Innovation and the future of the book

Very belatedly, I’d like to write about the last two sessions of the module ‘Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society’ which I took earlier this year. In the penultimate session, we had two speakers – Matt Finch (@drmattfinch) and James Baker (@j_w_baker). And in our last session Alastair Horne (@pressfuturist) gave a presentation. The common theme was innovation in libraries and publishing.

Matt Finch, a writer and educator, wrote his PhD on the Warburg Institute, a research institute in London that focuses on the study of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, described by the New Yorker as the world’s weirdest library. This library apparently arranges its collection by the ‘law of the good neighbour’, which apparently means that each book should be able to ‘stage a conversation with its neighbour: ask a question, provide an answer’ (Steinberg, 2012).

Matt’s talk was entitled ‘Words and Pictures, Space and Play’ and focused on how comics, storytelling and theatre can be used in libraries. For example, in Parkes, New South Wales, public and school libraries hosted retailers and comics creators in Australia’s first rural comics festival. And in another public library, Matt staged a live-action zombie siege where participants got to decide the outcome of the story. This was in a library that only opens four hours for one day a week so the event was great for raising awareness of the library. Matt emphasised that no extra money was spent on the event either – they worked with what they had. Another community project in public libraries that Matt was involved in was the over-18s Dark Night: Library Burlesque festival, which featured comics, cinema screenings, cabaret evenings and more in partnership with Auckland’s public library service.

James Baker is a curator in the Digital Research team at the British Library. As such he has been involved with projects such as the Million Images from scanned books project. This involves releasing images from digitised books in the British Library’s collection onto Flickr – you can see their photo stream here. I particularly like the fancy letters you get, such as:

11140592193_cca9b30ebe_m   11145712576_af02111e9a_o

James also talked about text-mining tools for humanities research, citing Google’s Ngram viewer and the Infectious Texts project as examples. In his slides he showed us a graph created using the Ngram viewer of the use of the word ‘prison’ in books on Google Books. It showed sharp rises in the use of the words ‘prison discipline’ in the mid-nineteenth century and ‘prison camps’ in the mid-twentieth century, which could reflect societal preoccupations with prison reform at these times. James’s work on personal digital archives – i.e. laptops and phones belonging to writers deposited at the BL – was also fascinating to hear about.

Finally, in our last session, Alistair Horne, who works on innovation at Cambridge University Press, lead an interactive session on ebooks, publishing business models and more. We covered so much that I think perhaps the best would be for me to give you a flavour of the discussion through a few questions and some of the answers we came up with. Alistair’s blog is well worth checking out for further information.

Why are ebooks cheaper than print? This was a bit of a trick question as actually ebooks are sometimes more expensive than print. There is an expectation that ebooks should be cheaper and when Alistair probed us about this we realised it was because we assume that ebooks have less production costs. But actually it turns out that ebooks have similar production costs to print books – they’re just different. So instead of having to pay to store books in a warehouse, for example, you’re having to pay for space on a disk or in the cloud to store files.

What ebook subscription services currently exist? I’ve found three so far: Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited.

How do these ebook subscription services work financially? The customer pays a monthly subscription ($9.95 for Oyster, $8.99 for Scribd, £7.99 for Kindle Unlimited) in exchange for access to vast digital libraries (between 500,000 and 1 million books depending on the service). In the case of Kindle Unlimited you also get free access to Audible audiobooks. The range of books might sound huge but it’s important to remember that not all publishers are signed up to these services so it’s worth checking which publishers are available before you sign up.

