Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pliny has moved to WordPress

The blog Pliny the Librarian continues at WordPress, where you also find my Norwegian language blog Plinius. Earlier posts from Blogger (21 items) have been copied to WordPress - and indexed for easy retrieval.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Questions about Canada

Questions about Canada posted on an International Tourism Website. Obviously the answers are jokes, ...

Q:I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)

A:We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch them die.

Q:Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street? (USA)

A:Depends on how much you’ve been drinking.

Q:I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto - can I follow the Railroad tracks? (Sweden)

A:Sure, it’s only Four thousand miles, take lots of water with you.

Q:Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Canada? (Sweden)

A:So it’s true what they say about Swedes.

Q:Are there any ATM’s (cash machines) in Canada? Can you send me a list of them in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax? (UK)

A:What did your last slave die of?

Q:Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Canada? (USA)

A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Ca-na-da is that big country to your North…oh forget it. Sure,
the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Calgary. Come naked.

Q:Which direction is North in Canada? (USA)

A:Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

Q:Can I bring cutlery into Canada? (UK)

A:Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q:Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)

A:Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every
Tuesday night in Vancouver and in Calgary, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

Q:Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? (Germany)

A:No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegans. Milk is illegal.

Q:Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)

A:Yes, but you will have to learn it first.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Greek metals

Early in December I go with my mother - a retired librarian - for a pre-Christmas vacation in Cyprus. The Norwegian winter is very bracing. Several municipalities are now sponsoring rest and recreation visits in the Mediterranean for retired (or disabled) people who would rather stay warm. We join one of these groups.

Greece is great. I fell in love with the country from the first - in 1963. The sea and the light, the pride and vigor of ordinary people, the creative energy, the language, the temple ruins at Cape Sounion.

I never had a chance to stay long. The longest period was four weeks of language study in Thessaloniki - and that was twentyfive years ago. I have seen bits of Crete and Corfu and tiny Seriphos in the Cyclades, but never Cyprus.

This big island in the east was a trading centre even in the Bronze Age, 1500 years BC - a millennium before Pericles, the Akropolis and battle of Salamis. Bronze consists of copper and tin. The alloy is harder and much more useful than pure copper. Cyprus was a big producer of copper - the word means the Cyprian metal.

Achilles, Odysseus and Hector belong to heroic, pre-classical Greece - and fight with swords of bronze. Classical Greece belongs to the Iron Age. The Greek foot soldiers - the hoplites of the fifth century BC that bested the Persians at Marathon- used iron weapons.

Our significant metals are different - light aluminimium, dangerous uranium and infinitely versatile silisium. I look forward to copper.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Words for nerds

Men who read are more attractive, I said yesterday. But they should not visibly read Harry Potter or similar stuff.

Today I found a list of top "geek novels" compiled by Jack Schofield, journalist and Guardian blogger, on the basis of reader recommendations. My source: Lorcan Dempsey' s great blog on library innovation:

The top fifteen were

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams 85% (102)
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell 79% (92)
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley 69% (77)
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick 64% (67)
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson 59% (66)
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert 53% (54)
7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov 52% (54)
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov 47% (47)
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett 46% (46)
10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland 43% (44)
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson 37% (37)
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons 38% (37)
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson 36% (36)
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks 34% (35)
15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein 33% (33)

I must admit that I have read all of them - except Pratchett (too cute) and Banks (very British SF). And all of Harry Potter as well. No hope, then.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Men who read are more attractive

Men who read stand a better chance of attracting women according to a study. Women claim they are more likely to be seduced by a well-read man.

85% of women questioned in a NOP survey for the publisher Penguin said they would be more attracted to a man who talked about literature. But women would be inclined to judge men by the type of books they read. On this rating, reading Harry Potter scored very badly.

(The Times, 7 June 2004)


I knew it! Casanova, of course, became a librarian in Bohemia - at the age of sixty. Pity about Potter though. What type of books should we read?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A new name for the road

Eternity is in love with the productions of time

Today I changed the name of this blog - from Pliny the Younger to Pliny the Librarian. So far, this has been a very occasional blog - with just a few items connected with international incidents in my professional life: a happy trip to Rumania and CIMEC - a fast fandango with the Oslo IFLA. And then silence.

In the meantime, I have grown slightly older and much, much wiser. My other blog, under the name of Plinius, is in Norwegian. I write about the library scene, at home and abroad, for my colleagues, students, friends and anybody else who cares to listen. The mainstay of Plinius is a short article or essay every Sunday - and additional items when I feel like it.

