tally. I am so proud to be British and I wish I was there to experience it all, rather than here in my adopted country of Italy!

It's a bit like the “cricket match test” that used to be bandied around as a true barometer of how loyal you felt towards an adopted country. Who would you support in an international cricket match? Your home country or the one you now call home?

Well, for me there is absolutely no contest. I yell and roar for Team GB like a demented banshee, whereas I have no idea whatsoever of Italy's medal scores.

True Heroes

And there is an additional and positive effect, apart from the feel-good glitter of gold medals. There is the glimmer of a chance that the new GB sports heroes – people who have spent long, hard, thankless hours slogging away, getting up early, giving up partying and socialising for months on end – are replacing the vacuous famous-for-being-famous “celebrities” in the hearts and minds of the British public and media.

I hope the current clutch of successful medal winners become the new role models. That people become heroes for working hard and reaching goals they can be proud of rather than just piling on the slap and getting hammered or snogging someone in the latest reality show. Because that is one part of my native culture that I dislike intensely and is really nothing to be proud of at all.

In his post gold medal interview, cycling superstar Bradley Wiggins (so cool!) said he despised the British obsession with celebrating people who have achieved absolutely nothing and that he had no wish to be a “celebrity” himself. I cheered from the sofa! I loved him even more for adding that he was “slightly tipsy” having had his first vodka and tonic in nine months!

So well done to everyone in Team GB, winners and non-winners (you certainly aren't losers). You have been able to do what politicians and pundits haven't. You have made sport cool and you have stuck a gold plated rocket deep into the flimsy foundations of “celebrity culture”.



Ghostwriter or College Cheat’s Companion? The Sordid World of Paper Writing Services

I recently received the following email: Dear Madam, I see you are a ghostwriter. Can you help me? I must go to UK on a study holiday. Please can you give me your phone number so my teachers can call you and you can verify my work? Please can you write a report on my satisfactory work? Thank you.

I must admit my reply was disingenuous, rather than writing: No I won't you lazy cheat I said I didn't understand. Why could he not ask his real supervisor in the UK to phone and to write the report? Why did he need me? Of course, he didn't continue the correspondence! It left a nasty taste in my mouth, though. For him ''ghostwriter” was synonymous with “person who will help me cheat”. Well, you picked the wrong person, mate!

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education  called The Shadow Scholar made me think of the whole murky sordid unethical area of essay writing services, called paper writing services in the US. The writer Ed Dante (not his real name) is supposedly coming clean about his academic paper ghostwriting service and how widespread cheating is in the academic world. But all I could think of was 'you unethical loser.' He boasts in the feature about how much he made writing in the stead of the hopeless, hapless and dishonest. He quotes examples from Ph.D students who can barely string a sentence together as if we're supposed to be horrified that they resort to his services. Well, hello? People have always cheated. The only horror I felt was that someone talented enough to write academic papers for other people had so shamelessly sold his soul to make money. For God's sake! Where are your morals, man? How many people have you helped get qualified and put in positions of responsibility who should never be there?

I am the daughter of older Scots parents with a razor sharp work ethic which has sliced its way into every area of my life. (It's probably why I can't ever 'relax' and always have to be on the go 'doing' something!) My father used to say 'Get your qualifications, they can never take them away from you.' And so I did. O levels, A levels, degree, three postgraduate qualifications (the most recent just four years ago!) And all of those involved study, sacrifice, hard work and, yes where Warwick University was concerned – a hell of a lot of partying too. But I still wrote all my essays myself. I once had to read 14 novels in two weeks because of leaving things to the last minute, but bloody hell, I did it. And I can say, hand on heart, that apart from telling everyone in my class at school to 'vote for me and I'll vote for you,' in the form captain election when I was six years old (and then promptly voting for myself – I won of course!), I have never cheated.

So here's my message to students – do the work yourself. You learn from your failures, stress is part of life and certainly part of the world of work – get over it!

But my message to people like Mr 'Dante'  is stronger than that. Shame on you.

Rescue of the Chilean Miners – A Symbol of Hope

And so the final miner and the brave rescuers are above ground again after the most incredible rescue operation many of us have ever seen. In fact, the whole story was covered by the 24-hours news journalists with a stream of superlatives – the longest time underground, the deepest rescue shaft, the largest number of men, the first, the youngest, the oldest, the last…

The rescue craft was called Phoenix – a symbol of hope and rebirth. What power that magical name has and what magic it brought about. The whole area resounded with cheers and tears and chanting "CHI CHI CHI LE LE LE" as every man was reborn to life from the dark and symbolic womb of the earth.

But much as I want to wax lyrical, and despite the acres of newsprint and torrent of commentary, in this case words have to defer to pictures.

Just as the horrific and heartbreaking images from 9/11 were seared into mass consciousness, replayed over and over again until they became the archetype for terror, so I hope the images of those incredible men, symbolising the triumph of courage over fear, light over darkness, good over bad will become a positive and enduring message of hope for all of us in a world addicted to bad news.