Imagine that you are a) a publisher; b) an author; c) a reader. What do you want from a subscription model? What are your fears? As a publisher, I would have mixed feelings. On the one hand it might make my authors more discoverable and increase sales of their work. On the other hand, it might decrease print sales or ebook sales via other platforms and negotiating fair royalties with a giant like Amazon might not be easy. As an author, I would be interested in a new way of making my books available to readers. However, I might have similar concerns to publishers about royalties. I might make comparisons with Spotify, which offers a subscription model for music streaming. Spotify pays artists $0.001128 per play of one of their tracks, which means they have to get lots of plays to make it worthwhile (Guardian, 2015). I might also worry that less well-known authors would be harder to discover by users of subscription services as they’d be sharing shelf-space with thousands of other authors. As a reader, I’d want a subscription model to mean that I could access books on any device, offline as well as online. I’d also want as wide a range of content as possible, including front list titles from a range of publishers. Otherwise I might think that free elending via my local public library would be a better option.


Michael P. Steinberg, 2012. The Law of the Good Neighbor. Common Knowledge 18.1: 128-133. Project MUSE. Web. 17 Jul. 2015. <;.

Guardian, 2015. How much money do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube? Web. 17 Jul. 2015.

Links from Matt Finch’s talk: Matt’s blog | Tabletop superheroes game | Comics grid | Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

Links from James Baker’s talk: Slides | James’s website | The Mechanical Curator

Links from Alistair Horne’s talk: Internet of Things


IAML Annual Study Weekend, Cambridge 2014

In April this year, I attended a workshop for music librarians organised by the UK and Ireland branch of the International Association of Music Librarians (IAML). Thanks to a bursary from the Music Libraries Trust, I was able to attend all three days of the workshop at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

One of the best things about the weekend was the wide range of talks and people attending. The talks varied in length from one-hour presentations to shorter reports to an afternoon where you could pick from a range of interactive ‘mini workshops’. We heard speakers ranging from the British Library to the Bodleian to public libraries to music publishers.  There were also talks from the National Jazz Archive and the local music hub which provides music education for young people. One morning of the workshop was also dedicated to looking round a library in Cambridge. I chose the Cambridge University Music Faculty library to get an insight into the running of a busy faculty library.

In the evenings there were also opportunities to meet the other people attending. Newcomers to the ASW were given a buddy who helped make introductions. There was a drinks reception and concert on the first evening and a three-course meal followed by a concert on the second evening. I met many people and was able to talk about my course and ask questions about music librarianship to my heart’s content. I even met a couple of City alumnae, one of whom was there to collect a prize for her dissertation on digital sheet music. The after-dinner concert by the Erasmus choir featuring music by Villiers Stanford, Gibbons, Rossini, Vaughan Williams, Rutter and Skempton, was wonderful.

In the paragraphs below I will try and give a flavour of some of the topics covered during the weekend.

Teaching research skills in universities and conservatoires

The ASW began with two seminars which ran concurrently – one focusing on academic libraries and the other on public libraries. I attended half of each.

The academic library seminar’s focus was on the special characteristics of conservatoire music libraries. In conservatoires, I learnt that students may well be beginners in research skills and/or more interested in performance than research. Different solutions were proposed for how to go about tackling this. Karen McAulay, librarian at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, talked about a course she’d done that could feed into information literacy training: ‘The Teaching Artist’. As a way of learning about pedagogical theories and new technologies for teaching and learning (blogging, social media etc), the course sounded like a great idea. It would have been interesting to hear more though about which ideas Karen decided to implement in her teaching at the RSC and with what results. Geoff Thomason from the Royal Northern College of Music spoke about an exercise for new post-grads, which involves splitting them into three groups to compare the effectiveness of print resources, free online resources such as Google and Wikipedia and proprietary databases for a set of research questions. He stressed the importance of seeing the advantages and disadvantages of each set of resources rather than favouring or ruling out a particular resource based on preconceptions such as ‘Google is bad’.

Open Access

Another speaker at the academic libraries seminar focused on the question of publishing research in open access repositories. In particular, Charity Dove’s talk gave me a better understanding of the practical significance of funders’ policies. The fact that by REF 2020 all funded research may have to be published in open access repositories brought home the need to educate researchers about this complex field. Libraries’ limited ability to pay for funders’ preferred model of depositing research – ‘gold’ – also raised interesting questions.