Now the energy level is increasing. IFLA has come and gone - without changing much, as far as I can se. But Web 2.0 is crashing into the Norwegian library scene like a rogue elephant in a vegetable market.

As we start to adapt and adopt, we should engage more with the world scene. Broken English is our global lingua franca. To write is to think: how can I know what I mean unless I read what I have written.

Blogging is social. The world is bigger than Norway. I like to travel. Libraries are ubiquitous. It all adds up: I should write more often in English. Pumping iron tones the body. Pushing ideas tunes the mind. That, at least, is my great white hope.

I aim at once a week. Long er short does not matter. Regularity does.

Ave atque vale
Pliny the Librarian

Sunday, September 18, 2005

IFLA 2005: Blog reports from Oslo

The king was dressed in a simple business suit
and looked like a typical business man.

Evolving libraries

The great event is past. IFLA has visited Oslo. The circus came from Buenos Aires - and moves on to Seoul, Durban and Quebec. It is time to reflect. What does IFLA "mean"?

As a sociologist, I am curious about IFLA as an institution. The IFLA conferences are important evenyts in the world of librarianship. IFLA itself is deeply committed to a global view of library services.

Since libraries must borrow from each other, the library community is necessarily a networked community. IFLA supports all basic human values. It works closely with UNESCO - and gives librarians an arena where they can combine technical collaboration with concrete efforts to build a decent world.

IFLA is also a complex organization. The organizational structure has grown from within, into a thorny thicket of bodies and responsiilities. From the outside it is hard to understand and hard to penetrate.

Commercial firms are streamlined by the market. Public institutions are supervised by cost-cutting governments. Voluntary organizations must modernize themselves.

IFLA has definitely started the process. But it has a long road ahead. The world outside is moving towards flexible, networked, spirited ways of communicating. To remain relevant and fresh, libraries and library organizations must do the same.

For this, blogging is a most appropriate tool.

Personal blogs about IFLA 2005


  1. 025.431: The Dewey blog. Everything you always wanted to know about the Dewey Decimal Classification® system but were afraid to ask ...
  2. ASC Online. A weblog of Information Science & Technology education and mentoring for LIS graduates.
  3. The Bog Standard Blog. The Bog Standard Blog of Stuart and Michele in Merseyside. Home to notes, updates, pictures, and general rants for friends and family. Welcome!
  4. Exlibris OLKGAL. The secret and not-so-secret mutterings, chatterings and grumblings
  5. The FRBR Blog. Work, expression, manifestation, item … blog. [FRBR = Functional requirements for bibliographical records]
  6. Rambling Librarian :: Incidental Thoughts of a Singapore Liblogarian. I'm a librarian from Singapore. The postings are library-related (mostly). I tend to ramble (my wife would agree). As with things in life, my thoughts are incidental (i.e. insignificant). DISCLAIMER - Views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent the official stand of my employer. But you know that already.
  7. The Log of a Librarian. We are the managers of world´s memory, a memory made of paper, ink and plastic, a labile memory which needs organizers. This is not a forum, but the diary of an Argentinian Librarian, where a professional (but primarily a human being) will express his search of an identity and a dream, living in a painful reality. Some ideas are here... I invite all of you to share them with me. [Spanish original: Bitácora de un Bibliotecario].


  1. Bitácora de un Bibliotecario. Más que un estereotipo... Más que un auxiliar... Más que una oscura profesión poco reconocida... Somos los gestores de la memoria del mundo, una memoria hecha de papel, tinta y plástico, una memoria lábil e infinita que necesita organizadores... No se trata de una lista, sino del diario en el cual un profesional -pero, sobre todo, un ser humano- reflejará su búsqueda de una identidad y un sueño, en una realidad que duele. Algunas ideas van aqui... Los invito a compartirlas. [English version: The Log of a Librarian].
  2. Eirikblogg. [Bloggen til Eirik Stillingen]
  3. Oitenta e Cinco. Entries in English as well as in Portuguese.
  4. Tribune Libre. Ce blog reflétera tout aussi bien mon humeur du jour que mes multiples questions concernant mon parcours professionnel [Not on hit list].
  5. Vestærn. Forum for bibliotekene i Vestfold. Utgitt av NBF Vestfold og Vestfold fylkesbibliotek.

The inside dope

In civilized social life, we always operate at two levels: the outer and the inner, appearance and the "real works". The sociologist Goffman speaks about front-stage and back-stage. To understand people, organizations and societies we must learn to see beyond the surface.

That does not mean discounting the surface. Appearances are real, significant and worthy of attention. The formal speeches on the lighted scene and the informal negotiations in the "smoke-filled back-room" are both components of political decision making.

We understand society when we understand the interplay between front and back, light and shadow. Formal institutions and informal networks are both parts of the Great Game.

Formal structures and processes are surrounded by a constant flow of informality: talk and whispers, gossip and chatter, jokes and outbursts, stories and interpretations. The moralist sees empty talk. The anthropologist sees community at work.

We constantly test and transmit the things we see and hear. This is a necessary process. Great events must be taken in and digested. Communities depend on gossip like individuals depend on dreams.

The blog medium - like letters and diaries - spans the gap between formal and informal social life. The blog, however, is inherently public. Diaries and letters stay within the private sphere unless they are deliberately released to the general public.

Googles blog index, at, allows us to access the world of blogs. Blogs have always been indexed by Big Mama Google. But a search tool that only covers the blogosphere makes such searches more convenient. We can, more easily than before, catch the personal, informal and spontaneous response of people to events.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Who went to IFLA 2005 in Oslo?

By July 25, 2.200 participants had been registered for the IFLA meeting in Oslo. In Berlin 2003, ten percent registered late, so we may perhaps end up with 2.400 to 2.500 delegates. With a couple of hundred volunteers and an unknown number of accompanying persons, with exhibition people and assorted staff, the gathering as a whole must involve more than three thousand people.

The delegate to the right is shown with a box of "Mother's flatbrød" - a thin, wafer-like crispbread, which we often eat with cured meats and sour cream. Yummy!

IFLA is a world wide association and the IFLA conferences are world wide gatherings. At the same time, it is very clear that the countries and regions of the world are very uneqally respresented at the IFLA meetings.

Part of the imbalance is due to the unequal size of the library communities in different countries. The more developed countries also have more libraries and more librarins - per one million inhabitants. As countries develop, that disparity will gradually disappear. And IFLA' s support of library development in less developed countries is, in fact, a contribution to their social, cultural and economic progress.

But from discussions with library colleagues it is also clear that the cost of participation has a great impact on recruitment to IFLA. Going to IFLA usually involves a week long trip to a big city several thousand kilometers away.

The venues surrounding Oslo are Glasgow (2002), Berlin (2003), Buenos Aires (2004), Seoul (2006), Durban (2007) and Quebec (2008). Such a trip can easily cost 2.000 euros or 2.200 US dollars, which in many countries is equivalent to the annual salary of a librarian.

These stark economic facts mean that many IFLA delegates need the support of strong institutions at home, or special travel grants, in order to participate. IFLA organizers generally work very hard to make travel support available. In 2005, 75 official scholarships have been granted. Many others have got grants from their home countries or elsewhere.

To make IFLA truly representative, it is clearly important that such efforts continue. At the same time, the IFLA organization could probably lower the practical barriers to participation by a fuller use of web based communication, by lower membership fees for small libraries and by a greater emphasis on regional meetings. Having annual rather than biannual or triannual meetings also impose high costs on those who want to participate in the ongoing work of IFLA.

The composition of the meeting

The delegates in the picture come from small public libraries in Norway (left) and Lithuania (right).
In 2003, in Berlin, I started to look at the social composition of the IFLA delegates, from a sociological point of view. Which countries and regions do they come from? What library types and organizations do they represent? The (informal) data from Berlin are available on the web - at Who goes to IFLA?

In Oslo, the list of participants was distributed yesterday, Sunday August 14. Here I report on a first count of representation by region.

The statistics are preliminary, since participants registered after July 25 are not included. But I do not expect big changes at the regional level. In Berlin, the list of participants by July 15, 2003, covered ninety percent of the delegates.

Participation rates

In Oslo 2005, as in Berlin 2003, there were three distinct levels of IFLA participation. Oceania (with Australia and New Zealand), Europe and North America (= United States + Canada) come at the top, with 100-160 participants per 100 million inhabitants. There are also great differences within Europe, which are not discussed here.

The second group is constituted by Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and East and Central Asia, with rates between 9 and 18 per 100M. The countries in South and South East Asia have the lowest rates, with about three delegates per 100 million inhabitants.

The meeting

At the IFLA meeting in Oslo, eighty percent of the participants (registered by July 25) come from the "high participation group", or the countries in Europe, North America and Oceania. Seventeen percent come from the "middle group": Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and East and Central Asia. Two percent come from South and South East Asia.

From Berlin to Oslo

In Buenos Aires, the geographical composition was surely different from that in Berlin, with a much stronger Latin American representation. In a broad regional perspective, the venues of Berlin and Oslo are rather similar. Differences in participation rates probably have other causes than location as such.

In a separate Table we have summarized the change from Berlin to Oslo. Changes of less than ten percent are treated as "constant". Compared with Berlin, South East Asia, East and Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are down. South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and - in particular - North America are up. Why this is so, is anybody' s guess.

I hope to study the IFLA participation data more deeply in the future. Since the statistics may be of interest to others in other contexts, however, I make them available in a rather unprocessed form.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Norwegian library journals

Three national journals

Norwegian librarians are served by three national journals: Bok og bibliotek [Book and Library], Bibliotekforum [Library Forum] and Bibliotekaren [The Librarian]. These are practice oriented rather than academic publications. They include news and reports from the field, but no peer-reviewed articles. They are eagerly read by the Norwegian library community, which is small enough - around five thousand persons - for everybody to taken a direct interest in everbody else.

Bok og bibliotek is published by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority, Bibliotekforum by the Norwegian Library Association and Bibliotekaren by Bibliotekarforbundet [choose English], which is the main library trade union. In connection with IFLA 2005, the latter two have published bilingual issues, which are available at the conference venue.

Research publication

Academic library research represents a new development in Norway. A substantial investment in research only took place in the mid-1990`s. At that time, three things happened:

  • a five year program of library research was initiated with funding from central library authorities, and channelled through the Norwegian Research Council
  • the library college in Oslo - which had a few hundred students - was merged with about twenty other teaching institutions in Oslo to form a large, professional college with about ten thousand students.
  • a Norwegian journal of library research [Norsk tidsskrift for bibliotekforskning] was started
The new journal was edited at the young and innovative Institute for Documentation Science and Library Studies in Tromsø. It was published for eight years (1994-2001), but finally had to close for lack of funding. The journal accepted contributions in English as well as in the three Scandinavian languages (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish): see a listing of their articles in English.

The journal published many research reports and had a clear academic purpose. But it was not a fully academic journal based on peer review and strict quality control. This was hardly possible within the Norwegian library community. Our academic library community is still small.

The total number of full-time library teachers in the country is about forty - too few to sustain a full scale research journal on their own. It functioned, however, as a useful training ground as well as a publication outlet for essays and research report. We still miss it.


For additional information on Norwegian library studies in English, see the entries in the Frida data base and the Norwegian contributions to IFLA 2005.

I would also like to recommend the very useful dictionary of library terms (PDF) in Norwegian and English just published by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. The Authority is often abbreviated to ABM in Norwegian - for Arkiv, Bibliotek and Museum. You may read brief summaries in English of some of their publications on the web.

But in English - may we call you NALMA?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Library and information studies in Norway 04-05

What's the buzz?

Tell me what's happening! For the benefit of IFLA participants we have collected information about current Norwegian research in library and information science. The bibliographic entries have been extracted from the database Frida. Only materials in English are included.

Frida is meant to cover all research output from the institutions of higher education that participate. At the moment Frida is used by Oslo University College and by four of Norway' s five universities: Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø. The fifth, Stavanger, only received university status this year.

Library studies

Norway's biggest library school, with about thirty staff members, is part of the Faculty of Journalism, Library and Information Science at Oslo University College. The school offers a three year bachelor and a two year master programme. The University of Tromsø has a Department of Documentation Studies, with a staff of eight, which also provides training in librarianship. Data oriented information management can be studied at the University of Trondheim.

Frida is a new, and very interesting, system for quality controlled author based registration of research publications and other types of research outputs. The driving force behind Frida is the new result based financing system for universities and colleges. The institutions now have to document what they do in order to get their proper share of government funding.

Frida became operational in 2004 and the user interface has not yet been translated into English. But those who want to try it out are welcome to visit the advanced search page, where you can specify language [språk] and institution/department [enhet].

Current research

The entries in my little survey comprise all registered publications and lectures (academic and popular) in English for the years 2004 and 2005:
  • from the school of librarianship in Oslo
  • from the Department of Documentation Studies in Tromsø
  • from the three teachers of Information Management in Trondheim

With Frida available, such a survey can be made in a few hours. Note that the list is incomplete. Many publications from 2005 have probably not been registered yet. But tracing additional publications to fill in the holes could easily take a full working week.

I publish the list as it stands. It works as a rough snapshot of current research. Eighty percent of a sausage is better than none.