Declining CD stocks in public libraries

The public library seminar focused on declining CD issues and stock across local authorities. According to CIPFA statistics, in 2013 twelve libraries had no CDs at all. Yet librarians from Hackney Central Library were able to counter this bleak picture by telling us more about their highly popular CD service. The key to their success has apparently been to take on selection of stock themselves, drawing on staff’s knowledge of music and local communities’ tastes, and to try and make the library more like a record shop by arranging CDs by genre. They were optimistic about libraries’ potential to revive CD issues and stressed libraries’ USPs – attractively displayed stock that has been curated by a trusted source and can be easily browsed.

Digital music trends 

Digital music trends were explored by Richard Chesser and Andra Patterson from the British Library. Firstly, we heard about the Transforming Musicology project which is investigating the influence of digital technologies on the study of music. Further research on this project led me to the Transforming Musicology blog where I was particularly interested to find out about initiatives to promote discussion of music on social media that could then be mined for musicological insights.

Moving on to big data, we were invited to think of research questions that could make use of big data, for example ‘How did music travel across boundaries?’ or ‘How did music form into canons?’. Subsequently I found out that Queen Mary University London and others are developing tools for mining large music collections. Examples of how these tools can be used for musicological research will be made available to the general public, which should help us to evaluate the impact of big data on musicology. For the moment its potential benefits to researchers and the music industry seem to be facilitating analysis of broader trends and a more quantitative approach to research.

Digital sheet music is now subject to legal deposit and we found out about some of the challenges of this new regulation for the British Library. For example, digital sheet music tends to be published in ‘bundles’ of files – e.g. parts, score and recording – making up one piece of music. As a result, data models are needed to help organise the metadata for each piece of music. I was interested in the work still to be done on cataloguing digital sheet music, including investigating how far the standard used for printed sheet music needs to be adapted for use with digital sheet music.

Inspiring projects in public libraries

My buddy for the weekend was Ros Edwards, librarian at the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester. Newly reopened, as well as its large collection of books and music, the Henry Watson library now also boasts a drum kit, pianos and a mixing deck, which are proving very popular. Ros’s account of the life of Henry Watson (1846-1911) in her presentation told of his early life working in various small music businesses and teaching himself the piano through to the setting up of his own business to becoming a professor at the Royal Northern College of Music. His large collection of music and instruments was eventually left to Manchester, hence the library being named after him. It was an inspiring tale of determination to succeed and to help others do the same by leaving his collections to a public library.

Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines project is a year-long programme of workshops for everyone from school children to adults to families. It is delivered by Westminster Music Library and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and celebrates the music and composers of World War One. (Do have a look at the blog, especially the fantastic Resource Packs.) Ruth Walters and Ruth Currie gave lots of useful advice on putting together a funding bid, recruiting an advisory board and finding sponsors. It sounded like a huge amount of work went into it. However, we were treated to a slideshow of photos from the project showing highlights from the workshops with musicians from the RPO and everyone looked like they were having a fantastic time. As Ruth Currie, pointed out, libraries have so much to offer educational projects as they can provide space, staff, their collections etc. Similarly, the Barbican Music Library’s exhibitions and People’s Piano Project show how inventive public libraries can be when it comes to making use of their space and collections. It sounds like the collaboration with the National Jazz Archive for the Golden Age of British Popular Music exhibition was particularly successful.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. I heard a fascinating range of talks and improved my understanding of different areas of music librarianship – particularly in the public and higher education sectors. I also met lots of librarians who could talk to me about their careers and fellow LIS students. It has given me ideas for potential dissertation topics and some valuable contacts. I am very grateful to the Staypar Trust for subsidising my bursary and would definitely recommend the ASW to other students interested in music librarianship.


Queen Mary University London, 2014. Digital music to feel impact of big data. Available:

Richard Lewis, 2013. Social music analysis widget. Transforming Musicology. Available: