Let the good times roll – taking the leads in New Orleans and Houston

Laissez les bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll

– New Orleans Cajun French

I can officially now say that I am the President-Elect 2019 for SLA Europe, and one of the recommendations from the Board of Directors was that I should attend the SLA Leadership Summit in New Orleans, USA. Therefore, I started the year with much anticipation with this trip to New Orleans – the Crescent City. These learning and collaboration opportunities don’t come by often, and as a destination, New Orleans has always been on my bucket list. I flew into Louis Armstrong Airport with Geraldine, a Swiss-British SLAer, and it was very nice to be given the pep talk by someone who has been through the role and who had some practical tips with stepping up to share with me. I have mentioned before in this blog that I have been a member of SLA since the early 2000s and still find the organisation beneficial and relevant to my work and profession. I have been able to take on tasks and responsibilities that have developed me personally, and this was an opportunity to hone in on my leadership skills and style. I also was able to fit in some great fun!

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The Leadership Symposium was three days of full-on meetings, presentations, table topical discussions, group exercises, networking, sharing best practices, knowledge, wisdom and general chat with a wide international network of information professionals. The facilitator Jon Hockman was excellent at enlightening, coercing, motivating, as well as helping us to focus our attention on our leadership missions, professional objectives, and personal goals.

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I have had some training in the past in my previous full-time and volunteering roles, but this was extra special as I was able to understand SLA better by being engaged at the symposium, participate in meetings, presentations and discussions I had witnessed – but most importantly, I was able to meet fellow professionals face to face. These all made the trip worthwhile and valuable to me.

To reach others, we first have to know ourselves. And to contact the deeper truth of who we are, we must engage in some activity or practice that questions what we assume to be true about ourselves.

– Adapted from A. H. Almaas

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I am one of those persons who actually does enjoy team building away-days and socialising, so the exercises and meeting new people are tasks that I relished. Most of the attendees were friendly and really pleased to know that I was representing the SLA Europe Chapter, and indirectly, my employers The British Library. They were excited to hear of our forthcoming autumn SLA Europe European Conference in the UK. Also, they were very complimentary and curious to know more after my short talk about our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events and programmes that we had conducted here over the pond.

Everyone has influence in their association or organisation –

Slide provided by Jon Hockman

 

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One of the best aspects of the symposium was an opportunity to see historic and charming New Orleans! I went out on my own on Saturday to soak up the pre-Mardi Gras preparations and mood, especially as the New Orleans Saints were playing that day. For those of you who are not aware – Mardi Gras is the same day as Shrove Tuesday and Carnival Tuesday in Caribbean Carnivals (yeah – party time!). I loved the architecture, street music, art shops, galleries, musically theme bars, restaurants with Cajun and Creole foods, etc.

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I really was very contented to walk around in awe, from the modern convention district, hotels and commercial centres to the historic colonial building in the French Quarter better know as Vieux Carre (Old Square). Historic signs of indigenous names, colonialism and slavery are very apparent around the Louisiana landscape and buildings, from the shores of the Mississippi straight to the St Louis Cathedral and the Voodoo Cultural Centre. I made sure that I visited the Mississippi River for its significance and impact on American immigrant history. New Orleans is not dissimilar to parts of the Caribbean where I am from, and some of the buildings look like those you may find in colonial Port of Spain. I felt quite at home with the Mardi Gras costumes culture, music, street activity, food, and ethnic make-up in a mixed society.

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My friends and family were sending me recommendations to try various delicacies such as fried chicken in Treme, Beignets at Café Du Monde, Po’ Boy sandwiches and the lush….King Cake. Luckily the SLA Leadership Symposium had a high-quality King Cake that was ever so light and appealing to the eyes with the three Mardi Gras coloured sugars represented – Purple as Justice, Green as Hope and Gold as Power. I hope to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras this year. This will be a vintage epiphany year as I have eaten King Cake in London with my French friend Veronique, in New Orleans with SLAers, and in Houston with friends. The sweet perfume of the cakes in the local patisseries is something special too!

New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and as a final treat, I went along with SLAers Ruth from Sacramento and retiree Janet from New Jersey to the Preservation Jazz Hall Band in the museum-like setting for an authentic live New Orleans Jazz show. It was an awesome, quaint, intimate and once-in-a-lifetime type of gig that I won’t forget. The musicians and singers were of a high calibre and I couldn’t help myself humming along and tapping my toes.

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New Orleans will have a lasting impact on me for the leadership training and work we carried out over the two days but also for the magical and creative influences it also has on me in terms of its’ culture, identity, and energy. No wonder the saying is appropriate…let the good times roll!

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Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt

Houston was my next stop. It was easy to get an internal flight to a city I had heard a lot about from a neighbour who lived there since the 1980s. I have always been curious as it is not far away from Dallas, which is famous for the well-known 1980s soap opera. On arrival at the airport, it is clean and noticeably very high tech, where I was able to get free Wi-Fi – which is always a bonus when travelling abroad. I also saw only one cowgirl, but apparently, there aren’t many about in the city. It is not Rodeo season too when it is certainly an attraction for music, food, and entertainment from photos I have seen in the past.

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Although I saw some cows, there were certainly a lot of freeways, shopping malls, restaurants and fields of oilrigs and tanks. Houston is a wealthy city with a steady economy and ‘old money’ from the oil industry. It is also a financial centre, university city and at the cutting edge of medical research with the Texas Medical Center complex hosting 60 medical institutions. I also liked the downtown skyline, the gorgeous architecture, and homes. There were newer neighbourhoods in suburbia, where there are large and expensive homes in gated communities near lakes. My friends told me that your money goes a long way in Houston compared to other cities. It is seventh in the best largest cities in the USA.

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Houston is famous for NASA’s Mission Control Centre. We have all heard the saying “Houston – we have a problem!” from an astronaut’s message to Houston’s NASA mission control popularised in the film Apollo 13. This is synonymous with problem-solving and working in remote teams. I was really pleased to know that my friend lives close by and we were able to visit the NASA Johnson Space Center. The exhibition areas were curated with mock-ups, film, and simulations that were informative and entertaining for children and adults. I even liked hearing about the mission control problems, such as with Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano – it was a gripping real-life story of the challenges faced by astronauts and space exploration. It was an informal leadership lesson as it reminded me of the need to have strong individuals but also strong teams to help with problem-solving. One of the clips extols about the need and the steps in failure that NASA has taken so far to get that far in outer space. Their failures have enabled learning and progress.

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Like magic, that very morning the news in Houston showed a clip of entrepreneur Richard Branson speaking about his Virgin Galactic space tourism programme, and what it is likely to be when it is launched. I thought of this in the real mission control training rooms for astronauts after seeing the various space equipment and components that they must learn to use and get familiar with before they set out for discoveries in a life-challenging, harsh and dangerous space and environment. In a presentation, we were told about the Boeing and Space X programme, the latter by entrepreneur Elon Musk. We were still able to see the actual Mission Control room that is currently used for training but soon it will be used for the MARS space programme by mid-2020. We also saw engineers working on innovative robots and space equipment.

“People actually make sense by thinking about the past,
not about the future….constructing explanations about
past performance often yields new strategies, insights or innovations.”

– Jon Hockman course slide on Leadership.

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The other remarkable aspect of the tour was seeing the large equipment that has been in outer space but they were now located next to a field of cattle and cows on a heritage farm on the NASA site. There are signs for deer crossing and other wild animals that roam the site – this is ironic for keeping space explorers grounded in the countryside and natural environment in Texas. There are trees planted to honour and show appreciation to astronauts who have passed away. NASA also apparently has a local outreach and competitions programme for schools. Unite, Create and Explore is their mission motto displayed on site to encourage space exploration…and that is a good problem to have!

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Like New Orleans, I spent some lovely time socialising with my friends and it was amazing checking out the local homes, shopping and leisure areas. There were some cows in a field but also a lot of large shopping areas with the likes of JC Penny, Guillards, Wal-Mart, Costco and very nice entertainment and restaurant areas. The food was amazing and my friends made sure that I tried some of the local dishes!

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We also took a drive to Galveston, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. I was aware of it by a couple of pop songs, and by looking at the maps of the south of the USA. It is a really nice seaside town with influences from the immigrants who came there – so you can still see French and Spanish architecture, British telephone boxes, and they were also getting ready for Mardi Gras.

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Both New Orleans and Houston have the crossroads and waterways with the past and present, the wild and the unknown – a coming together with the old and new USA and Europe. I am truly grateful for the learning opportunities and insight this trip gave me and see it as an honour and privilege to continue to serve SLA Europe, its’ board, members, and stakeholders. I hope to see some new contacts, and familiar faces I met on this trip another time at the USA annual conference in 2020.

Calendar Love – focus on time throughout the year

‘Calendar Love’ is a term I have been using for about 7 years on Twitter whereby I willingly only shared small information bites about my calendar in my home.  In the early days of Twitter, this was the only personal detail I was willing to share with persons I don’t know, haven’t met, plus I knew this information would be in the public domain. As the social media platform developed, I have since shared many photos of food, cakes, vegetables, flowers etc. I still share ‘Calendar Love’ on the 1st of each month – it has actually helped me appreciate and explore what I might know about the image, motivates me to learn more about the subject, place and artist who created it. I will elaborate below on my favourite calendars over the last few years that I can remember,  and those that I have shared monthly on Twitter. I will continue to share about Calendars like this in the New Year too…and as long as Twitter is still in existence. But seriously, modern calendars are very popular for business, fundraising, promoting the arts, artists and raising awareness.  They also are popular items to purchase in shops and online which stay with you throughout the year.

 

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After researching calendars (Romans called the first day of the month Calends) recently,  it is clear that the topic is a big deal in all ancient and modern civilisations throughout history for time management, as well as for understanding the world in terms of scientific evidence for the cycle of life. There are many reasons for us to note the importance of calendars for keeping track of time, organising one’s own life, business appointments, time management, prioritising and planning, maintaining religious and political order, festivals, navigation, travel etc.  In addition to the bigger picture universal dance of the planets on where we live.

Time has been recorded and organised by humanity over time itself and in tune with the order (at times disorder) with nature and science – be it by the sun and the moon, day and night and other environmental and cosmic energies. Early farmers and travellers would be governed by the daylight and moonlight, obviously they would have noticed the changing of the seasons and the position of the sun and moon (especially without modern electricity). This is engagingly explained in this video ‘The brief history of the Calendar and Time Keeping’ by lecturer Donna Caroll of Maastricht University. It is brilliant and has more details than I can possibly tell you! It is also excellent for nature, history, astronomy, maths and physics fans.

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Pope Gregory. Source Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

So from sundials, using human hands and other earlier timekeeping tools, eventually the Gregorian calendar, as we know calendars now, was made popular across the world. The adoption of calendars and timekeeping systems were accelerated with developments and inventions, such as clocks and compasses, which were used in navigation across the seas, and throughout the introduction and development of rail travel. The rest is history and time was standardised. We still have to rely on official international dates to keep track of time and special days from non-fixed religious to secular days such as: Easter, Mardi Gras (Christian calendar), Diwali (Hindu calendar), Eid (Arabic Calendar), Chunnak/Hanukkah (Jewish Calendar), sporting fixtures, festivals events, celebrations, anniversaries etc.

 

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Right up to date, Calendars are used digitally and/or in paper materials by most of us. There is a large market for printing and digital programming calendars for personal and business use. This brings a paper versus digital debate, but I think both formats for personal and business use have their place, purpose and time. No pun intended!

 

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I was able to find market research for the calendar industry published by William & Marshall Strategy for the UK and other global markets. It was actually difficult to pinpoint the retail sale of printed calendars in the current research sources I have access to in the library.  This is because calendars are produced under a niche market for paper products, and usually are categorised within the stationery or cards market. Nowadays, calendars can be purchased as popular presents in shops and online, especially this time of year. Some companies have actually jumped on the ‘Advent’ Calendar bandwagon to promote products. Mintel reports pre-Christmas ‘Adult Adventing’ is a thing: For brands there is also a strategic element that can come from offering advent calendars, which is exposure to various products. Sampling is a great way to drive interest and how a consumer discovers new products”.

You can also personalise calendars with your own designs, images and photos to meet new digital trends in the need for stylish and personalised alternatives. Shops in Trinidad & Tobago tend to give you calendars as gifts during the festive season, and the same with the Italian shops in Bedford, England. They mainly have religious images on them the last time I received one.

 

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Ironically, not all of us want to be controlled by calendars and time. I can’t possibly be that free of ‘time schedules’ at present due to work and other commitments, but ironically the watchmakers Quartz have blogged about ‘Improving your social life by changing the way you schedule it’. The piece explains the term Chronemics – “which studies time and our relationship to it, and how it affects communication—would call this (sic) living on ‘event time’- letting your actions be dictated by the flow of your day, or by natural events, like the sun’s rise or slow disappearance, rather than the clock’s ticking”. This lack of clock-watching or time keeping would be such a luxury…but for now, we need calendars!

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Calendar Girls

Calendars are also very good for creative businesses and we buy a design that really resonates with us.  We love creating and buying them for fundraising appeals. When I was fundraising for a local charity, our joint-chair was a graphic designer who thought of producing a calendar with major relevant celebrations and to create awareness on topics during the year. There was a lot of research work involved with all the factual information to incorporate into a calendar’s design, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing to the eye. No wonder that I look forward to receiving a new calendar at home each year.  We’ve heard about the film ‘Calendar Girl’ (which I haven’t seen as yet). Calendars are still a fab fundraising idea and a good revenue generator. As this Australian story of spunky firemen fundraising for local youths from the sale of their calendars. Calendars are also used effectively for raising awareness on social and politics issues, for example, the Macedonian Twitter Calendar combines nude art with information and fundraising. Now in its’ fifth edition, the Macedonian calendar has been donating the money from calendar sales to support various humanitarian causes over the years. You can also donate online without purchasing the calendar.

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Source: Macedonia Twitter Calendar http://goli.n.ie.mk/2019/gallery.html

So now you know why I love calendars! Here are some of my favourite calendars at home over the last few years that I can remember, especially since starting my ‘Calendar Love’ tweets at the beginning of each month in the last few years:

Robert Doisneau – Year 2001 was a curated black and white photographic calendar entitled ‘Playground’ with photos of children that captured the humour, irony and emotion of their everyday lives mainly around Paris. Coincidently, I went to Paris for the first time that year and was inspired to take my own black and white photos there too.

 

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Beryl Cook – Beryl was one of the first calendars I tweeted about each month and her images were funny and naughty. I frequently discovered digital artwork in online shops to link to my tweets, and also discovered a lot of art museums and online shops would have more details on the paintings about her and other artists.

Cook-Tea
Beryl Cook’s painting. Source: Wikipedia.

Alias – This German Street Artist was very edgy and used to thrill me each month as his images were very thought provoking on social and political issues. He frequently had images of children in very dangerous situations, which made me nervous but also concerned.

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Alias – Berlin Street Artist. Source – https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/alias/

L.S. Lowry – Lowry was an artist I didn’t know much about prior to receiving the calendar, and he pictures were so representative of Manchester. I saw the landscape from his viewpoint as they showed the city’s industrial setting. I found out that year that he has a museum in Manchester and still hope to visit it one day. I also discovered that his mother suffered from depression and he painted in the evening after caring for her. He also suffered depression after her death. It was great he was successful despite his struggles.

Going_to_Work_-_L_S_Lowry

L.S. Lowry – ‘Going to Work’ 1943. Source: Wikipedia.

Claude Monet – Monet’s calendar was very nice to have, but sorry to say – it was underwhelming sometimes as I unable to distinguish his various water lily ponds (such a philistine I hear you say). However, I know now that he had a whole series of ‘Water Lilies’, and he painted them in the later part of his life when he had cataracts. The same year there was also a major exhibition in town and it felt good to know we had his calendar that same year. I was privileged enough to see one of his paints in the William Morris Gallery recently.

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Origin Claude Monet painting now in The William Morris Gallery for the ‘Enchanted Garden’ exhibition.

Emma Scutt – A local artist from Walthamstow, Emma paints a lot of local landmarks and her attention to detail is amazing! She can be found in arts and crafts pop-up markets and her work is also stocked in local shops. I like that Emma shares her Calendar picture each month. I wasn’t even aware of her and her work before I started tweeting about Calendars but it is nice when I can rely in her timely shares, or the British Library tweeters to share information on the first of each month in true ‘Calends’ style!

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Miroslav Sasek – Sasek is a Czech artist who apparently travel the world.  His New York City illustrations calendar 2017 was a souvenir we bought from the New York Public Library shop. As usually, I didn’t know much about Sasek before obtaining the calendar but I soon realised more about his work on global cities. It was such a pleasure to discover some of his wider international work and humour. Guess what too!? …We also have his London 2019 calendar but it will not be for tweeting as there is apparently another I will be sharing information about.

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Japanese Woodblock – This was my calendar for 2018 and again it introduced me to a new style of art and the calendar actually had a short poem, which was a bonus! It contained images from masterful Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. The artworks feature elegant irises, cascading waterfalls and snowy landscapes, all created in a mesmerizing style and displayed with vibrant colours. Sometimes I think of Hokusai and how he started painting late in life – maybe one day I can too! He work is also popular and I can recognise replicates of his work better.

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The next few days I will be getting use to new calendars at home and in the office.  I will also have digital versions at hand on my smartphone as well as my office computer. There is no way I can avoid using a calendar – I need them to keep me in check, organised and plan ahead. We all do! It is a joy to see a new image every month in my arty calendars and to know that it is a fresh start, a new season or even a new year. There are so many personal and business benefits for our timekeeping systems to work. With time ticking and the 2020s on the horizon, we can only take each day at a time. But do remember to say “Pinch Punch!” or “White Rabbit” on the first of each Calendar month.

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Disruption and Innovation in Retailing – Online vs the High Street

You may not have missed the news headlines lately about our high streets facing some challenging times. Noone is unaffected and even large ‘safe’ department stores are experiencing disruption in their sales with some of them closing at a very fast rate or on the brink of liquidation. There are lots of factors that may have contributed to poor performance and sales, especially with the current lack of consumer confidence, the weak pound with inflated prices, jobs at risks, high business rates, steep rents and overheads. No wonder accountancy firm BDO published their latest 2018 figures for their high street tracker confirming that footfall was down by 6% than 2017, and that there are further shop closures expected in the future.

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Source: eMarketer

 

In my research, I saw worrying headlines with the titles ‘Hell on the High Street’ or ‘The Death of the High Street’! However, it is not all doom and gloom. There are some real disruptions…and innovations already changing the way we purchase goods online and in-stores. Without a doubt, online shopping is changing the physical high street but in some cases – it is offering innovative new in-store experiences and also giving consumers more choices and a different shopping experience with the use of new technology and social media.

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I want to share my observations to highlight the great ways entrepreneurial and creative businesses are proactively changing the high street with the help of regeneration programmes. And I want to stress here that I will always seek to support the high street as it is our living environment and the heart of our communities and local businesses.

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One of the main factors of the changing high street is the proliferation of online buying. Global Data Online in ‘E-retail in the UK 2018-2023’ reports following “robust growth over the past 10 years, the UK online market is set to top £55.9billion in 2018 and remain on a positive growth trajectory, albeit glowing as the channel matures… the online channel will remain a key driver of total growth in the UK retail market as physical channels underperform due to falling footfall and shoppers seeking convenience and choice online”. More and more we are shopping online, and people are increasingly trusting online channels. The demographic analysis shows that younger people are using mobiles to order more so than compared to older spenders – and the figures are growing with social media penetrating retail markets to drive purchases, especially via the smartphone. Surely you have seen promoted adverts on Facebook and Instagram on your smartphone! We have recently just survived the US influenced Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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The Global Data Online report lists the eleven drivers to online shopping and my personal comments are mentioned here too as I can relate to them:

  • Convenience – do shop from home or anywhere with a smartphone
  • Lower Prices – keep track on items for when they are discounted
  • Can shop at any time that suits me – order groceries from home
  • Save time – not spending time and travel costs to supermarket or high street
  • Better selection – competition to have higher quality and quantity
  • Product not available elsewhere – hard to find items so easy on digital
  • Allows me to compare prices – showing virtually without even visiting the shops
  • More product information – descriptions and photos help indeed
  • Prompted by Online promotions – how can you avoid promotions really?
  • Receive an online voucher – spend it when you can…why not!
  • Less likely to forget to buy it – it is in my basket and always there to remind me!

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This is being silly…but seriously online buying is here to stay. I started using Amazon in the late 1990s to procure books for libraries and our customers. I personally also used to buy music CDs in the early 2000s. I now frequently buy from most online shops or my favourite hunts. Compare this to the 1990s when I used to love browsing the physical shops in my lunch break when I worked near Covent Garden. Now I have a real problem with the shops being at my fingertips 24/7! I sometimes can’t avoid being distracted by push emails, adverts, change of season sales or campaigns. There is now an actual term called ‘impulse buying’ which I certainly do. Are you like me and try to justify your purchases? Yes, I look for bargains and so I try to control my expenditure. Certainly there is a shift in my online buying behaviour on the last 10 years and I am not alone.

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I do like researching items online such as when I recently needed (another!) pair of shoes for work. I was thinking of going to a shop for some comfortable shoes, but I was browsing online recently and saw the right colour, shape, heel height, size and at a discounted price! Therefore, I was unable to resist buying some new Vagabond shoes for work. One feature I look for in online shopping is ‘Click and Collect’ as I am not able to predict the delivery times to collect packages. This option usually means that you do not pay delivery charges and it is my preferred form of delivery. It really is as easy as that to get what you are looking for!

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Another major shift is grocery shopping. I remember my friends trying to convince me to buy groceries online circa 2012. I eventually started ordering groceries online and there are some clear benefits for me. Some of these include budgeting better, saving time by ordering at home rather than three hours of shopping in store, and avoiding to buy items in store that I may not need. Sometimes there are issues with items being replaced by either an inferior or even superior product. You might get squashed bread, wilted vegetables or occasionally order the wrong item yourself, but generally I like ordering food online as it frees up my precious time. I still go to the local supermarkets if I want fresh items from the bakery, butcher and to top-up my mid-week groceries. One friend pointed out that this is more environmentally friendly to grocery shop like this as there are less people using cars, or we are walking to local mini-supermarkets and shops for the mid-week shopping.

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The last main point about online shopping is the ubiquitous Amazon. It is no doubt that Amazon dominates the online cyberspace across devices due to its wide range of products and brand offering. It really is brilliant…but so annoying too! As mentioned above I do remember the earlier days of just buying books, but it is worrying the negative impact it may be having in dominating the retail space and pushing local and smaller shops out of business. Although Amazon says that it is helping small business sellers, there are also big picture issues that they pay little tax whilst their profits are tripling. I have love/hate sentiments about this and so now limit how often I order from them. For example, if I am looking for a book for personal use, I try to use local bookshops but would only use Amazon if I am unable to find the title easily.

Now away from online shopping, the ‘bricks and mortar’ high street is going through some disruption too from this ripple effect. The major retailers are having to innovate and cope with the aftershock of online but high street shops are also changing. For example, pubs are the fastest growing failing businesses but at the same time the pubs that are surviving are gastro-pubs serving food and therefore they tend to employ more people. My local pubs are now used for Quizzes, entertainment and other community initiatives. Coffee shops, artisan, creative makers, boutiques and other start-ups are forging new ground on the high street via pop-up shops, co-working spaces and regeneration of the high street. It is never easy. There are still immense pressures and costs to manage but generally, we are consciously trying to support local businesses by shopping local. In the past there have been the Love Your High Street campaign, and this weekend is the Small Business Saturday initiatives to promote and support local small businesses.

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I recently presented a webinar with Open to Export whereby food and drink retailers are doing fairly okay on the high street (with exceptions of course). Tobacconists, barbers, coffee shops are some of the growing independent businesses but there are some worst off businesses such as Post Offices (which are having to innovate services), Banks, Photographic services, Travel Agents, Newsagents and even Indian restaurants due to healthier eating habits. One thing is for sure is that shops have to be one step ahead of all the challenges faced by being smart and adaptable to the dynamics of the high street, technology and consumer behaviour. It is brilliant to see creative businesses and artisan shops thriving in some areas brought about by groups of creatives and makers who are proactively engaging with their local community and neighbourhoods. In my neighbourhood, they are also collaborating for the seasonal ‘shop local’ street promotions.

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I attended a recent presentation where the founder of Workary and Wimbletech spoke of all the benefits of localism and how these groups use their libraries, local councils and commercial co-working hubs to start and grow their business community. This sort of activities are very prominent in my local area and I couldn’t be more pleased and proud. I just don’t have the money to buy things frequently from these businesses but I am certainly rooting for their success and it pains me when a shop do shut down. The shopping mall is also actively changing to host a new coffee shop, local family friendly events and other social activities. It is interesting to observe all of these shopping options as we also have the famous Walthamstow Market adjacent to the shopping mall and the rising number of independent shops. Walthamstow Market is the vibrant and unique longest outdoor street market in Europe and should be a must on your visitor’s list.

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As we head into the busiest shopping season of the year. It is hard to think we will be exclusively shopping online…or on the high street. I certainly will be looking to mix-up my shopping experiences and try to support these two very different options to make sure that I go with the tech flow, but also to remain human and use these very different two options available to me. Some shops are adopting new technology and surviving brilliantly. Long may they innovate and survive the changes! The robots are not doing it all for us as yet.

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Beautiful Creatures – making up is easy

‘I believe that all women are pretty without make up – but with the right make up can be pretty powerful.’

– Bobbi Brown, Cosmetics Entrepreneur

Make up has always been used by men and women to enhance our physical appearance for aesthetics and theatrics whether it is for pleasing ourselves, to attract others or to keep up with fashion. Doing our make up is not only a habit that is used to express ourselves, there has been numerous innovations throughout time in what is now a profitable cosmetics industry.

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Goddess – Roman Egyptian shared on Museum Week

In the book Painted Faces – A Colourful History of Cosmetics by Susan Steward, she writes: “In the past, cosmetics were just as likely to be worn as visible markers of social status or religious expression of gender, wealth, health and wellbeing: that is to say, the meaning beyond mere decoration. Women and, at certain times in history, men have applied cosmetics to improve. Alter, even to camouflage or disguise their appearance and have used cosmetics extensively to as a clue to their health, wealth and social status”. There is a long history of body adoration in all civilisations and make up has seen many innovations and developments in it base products. Susan Stewart continues “Dispute the rhetoric, in reality cosmetics formed an integral part of culture of the great civilisations of Greece and Rome under a variety of aromatic herbs, plants roots, flowers, woods, fruits, seeds, and gum resins for cosmetic purposes’. Even in the Roman times, beauty products were sold almost door to door by street traders as well as at regular markets in the town forums. The books presents the popularity and importance of cosmetics then: “In fact cosmetics, through increased trade brought about by the Roman Empire, became quite widely available. In short, in terms of cost and availability – there was something for everyone and everyone used cosmetics”.

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With this in mind, there is no wonder I have a natural love of making up when I can. I already mentioned in this blog that in my childhood, I used to go home in my lunch break in my first primary school, and would occasionally put on my mother’s lipstick. I also used to like when our neighbour gave me a haircut and then I would get to wear a little lipstick that day. I also loved nail polish but in secondary school – there was a strict ban on makeup and nail polish at school. It is self-explanatory why I wear them most of the time now! My mother has a lot of sisters and this too influenced me to like ‘girly things’. Seriously though, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my aunties would give us or pass on clothes, but also send packets of high-end branded makeup from Canada, such as Estee Lauder, Clinique, and Dior. I actually used to play with some expensive products then, and later realised that those products were high quality and expensive!

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Avon was also sold by women agents who came ‘house to house’ in our village. Avon are still a business that has some beneficial strengths for cosmetics sellers, as well as buyers. There direct selling models are still unique today and is particularly useful for empowering women in developing countries. Marketline ‘Avon Products Inc’ reports: “Avon is the 5th largest beauty company in the world and is by far the biggest direct selling enterprise globally with 6.4 million active representatives, who then turn around and sell Avon’s lipstick and lotions to the end user”. The company went through a period of change at the 2000s but it seems to have survived with its’ core offering: “changing lifestyle and rising disposable income are leading to growth in cosmetics and personal grooming market. Increasing demand for events and parties with an increased number of beauty conscious customers, social status and emergence of ecommerce are aiding market growth. Unique business model supported by a portfolio of well-recognised brands in the market, has been enabling Avon to sustain its competitive position in the market”.

Therefore, Avon is a business model that enables women across the globe to ‘earn something on the side’ to supplement their income. I was truly surprised about 6 years ago when a local contact asked me to have a browse of her Avon catalogue. I have a constant demand for nail polish, so I ordered some good and reasonably priced Avon gel nail polish. I bought it intentionally to support her. I also met an employee of Avon doing research in the library where I was more than happy to tell her how well the brand is recognised and commended their Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Long may they reign with their flexible business model opportunities and branded products.

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I have always worn a bit of makeup, but in the 1990’s makeup in the UK was not a big deal and I noticed that not everyone was ‘into it’. However in the last 10 years or so, cosmetics has seen a revival since the flamboyant New Romantics day of the 1980s. This has been helped with social media and the Internet. According to Global Data Online, millennials are spending more and engaging a lot on cosmetic products: “S-Commerce (social media commerce) is becoming integrated into everyday life and could be a long-term game-change”. Cosmetic fans are consuming, writing, reviewing it, promoting makeup on social media by blogging, producing videos, demonstrating live tutorials, and creating other exciting content.

Instagram is buzzing with beautiful tips and product reviews. I know that some people feel the pressure of social media and absolutely loath it, but for those who can handle its’ faults – it is great for getting creative ideas, especially for make-up. There are some good recommended blogs and web resources that are informative as well as full of inspirational ideas. Some of these are Marie Claire Best Beauty Blog, BBC Article and Guardian writer Sali Hughes on Beauty.

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Superstar Rihanna has also created her own brand of makeup called ‘Fenty Beauty – beauty for all with a “focus on embracing products for a wide range of traditionally hard to match skin tones, creating formulas that work for all women and pinpointing universal shades”. The launch of Fenty Beauty was a sign of movement in the beauty industry, pushing more content for diversity in terms of colour, especially in foundation lines.

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In Trinidad and Tobago, we have a long standing and strong makeup brand called Sacha Cosmetics. I remember buying some items in the late 1980s, especially as the colours are suited to women of colour. The founders of Sacha Cosmetics have received awards for innovation in products and entrepreneurial substance. I was also told by my friends that the company is one of the bestselling online cosmetics and has a successful market in the Caribbean, North American and Panama. My friend recently gave me some Sacha makeup that are world-class and ethically made cruelty-free.

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Cosmetic are popular everywhere in the world and there is a thriving market for makeup artists. A lot of people have their makeup done by professionals for special occasions, and thay can come to you at your mutual convenience. Makeup artists can freelance and it is a viable business. You can also book a appointment on an app, or with a department store like Blow Ltd via Debenhams. If you prefer a more tradition make up advice or session with an expert, some makeup brands have them in store in their shops, such as in Chanel and MAC in St Pancras train station.

When I got into the music industry, I wasn’t focused on being the most famous artist or even getting a major record deal. It was just to make music on my own terms or create my own image, do my own hair, do my own makeup. – Janelle Monae

We can’t really wear makeup all the time, especially in our downtime. However, it is super that everyone can look after themselves with some TLC, and apply a little bit of makeup, if and when require. Makeup will always be important for personal and social reasons as it is a way to feel good about oneself, express individuality, allure confidence and make that fashion statement.

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Makeup Is Art, Beauty Is Spirit.

 

 

The Bigger Picture – challenges, benefits and celebrating positivity with Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal –

Dereca Blackmon, Stanford

What do diversity, inclusion and equity really mean? …This is the question we might want to ask ourselves, especially in a diverse digitally connected world in the 21st century. It can be unclear why we even need to discuss this topic but it has been on my radar particularly since I was asked to take part in a SLA Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. I was an honour to be asked, and I was unsure if I had anything insightful to contribute but to be honest, I realised that I was already championing the features of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. We don’t usually need to disclose attributes of people, but for the purpose of this blog post, I have mentioned information on myself and gave a couple of real examples.

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SLA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Participation in 2017

I am a little ahead of the game for some obvious reasons – I am female, an ethnic minority, working mother with a powerful diverse background of being a Trinidadian (other Trinidadians will understand what I mean with regards to diversity), married to a European, living in multicultural London…and I worked in world class libraries. I am heterosexual with no obvious disabilities. However we must remember that there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that is deeper than the physical and obvious. The point of this blog post is to discuss some of the challenging issues we face, but also to find examples of good practices and stress how important it is for information professionals to advocate, champion and stand up for diversity and inclusion for the communities and customers we serve. In this context, I am mainly discussing the business workplace and libraries with some principles for the wider society.

I need to do some more research on an official definition for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity as it tends to cover Equality rights and anti-discrimination policies. However there are some good pointers on this Wikipedia page, and the SLA Caucus page has a good example of the motive behind the topics. The term Equity is used more in the US, where I saw a good example on this voluntary sector site Independent Sector.

Freedom is Indivisible –Nelson Mandela

 

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Found in a Venue in Tottenham

My research also came across a motivating quote on Diversity and Inclusion at the closing keynote at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, Los Angeles – Bourg, as a white, butch, lesbian, Army veteran, library director, and Hathcock, as a black, straight, cisgender, Christian, Southern, non-director, sat on stage and talked from the heart about the ways in which they are attempting to learn from and with each other along their varying intersections. Their work, said Bourg and Hathcock, begins first and foremost with an acknowledgement that “libraries have never been, are not now, and will never be neutral,” that whiteness sits at the heart of our society and therefore our institutions”.

This puts the topic in context and shows the library and information professional position on Diversity and Inclusion.   There is a quest of best practice by information professionals in being pragmatic with neutrality versus social justice for the communities who we serve in providing facts, unbiased and trusted information. For example, I remember being ‘as nice as apple pie’ serving members of the British National Party in a working library where impartiality and neutrality were the guiding principles. However at the same time, on balance I would advocate for libraries that were cut by mainstream Politicians and government policies. As I am aware, I still try in my own way to reach marginalised library users by stretching out.   There is a need to try to reach as many as possible, regardless of biases and background. This world should be a level playing field where everyone has a voice. We certainly should also stand up if something or if someone was harmful or threatening to others.

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Looking at ‘The Bigger Picture’ shows that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are progressive hot topics. It is important for us to think about these terms in the workplace as well as in society. There are a few events that I kept a close eye on social media recently, where there were online events advocating and discussing the topics. The UK Lib Chat Twitter talk on ‘Celebrating Diversity: supporting clients and broadening the profession in libraries’ held some great nuggets of thoughts on how we should implement this in this sector. It was also fabulous to see the tweets (Twitter @StemGameChange) shared for the Gender Diversity in STEM event at the Alan Turing Institute a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the speakers to invite me in too but I was busy in my normal work, so could not attend. I also refer to CILIP and SLA Connect online community caucus on Diversity and Inclusion for best practices and information.

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Gender Equality in STEM at the Alan Turing Institute

So what is the problem? Why do we need to be reminded about Diversity & Inclusion? Harvard Business Review’s ‘Research: People share more information with colleagues of similar backgrounds’ states: “in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural background are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority national group – and minorities who share cultural similarities with the majority – also share the most information with one another. Whereas minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from ‘low status’ minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential”.

This is just one of the problems. There are other issues around privilege, recruitment, team dynamics, talent development, gender pay-gap, cronyism, cliques, tribes and exclusivity, which act as barriers to diversity and inclusion. There have been some progress and positive steps to have better talent and support systems, but this also requires diversity and inclusion to be fluid enough to filter to the top of teams and even executive boards. There is a lot of research that a more diverse board or top management around the table will have broader viewpoints and experiences, which will heed better business decisions that are best for an organisation.

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Words in this blog…Diversity and Inclusion

Most of the research I read says that it is not always easy to achieve the right balance. “True equality is not taking away for one to give to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights”. There is a lot written on the ‘privileged’ White Alpha Male – a group that has long been overdone and it can be monotonous for the rest of us in the shadows. It is possible to seek more balance where anyone can get an opportunity to contribute and to harness talent. There is richness in diversity, inclusion and equity in all of this…if we are in it together. The demography, scope and locations of the global consumers are also more diverse in a digital world – and top management have to reflect and understand their audience, staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. We are not forgetting the White Alpha Male – we are simply including him in the mixture with a balanced and broader talent pool. We just have to make room for more diversity and inclusion.

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In the article ‘While automation eats jobs, it doesn’t eat work’ on Equity: “companies are committed to a diverse work force for varying motivations. Some believe that diverse teams are just smarter and more creative… Other firms, especially technology companies believe that they are disproportionally responsible for designing the future and therefore it’s simply wrong to leave entire communities out of their teams”. There is also a positive outcome when people feel they belong – they perform better.

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The other aspect of Diversity and Inclusion practices is that there are strategies for a supportive culture, with advocacy to maintain and sustain positive levels. It is recommended that organisations examine themselves and their policies for: “without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference”.

Another piece of research by Culture Amp states: “Creating a workplaces that make people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers. You may find people feel disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organisation”.

There is another issue of unconscious and conscious bias. There may be physical attributes to humans that make us compassionate and conscious to inclusiveness. At a Public Library Conference in the USA this year, keynote speaker Steve Pemberton (Chief Diversity Officer at GloboForce) explains: “the first picture you see of someone is not the full picture”. We come into this world with visible characteristics and diversity traits… but the real story is below the line: “This things you can’t see would be stunned to see how much commonality there really is, but it requires conversation and willingness to be open and to learn”. So with this in mind – an inclusive environment means providing everyone, no matter who they are with equal access. The richness of inclusion and diversity is below this invisible line: “Top of the waterline are people’s visible traits but below the water line many other invisible traits emerge, such as sexual orientation, beliefs and background”. Pemberton went on to say: “that we need to depend on each other and celebrate our myriad experiences because we all have something new to learn about the world”.

I may be thinking of a Utopian idea…but we can dream, and hopefully we can forget the hostile and divisive hot air that is currently blowing in parts of this world.

In reality, there is still some work to do. Libraries still play a large part in diversity and inclusion, and operate in one of the most open physical and digital areas you would expect to encounter. But we are still a profession in the English-speaking world that has mainly white professionals. It is heart-warming and motivating when I see social media shares from libraries in Trinidad and Tobago for their good work on diversity and inclusion programmes.

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This way – Library sign in  Trinidad & Tobago

There are still vast issues, levels of poverty and access for customers in a ‘first world’ country like the United Kingdom. A multi-cultural and diverse content coverage should be programmed, but there are pressures on public funds. Socio-economic barriers prevent diversity in developing professionals and the communities they serve. Most of these issues are in disadvantaged urban environments where there are discourse for crime, low income families struggles, poverty, underprivileged persons and other societal disparities – therefore librarians act as a haven for promoting diversity and inclusion in their communities. There are other barriers like the digital divide, dyslexia, the elderly, literacy, languages, and physical disabilities. Some will be visible and some below the line. This may be a good point to acknowledge too that there are some people who may never come into the library, but there are still a large proportion of people who do see its’ worth and will continue to use them.

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Therefore we must continue to be diverse, inclusive and equitable. Outreach and marketing work helps to reach marginalised communities which will foster positive inclusion for developing diverse professionals and customer bases. CILIP has a great page on the work they are doing in their diversity and inclusion programmes. It is motivating as an information professional that we are doing our little bit on the front line to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. It leads to better social cohesion, improve economic prosperity and the possibilities in a more level playing field in a diverse and inclusive society.

There are a lot of best practices out there for professionals and organisations to champion the business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programming. These types of programmes are leading the way and act as a benchmark to adopt and ‘anchor’ in our businesses and mission. Some of these admirable organisations are Channel Four, Touchstone and Halebury. There are some tips on the CIPD factsheet, and the Gov.UK website as an employer.

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So what does this all mean to us now? …There are a lot of positive policy, narrative changes, game-changers and professionals working to create more diverse and inclusive work environments. There are also inclusiveness programmes that are trying to balance representation, content, coverage and highlight diverse stories for personnel and patrons for all types of businesses. Some cynics may even be ‘fatigued’ by the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and much more so by an inclusive agenda! However, if we don’t continue to encourage positive policy and action – we will end up with an echo chamber and miss out on the richness of celebrating our differences and similarities.

In the bigger picture – diversity, inclusion and equity have a lot of benefits and are the best ingredients for shared collaboration and empowerment of individuals and organisations. Embedded inclusion with a whirlpool of diverse talent makes life more interesting, and exposes us to fresh perspectives, bringing better understanding and with it respect, compassion and hopefully, greater all-round success.

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Welcome.

 

All you read is love – a reading challenge

One in six adults struggles to read. Reading Ahead supports young people and adults who struggle with the written word or who don’t read for pleasure. Reading Groups for Everyone celebrates all the good things that happen when people come together to share reading and Reading Well supports people’s health and wellbeing. Because everything changes when we read.

– The Reading Agency

 

It is always a challenge to read novels for leisure if you live a busy life at work, home and socially. If you know me, it would be evident that I spend a lot of my spare time listening to music, catching up on current affairs and pop culture. Therefore finding the time to read can be scarce and finding a good book is also a task. I may also work as an information professional in a library, but we are usually providing factual information and there is no time for lightweight fictional or even non-fictional novels during the day. Despite all this, I still want to make sure I spend some of my time reading those best selling books written and sold that are frequently presented to us as books we need to read before we die in a list.

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Reading is beneficial to all of us regardless of age. So, one of my resounding wish each year is to read more novels. I obviously support reading and literacy for libraries, bookshops, the book industry and general community building. Reading challenges such as the Summer Reading challenge, and young people after-school programmes have also been set up by organisations to help children with their literacy. The Literacy Trust also has their ‘young reader programmes’ whereby corporations (such as KPMG’s Family for Literacy) help in encouraging young children to read…and it is also a good business Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) initiative.

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Hatchards, St Pancras Station

It was a real pleasure to receive a suggestion from our neighbourhood that we should form a new neigbourhood book club. We all agreed that when we joined that it was because it was not a snobby club, and we already knew each other well enough to feel comfortable to do this together. We started the book club about a year ago and it has been really good for me in terms of reading commitments to get the book completed for our discussion at the monthly book club meeting. We usually meet over some drinks in a local pub and dissect the book of the month. The books suggested by other book-clubbers may not have been ones I would have tried but after hearing pitches from other members, it helped us to decide which book to try. We do go deep into our literary critique of the characters in the story, setting, style of writing, offer any likes and dislikes about the book in question. We also catch up on what is happening in our neighbourhood, and wherever the conversation may leads us. It is only a short walk back to our homes at the end of the evening.

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Given the choice with eBooks and kindles – I also know that I still prefer buying traditional hard copy books. Some of the book clubbers use a kindle. It is also interesting that some of the books have been made, or are about to be made into films, such as the Man Booker 50 Prize winner ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. I also saw that Reese Wetherspoon has set up her own book club ‘Hello Sunshine‘ recently. All good for brilliant reading and researching material for film scripts!

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Seriously, some of the great factors for the book club have been (1) for me to read regularly as a literature fan (2) help me support local bookshops (3) pass on books to friends and family and (4) stay in touch with the lifelong learning benefits of reading. It is also an interesting sense of camaraderie to know that a group of you are reading the same book and you are going to discuss it together. It does feel like schoolwork and homework sometimes when you have to meet the deadline! Having a book club definitely is a great incentive for reading, fun socialising and for community building. There are some fabulous tips about reading groups in the Reading Agency’s website.

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I wasn’t always good a reading. I mentioned before that my first primary school focussed on maths but my second school focussed on literacy. After joining a new school at seven years old, I had to do extra reading with my mother to catch up with classmates for about a year. However as a teenager, I loved reading romantic fiction with other girls from school and in my neighbourhood. Yes, we studied serious English Literature up to A-levels but we still circulated and shared romantic novels such as Mills and Boon. I think I must have read about 1000 books in the 1980s! We didn’t have neighbourhood libraries to borrow books from then, neither mobile libraries. These books we good for light reading – but also increased my vocabulary and exposed other cultures, languages and places to me. I know that the romantic content and formulae story lines we not realistic, nor a true representation of real couples’ lives – but they were a fun way to spend a day or two reading. Another book club member mentioned that she loved reading and swapping these romantic novels when she was younger with her grandmother.

A male information professional friend who worked in Westminster Libraries in the 1990’s said that the Chinese community in Chinatown still borrowed a lot of Mills & Boon, and I think romantic novels are still kept in many local libraries to encourage writing them too. One of the book club suggestions I read recently reminded me of a Mills & Boon! Never mind. The main point is…I am reading novels regularly again.

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I am due to recommend a book for my book and may suggest ‘The Lonely Londoners’ which is currently in the Windrush exhibition at the British Library. And I can’t remember if I have read it before. Or another book to suggest is ‘House of Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul, who recently passed away. We obviously studied him at school in Trinidad and being an exceptional writer – since his death, there are a few people who have told me how great a writer he really was. It was great to see Twitter light up with tweets about his books and their importance, as well as comments on his controversial personality. In July, the British Library usually hosts Africa Writes, which is interesting for books by other diverse writers. To be honest – I always come across something interesting and inspiring to reading in the library. It’s just the time required to read these good books!

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As with everything, there are always persons who are less fortunate than us and any help with reading is a bonus. In our neighbourhood, we recently received a donated decorated reading bench and a children’s Little Free Library. It is brilliant to see people having a break to read and to receive donations. There was some vandalising of the books but hopefully this does not occur often. There are other free libraries in my neighbourhood for adults, the local library is well-stocked and the bookshop still has an immense presence and customers.

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Another neighbour hosts a Rock and Roll Book Club with talks and events in the local bookstore. These are great initiatives that help in keeping physical spaces like shops, libraries and hard copy books thriving. Digital formats and cyberspace are great for literacy but they are too broad topics to delve into now, so they are other stories for another blog post in the future.

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One good point about social media is seeing what other people are reading, or what is recommend by peers and libraries. The Orkney library (@OrkneyLibrary) always find interesting and funny trends to tweet to promote their books. In the meantime, I am happy that I am frequently reading for leisure and enlightenment with my book club – some of the books have been interesting for imagination as well as thought provoking. It also is a fun community initiative, and I get to support local bookshops.

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Read over a year

You never really stop learning and comprehending language and vocabulary. Reading new stories to understanding human behaviour is always exciting and informative too.  Therefore, there will always be a long list of books I still want to read. You may also have a list. Even if there is no book club – I’ll just have to make time, as reading should always be one of my top priorities.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

The Summer holidays are here!

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,

we must carry it with us or we find it not. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Summer is in full swing and it is the time of year when most of us are thinking of enjoying time off from work, school, commitments or simply a break from the normal routine. It is also the season to enjoy the usually better weather, get outdoors more, go sightseeing, travel and rest. The sunny summer of 2018 has been gloriously blessed, until now, with good weather and has helped in my decision to have a Staycation.

My last staycation was in 2012 and I am certainly happy to try mini-breaks in the UK this year having been away consistently for the last few years. As an adult, I have had time off the whole summer when I was on maternity leave twice, in between jobs and redundant. It was a blessing in disguise to spend the whole summer off, even if I had to be on a budget. I will write about one of my mini-breaks in 2018 here.

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There is also the cost of travelling that has been one of the factors for me having a staycation this summer. In ‘Caravan and Camping Sites in the UK’ report by IBIS World predicts 2.3% annual grow to reach £3.8 billion by 2023-34. The report is also insightful on why other British travellers may be doing this: “weather patterns and fluctuations in exchange rates will continue to encourage domestic tourism over the next few years, as the UK remains a cheap holiday destination”. The report goes on to explain: “fragile consumer confidence is likely to cause families to delay discretionary expenditure on holidays over the next few years. However, this could also have a positive effect on the industry as UK holidaymakers who would previously have taken trips abroad may instead choose to take relatively inexpensive domestic camping mini-breaks. Similar to the conditions at the start of the period, low consumer confidence may help to sustain the staycation trend”. So this insight is quite relevant to me. I didn’t go caravanning this year, but I spent a weekend in a campsite at a Jazz Festival and can imagine other more official campsites across the country benefitting from this type of holiday.

The last few years I have planned my holidays at least six months in advance to get the best deals possible as the flights tend to cost higher closer to the time of travel. Most of the time, like all families with children at school, we have little choice and flexibility and so must travel in the peak inflated priced holiday periods like everybody else! However, for children with working parents it is the time of year that you can actually have some quality time to relax and spend with the family.

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I haven’t travelled extensively due the cost and family commitments. However, I seem to have travel in my DNA as a fourth generation Indian immigrant to the West Indies. There are some places I have scratched off my list, but there is still a long imaginary bucket list of places I would like to visit one day. For example, my bucket lists contains India. Being of Indian heritage, I would like to visit India in the future but the cost for a family will be horrendous and I certainly don’t want to go on my own. I would also like to go to the Far East to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, and other parts of the world such as Africa, Brasil, Peru, Mexico, San Francisco, and other Caribbean islands. The list can really go on, and on. I know that air travel is not good for the environment and wish that there were other environmentally friendly modes of transport that were quicker and cheaper. There is no real chance of me going to all the countries I would like to visit in the near future anyway, so hopefully I can ‘be chilled’ about my carbon footprint for now.

Two roads diverged into a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled

– Robert Frost

Generally, I don’t follow my bucket list of places to visit. I honestly don’t think my list will ever be finite, as I love learning and seeing new parts of this beautiful, interesting and natural world. My friend Barry blogged here and just came back from Antarctica. It sounded so very different from what I am used to – and so I wish I could visit there one day. My friends, Anna and Pete, also have had an amazing holiday this year in Japan and there too is on my bucket list. I have an aunt, Sandra, in Canada who has travelled extensively and I love how she uses Facebook to share her stories and enthusiasm for travel, culture and the people she meets. My neighbour, Bob, sent me a photo of his happy holiday in Rhodes just a few days ago. Social media has all the temptation for aspiring to visit places…or even for you to remain at home and see the world. It’s a win win for exploring the Earth! One of my post popular blog posts since I started this blog was my trip to New York City in 2016. One relative said that my photos inspired them to take a trip to New York that same year.

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My neighbour sent me his holiday view from his balcony in Rhodes …Wishful thinking.

Mintel’s Consumer Confidence Finance Tracker from April 2017 found that long holidays, short breaks and days out all features in the top 10 things people spend their disposable income on. Mintel reports that “despite the Brexit vote and the drop in the value of the pound, consumers have shown their strong appetite for oversees holidays. Mintel estimates that overseas trips grew by 5% to 44.3 million in 2016”. The barriers and bottom line to seeing all those places is the cost of travel, which is expensive. You also have to consider the time required away from a full time job, family commitments, and possibly travel restrictments such as travel visas and your safety. One can still dream about travelling to new places though. Travel is always good for new experiences, ideas, creativity and culture. We also come away understanding the places and people that we have visited.

Should I stay or go? …Well, this year I stayed in England. I went last week for a few days to Derbyshire for a break. This meant that I avoided the busy drive to an airport, checking-in procedures, the lounging, duty free temptations and general busyness of an airport. My drive was just under three hours to my destination. I was quite excited as I had been told by friends and family that the countryside in the Peak District was beautiful. There are also nice restaurants in Derbyshire and the surrounding areas – all in the mix with international and local cuisine.

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The two main attractions I visited were stately homes – Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall. The drives to both locations were very scenic through parts of the National Forest, villages, rivers and winding roads with the undulating hills of the Derbyshire countryside.

Chatsworth House is spectacular and I had heard so much about it. I love the drive to the house with the sheep resting in the shade of the trees and grazing on the grass on a sunny summer’s morning during our recent heatwave. The house’s exterior itself has a magical simplicity in its shape and design. I particularly liked the garden and all its difference features such as The Cascade, the 100 steps to the maze, the rock garden, the lilies, grotto etc. There were so many vistas to take it all in, and I loved the beautiful plants and trees. It must be nice in winter but it certainly was splendid in the heart of summer with the sheep baa-ing closeby, the butterflies fluttering on plants, and the lovely birdsong. I intend to visit the garden again one day. Touch wood!

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The interior of the house was also interesting and it was nice too that the current owner, the Duke of Devonshire and family, are still involved in the house’s upkeep. I liked the mix of modern and older art pieces in the collection. It is always interesting to see how other people live regardless of wealth or social class – and this house obviously had historic significance. The actors impersonating the past head gardener, Joseph Paxton, told us about the evening that Queen Victoria visited the maze garden adorned in a candlelit atmosphere. This must have been something to see! They still host amazing events at Chatsworth House throughout the year.

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As a special treat, I also had afternoon tea served on Wedgewood China. I was even inspired to try one of the sweet puddings on my return to London a few days after. Chatsworth House is beautiful for indulgence in a beautiful setting and was really interesting for creative ideas too – be it gardening, writing novels, poems, painting, photography, music and most of all… period dramas films! It has been the setting for programmes such as Pride and Prejudice’. The shop was also full of lovely tokens and souvenirs.

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The next day was just as exciting at Haddon Hall, Bakewell. I loved the medieval features and the lived-in feel and evidence of the house’s history – from the wooden kitchen surfaces, to the medieval steps, courtyard and banquet hall. I also liked the vista over the rolling hills and countryside from the windows in the house.

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Again, the garden was amazing too and I am hoping that I can visit Haddon Hall again! I loved the planting of some of my favourite plants, the view from the garden terraces, which gave the garden a varied dimension from the river to the hill. The house was something out of a storybook with the stream and medieval setting. Places like this brings the past alive and sends our imagination into overdrive! I managed to squeeze in a nice pub lunch in nearby Bakewell (famous for it’s Bakewell tart) too.

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Travelling is my drug of choice

– quote shared by my well-travelled Aunt.

This was a short break in an extraordinarily warm summer in England. I hope to visit a couple more places such as Southwold and Norwich this year. I may even visit Paris and Italy for very short breaks too. Trinidad will always be home for me to visit. In 2019, I am hoping to visit Greece. In the meantime, I will try to save some money, use the Internet to see the place I haven’t been and keep dreaming of nice and interesting places I would like to visit…one day.

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The Evolution and Revolution in Music – a personal journey

There will always be a fascination with inventions, innovations and new development in music and musical equipment, whether for broadcasting and our personal enjoyment. Coincidentally, it is also a time of immense changes and disruption in the music industry, and also our own personal experiences with these adoptions and evolutions. Innovations in musical equipment have moved from the physical to the digital, starting from the wax cylinders, phonographs, vinyl, cassette, mpg file to streaming. I may have left out quite a few formats here but forgive me for my ignorance. Here I will try to cover some of these changes with some of my personal experiences.

 

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It may be back in the 19th Century, but occasionally I get asked at work to search for patents on musical inventions, which is very interesting.  In the article In what’s your best innovations yet?’, there is a brilliant description of musical history and our experiences in a nutshell. The explanation goes: “…before the invention of the phonograph people could hear music only when it was performed. When Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell began working on their phonograph in the late 1800s, their primary objective was to desynchronise the time, and place of a performance so that it would be heard anytime, anywhere…..Emile Berliner’s flat disc-shaped records and later, the development of magnetic tape made it significantly easier to mass-produce recordings, lowering their cost while increasing the fidelity and selection of music available. For decades, however, players were bulky and not particularly portable”. Does this sound familiar to you? This is a quick whistle stop of earlier musical inventions but you may have experience some similar changes too in our lifetime.

 

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I wanted to blog about the evolution of music from my own experiences, but it is with great coincidence and significance that the British Library held a recent exhibition entitled ‘Seasons of Sound – 140 years of Recorded Sound‘. This was a visual and interactive timeline of sound equipment, technology, culture, sub-cultures, and the impact these have had on society. This was the library’s first sound focussed exhibition – described as an exploration of how “sounds has shaped and influenced lives since the phonograph was invented in 1877”. The exhibition aims were to demonstrate how innovations in recording technology and radio broadcasting have transformed our listening experience. The exhibition was great to see (and hear…and feel) how equipment, technology and developments in recordings have progressed in this period, especially if you are a music fan. Working at the library, I have also answered queries on historical patents, including inventor and entrepreneur Emile Berliner and the phonograph!

 

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I had the privilege of also attending a guided tour by two of the exhibition’s curators. Some of the items that were highlighted were 16-year-old Alfred Taylor’s wireless log – which apparently would have been like a modern day vlogger or You Tuber. We were told that the first set of live radio broadcasting was not recorded in his diary, as there were a lot of “false starts”. It was also quite exciting to hear about the launch of live broadcasting at the turn of the 20th century, and so it seemed this had gripped the public’s imagination with a fascination for live shows. You can just imagine the development of such well-known media outlets such as the BBC, the rise of record buying, the pop charts, broadcasters, live shows – and the rest they say is history! One point the curator wanted to convey was that “the library is remembered for its books, but this exhibition was focussed on sound and listening and to raise the profile of the sound archive”. So look out for the Save our Sounds Project and for more ‘Season of Sounds‘ events on until this autumn.

 

 

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We have reached a stage where these inventions and innovations are ever-changing and so we can all relate to a period in time when we consumed music in one or another format. We have experienced, witness and moved from the early days of audio through to the digital age.

It still amazes me that there is so much personalisation. Andreas Pavel first created The Walkman in 1979. Apparently, Andreas wanted to create it but found resistance from the head of Sony at the time. However it was later launched.

 

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“They all said they didn’t think people would be so crazy as to run around with headphones, that this is just a gadget, a useless gadget of a crazy nut,” Sony on Andreas Pavel’s idea for the Walkman.

 

In the book ‘Inventions in the 21st century’, my ex-colleague wrote the following on the personal stereo: “the story is great for the birth of the idea where Sony’s head realised that young people loved their music and did not want to be without it”. Sony’s marketing staff were apparently not convinced that the product would sell, but after launch in April 1979 – 100 million units were sold. Certainly, this is a forerunner of the smartphone and other such devices as we know them now – but the rate of development has been steadily improving.

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The iPOD MP3 Player – ‘Inventing the 21st Century’ by Stephen Van Dulven

Despite the current move to the digital age, Vinyl has seen a resurgence and renaissance in their sales with more millenials discovering vinyl, and obviously record players too. Who would have thought that that vinyl would have their own best selling charts again? The experience of crate digging in a record store or in a pop-up shop is still a self-fulfilling experience. Some record fans have always preferred the physically activity of selecting, loading and playing records. Not forgetting the historical and artistic contribution of record covers designs. I used to get lost just looking at record covers and lyric sleeves. All of this is even more fun and better to share with friends and loved ones. I have loads of record stories but I remember our Italian relatives in a band asking us the lyrics to Steely Dan’s ‘Do it again‘ before we had access to the internet – we had to keep rewinding the cassette until we got most of the lyrics. It’s so easy now.

 

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I grew up in the age of vinyl in Trinidad were we bought hundreds of vinyl 45” and LPs in the late 1970s and 1980s. However the late 1980s saw the adoption of CDs and by this time, I was a foreign student on a budget in the UK, and so CDs were too expensive and a luxury for me to buy. However, I used to buy cassettes and also taped my favourite sounds from radio (for personal use). I buy music occasionally still and I continue to listen to the radio a lot compared to buying music. In the last 20 years, I have found the development from cds in the 1990s to the present fast moving and revolutionary.

 

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By the late 1990s, the Internet had disrupted all of this but also acted as a catalyst for a lot of innovations. You may recall Napster from about 1999. In the article ‘What’s your best innovation bet?’ by the Harvard Business Review July-Aug 2017 (link above), Melissa Schilling writes: “soon after the file-sharing platform Napster launched in 1999, consumers were downloading new music and film by the millions, and Napster like services were sprouting up like weeds”.

These disruptions were obviously having an impact on sales and the industry. The latest music statistics are healthier but in another article, ‘The trouble with streaming music: how to dig a new hole’, the argument is that the “macro trend is that music sales in real dollars have been decreasing every year since 1999, concerns in this digital age is that the model of the music has not only shifted in the democratisation of music. No longer are we tied just to the artist we hear on FM radio. In no other time in history has it been possible to sample so much music with so little fraction or cost”.

Another milestone in the development of music is without doubt by the company Apple. Steve Jobs, Apple’s late CEO, loved music and incorporated music listening in the design when Apple was developing the iPod – “an iPod, a phone and internet”. This leveraged the mp3 for a new generation. The revolution in music continued with iTunes, and now to Apple streaming music. The news is that Apple Music is now a rival to iTunes as mentioned in the report Streaming resuscitates entertainment industry, but operation bypasses retail where it states: “Apple’s entrance into streaming with Apple Music has resulted in limited investment in its original platform”.

 

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Up to date in the 2010s, this leads me to explore the new world of music streaming, which is tied in with the proliferation of the smartphone. The general topics are: rights and revenues paid to artists, how much of our spending ends up being owned by us, algorithmic versus personalised selection, and the interaction levels that are now possible. The rate of these digital changes is phenomenal! In this BBC article, the figures says streaming generated $7.1bn (£5bn) in 2017, more than sales of cds and vinyl. The number of people subscribing to a streaming service topped 176 million, up from 112 million a year before’.

Streaming has been around for a while but I have intentionally started paying more attention to its development and also using it too recently. I have had a Spotify account for my elder son for a couple of years, and I recently took out an Apple Music family account for my younger son and myself. It certainly is amazing how easy it is to have seamless, mainly banter-free and advert-free music streamed for your pure listening pleasure. You can let the algorithmic system work the magic with serendipity, smart searches and suggestions for you. An extra bonus is that you have access to millions of sounds at your fingertips and ears. For example on Spotify, you can see what your friends are listening to, have access to a whole album instead of a single, and various information and user-centric data. How cool is all this! Do you remember talking to your friends at school about new pop music? Then we had no You Tube links neither streaming music to discuss whilst showing them on our smartphones. So streaming music seems like a whole lot of fun whatever the genre you like – especially if you are passionate about music.

 

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The streaming music market is now rampant with competition with Google Play Music (owned by You Tube Music), Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer and Amazon etc. I certainly don’t and can’t afford to use them all. There are billions of pounds in the music streaming business – but what about the artists? In terms of rights for the artists, it is argued in ‘The Trouble with Streaming Music: How to dig a new hole’ that “you can explore 100 artists that all sound similar to one you put with their algorithmic, but you will never get anything that blows your mind the way that one guy in college was able to do when introducing you to something completely novel”. It is the same occurs when you discuss with friends, or go to a party and accidentally come across a track that you may not have heard before. Music knowledge is great to discuss with a person face to face. The one suggestion for streaming music’s success says “to combat the economies of streaming services depriving artists of a working wage, and to keep new music coming out – is to buy more music, see more shows, and buy more merchandise”. This is the reason why touring artists and live shows are still very profitable for revenue and encouraged by both struggling and successful artists. They need their fan’s support too to survive.

 

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I do still have personal dislikes for streaming music – with my total cost of money spent a month averaging about £30.00, it still will not be wholly owned by me such like the 45”, albums, cassettes or cds that I owned in the past. Also although I only have experience of Apple and Spotify, it does not allow me access to the eclectic world music catalogue that I like. I frequently do not find songs on streaming that I know exists! You Tube videos may be better in those instances.

 

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I am 100% sure that music consumption and inventions will continue to evolve in time with new visionaries, ideas, technological developments and experiences. Generally, I feel all will be well with the future of music and the artists who make these beautiful melodies. How do I know this? Our love for music will be at the heart of all this driving the changes, and we will show that we do care.

Baking – the secrets of success

Baking may be regarded as a science, but it the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life. Baking is done out of love, to share with family and friends…to see them smile.

Anna Olson

There is something symbolic about cakes – they are made up of rich ingredients, made with love, beautifully designed and even better for us to taste and devour. It may be a naughty treat but we love cakes and desserts for social occasions. It is a fabulous time for us to share these fabulous concoctions with our dearest in celebration, or purely as an indulgent comfort. You may even want to eat your cake all by yourself…and that is perfectly alright too.

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The market for cakes is booming and there are lots of innovations in the marketplace too. According to Mintel market research, the market for cakes is valued at £2.23 billion in the UK and it is predicted that over the next five years sales are forecast to increase by 6% to reach £2.36 billion in 2022. The reports states that 52% of people have bought a celebration/party cake in the last 3 months to December 2017. Cakes are also considered an essential part of special occasions. And apparently, most women think that high-quality ingredients and visual appeal are the most important factors. In terms of tastes and lifestyle choices, you can now buy all types of cakes – vegan, eggless, gluten-free and the good old-fashioned ones. There are many obvious reasons that we love cake, and the high street and pop-up stalls are reflecting our love of these old and new favourites.

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Baking has so much excitement to it. It brings back childhood memories for me. I remember helping my mother and her sisters with their baking. They would give us some of the easy tasks to make us feel part of the process, such as cracking each egg individually to check if they were okay. Later on, baking cakes for Christmas was one of the most cherished memories I have with spending time with my mother. We were also told stories of older generations who baked with makeshift ovens made out of old steel drums, clay ovens or brick ovens.

Cakes are healthy too, you just eat a small slice.

– Mary Berry

Some of us may have had more baking experience in our ‘Home Economics’ classes in secondary school. I didn’t do this subject for O’Levels examinations in school but I still had a passion for baking and cooking at home, which I continued to develop more in my twenties. I have been taking photos of my earlier cakes before the advent of digital camera and smartphones. Instagram, blogs and other social media are one of the great contributing factors for the success of a new younger generation baking, and even taking up baking up as careers. Baking have also been helped with popular television shows such as the Great British Bake-Off (GBBO). I must admit I have never looked at a show but I have bought a book by winner Edd Kimber for inspiration a few years ago.

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When baking, you really have to follow those tried and tested recipes. I still like referring to old favourites that my mother and friends have shared with me.   The Naparima Girls School cookbook was an old favourite for Caribbean recipes. I have also used the Internet to search for a particular type of cake – such as walnut and carrot cake, and for this chocolate Buntz cake I recently made. British chefs Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson are guaranteed to give you ideas, as well as the technical know-how on creating your perfect cakes. I have been speaking to a few young bakers – and they say that they tweak and innovate to make recipes their own. This is a sign of a confident baker!

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There lots of competition in the market and so having your own style and brand is important. The recipe and the technical procedures for making these gorgeous creations are really important in business – they are your trade secrets. It is also recommend that you protect your brand by having your own trade mark and logos. There is the well-known case of the Jaffa Cake, which anyone can make as the initial producers McVitie’s did not trademark the name “Jaffa Cakes”, and so other biscuit manufacturers and supermarkets have made similar products under the same name.

Your recipes can also be your signature style. At the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, baker Claire Ptak had her trade mark buttercream icing which makes you want to try her unique cakes. It is good to see that she had books you can buy and also the wedding cake recipe is listed on Hello’s website. I might just have to try this lemon and elderflower cake!

Cakes are also great for raising funds and other charitable causes. We had cake sales in primary and secondary school. Many schools have cakes at their fairs and a lot of organisations also hold fundraising days for raising funds for particular great causes. I am always happy to make cakes for charity and street parties. The array of cakes at these occasions make our eyes glow and our taste buds explode! Apple Day is a local community day held at the Vestry Museum in Autumn, when there are so many innovative and varied ways to create cakes out of apples.

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Cakes are also a metaphor for knowledge management. I remember discussing the recipe for cake at a Knowledge Management forum held by David Gurteen or my ex-employers – the point being is that the recipe is shared but the know-how and the practical steps, sourcing ingredients and techniques are added-value insights and skills. This type of tacit knowledge we may want to share verbally with our friends, and may even show them baking tricks. Still, we may ‘follow the recipe to the T’, but our cakes may look differently for reasons unknown. There may be other factors contributing to changes such as the oven, temperature, process, ingredients, tools etc. These challenges certainly make baking interesting.

A cake is a very good test of an oven: if it browns too much on one side and not on the other, it’s not your fault you need to have your oven checked.

Delia Smith

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Cakes are great for selling in pop-up shops, market stalls and in artisan bakeries, whether on the high street or made-to-order. Cupcakes have had a revival over the last decade and had inspired a new generation of bakers, entrepreneurs and cake aficionados. Seriously…who doesn’t like cake?

Having cakes as a business certainly changes things for me I don’t now sit at home doing a cake for the fun of it anymore. But it’s an extremely happy and pleasureable business to run because people are generally buying cakes for celebrations.

Jane Asher

 

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There are some tremendous bakers out there and they are far better than I can possibly be. I still bake regularly at home when I have guests, or for a particular occasion. There are some fabulous gadgets and kitchen aids on the market and it has always been one of my ambitions to own a fancy kitchen aid. Maybe one day I will own one of those bad-boys!

Cakes are so visually appealing. I sometimes feel bad sharing photos of food on social media, but then I see other inspirational cakes by foodies. I too get inspired and want to try new recipes or flavours. The best thing about baking is that there is an interesting reward at the end for your efforts. Enjoying the occasional cake with family and friends are some of the best moments in life.

Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people;

it does for me.     Audrey Hepburn

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Fake News – fighting the information war

The news has always been exposed to manipulation to exert power, influence and score political points. It is not a new phenomenon but due to developments in the internet and social media this has been exacerbated as anyone with a smartphone has the ability to share content knowingly or unknowingly. Propaganda, misinformation and censorship are old tricks for information tactics, but in today’s world it is deemed the ‘golden age of fake news, alternative facts and post-truths’. Anyone can disseminate content digitally that may be appropriate or inappropriate. It will also hold the biases and interest of the person(s) sharing it. Sometimes it may be governments or companies that have a vested interest for profit in having us believe false information. The challenge about news in an ideal world is for us is to be truthful, open to criticism and have civilised arguments without inciting harm or violence. Otherwise perpetrators of false news should be prepared to pay the consequences.

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The Internet and social media platforms should not take all the blame – there have been positive outcomes if we look back only few years, such as The Arab Spring. Internet credibility was something we had to deal with in the last 20plus years as information and knowledge professionals. The same applies now. The current tone and mood highlights that we should be aware a lot more about ‘Fake News’.

So what is Fake News? Not surprisingly, searching our research databases in the library, there is a lot of commentary and articles on the topic in the last couple of years mainly due to political campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic (and the world no doubt).

Fake News definition:

false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. Harper Collins 2017.

Webmaster Jeff Wisniewski at the University of Pittsburgh is on point when he writes in Online Searcher.Net Jul-Aug 2017 in A Matter of Trust: a Webmaster Perspective’ – “Fake News, information created that is either deliberately false or intentionally misleading predates our online world. Its’ become such a concern recently because the internet makes it exceptionally easy for misinformation to be created and widely distributed, which in turn makes it harder to verify the presence of the good stuff. If you think this might be problem for the young who haven’t as yet developed these skills: the old, for whom the internet is relatively recent phenomenon; or the less educated, who haven’t been exposed to academic rigor, think again”.

Here I am hoping to highlight some of the issues we all face, and as a reminder that the responsibilities lie in good ethics for companies, politicians, journalists, academics and most importantly – libraries and the role librarians play in empowering over ignorance. It is great to see that a lot of the materials I read refer to digital literacy, fact-checking and searching for quality information. Fake news may be a ‘bad thing’ but it is a blessing too to remind everyone of the underlying skills such as literacy, fact-finding, analysis and even more relevant…critical thinking, which all needs to be honed. Mick O’Leary writes in Information Today Oct 2017 in ‘Fact-checker resist Alternative Facts’– “No, it’s not all the president’s fault, although he is the leader of the pack. People on all sides subordinate facts to passions and politics. Fake news and lies abound, disseminated from all quarters and driven by greed and partisanship”.

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London Underground Train Poster

Some of the issues and consequences of Fake News is that it affects our democracy, evidence based-decisions and facts which can be harmful if applied generously. False reporting is blindly encouraging parts of the population to remain ignorant on the issues that directly affect them. There will still be people out there who would fall foul of propagating fake news, but we should not find this discouraging. It is an era of post–truths. With time, we still have the fact-checkers to verify an issue, even if points of view still remain the same. We are a free society after all.

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Free Press.

So why share fake stories? Apparently there is an interesting answer put forward by Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia. When asked recently about internet users unknowingly sharing false stories – Wales replies “Yes, well, that’s just human life. All of us have a few idiot friends and now they can share stuff on Facebook. The thing is, it is easy to be condescending about these people and to joke about these people. But the truth is, in free societies, people have a right to not be interested in the news. But when you’re not that interested in the news and you do decide, ‘hey, I think I want to find out some information,’ you deserve to get quality information. And that’s what we’ve really been lacking”. So part of the answer may lie with good journalism, collaboration and research skills.

The other issue is with the growth of social media – there is intensity and traction with our biases.   Generally, we follow and connect to people who are similar to us and therefore only see or hear points of views that we are exposed to. Social media tend to be mostly an echo chamber for our own views. We should challenge, discuss and converse with people who have a different perspective, but do try to avoid trolling.

Social media platforms have come under attack with the rise of fake stories. Facebook was aware of this as they placed adverts in national newspapers on the run up to the UK 2017 general elections. Social media precaution has also been in the news recently on the related issue of the use of our data and algorithms. There is a lot of power and money in such large networks of people who are actively engaged on social media. Unfortunately, there will always be predators who want to manipulate us. I have certainly shared my point of view on the recent exposed Windrush Generation scandal. I knew it was a concerning when I saw the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London share an update about an amnesty petition in their news feeds. It was one of the saddest and biggest stories being shared by my network on social media, and not just in the UK. This is an example of my social media use for news and for when the lines become blurred between what is relevant to me, and concerning politics. I saw very little fake news on the Windrush Generation. It was mainly real news being shared on social media. All in all, it is a very sad true topic.

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Empire Windrush Records – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/bound-for-britain/source-3/

The other major issue is propaganda and censorship. In time of sensitivities – the truth gets manipulated, measured and withheld which leads to misinformation, propaganda and mistrust. It won’t be uncommon to say that there are also ‘little white lies’. It is an old technique for keeping order or even protecting us from facts, in a twisted way. Fake news may certainly be in our dialogue, but lies are not new. The liar’s tools are new but it is an old problem in the information war. It is also our own responsibility to censor and self-regulate our opinions with time sensitive and appropriate information in relation to our communication strategy, if there is one.

So where do we go from here? Most of the resources I read suggest that we build trust. I do have a personal motto to be as genuine as possible, and seek the truth where I can personally and professionally on social media. Like Jimmy Wales’s article above, Wisniewski also has some good pointers to check information that include:

  • Accuracy – The source is error-free and the information can be verified using other sources.
  • Authority – Where are the author’s other credentials? Are they qualified to write on the topic?
  • Objectivity – Is it clear what the purpose of the content is? It is fact or opinion?
  • Currency – Is the content up-to-date?
  • Comprehensiveness – What depth of information is provided?

This is an opportunity for webmasters, journalists, librarians, and other similar professions to advocate trustworthiness and credibility. It is also timely to promote digital literacy skills for Joe Public, and for students in higher educations. I saw an advert for a library training users to spot fake news which rightly stated – “Fakes News permeates our media. It’s important to learn how to differentiate actual news from fake news, as misunderstanding news can have real-life consequences”. False information is one of the dreaded crimes that a librarian can ever knowingly give to a library user.

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Facebook’s Top Tips to Spot False News

It is also the responsibility of social media platforms to monitor and prevent viral fake news. I read that Facebook have rolled out a tool to mark stories as “disputed” and shows them less frequently on users’ news feeds. Facebook also ran newspaper ads titles ‘Tips for spotting false news’. They want us to get it right as “people want accurate information on Facebook, and so do we’. Among the 10 suggestions included – look at the source of the website, check if the photos are manipulated, check the date of the content, make sure that the article is not satire and be sceptical of headlines. Should you care…if we can get these tips right, it would be good for Facebook too. I can laugh too about meme shares on Facebook like the one below, ‘fake rice‘ and real ‘fake’ people too!

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So can this really work? There is an argument that journalists embedded in political campaigns used Twitter for timely updates and analysis and therefore they can easily be found on social media in real time right in the heart of the action. Similarly scientists, authors and artists increasing use social media to communicate with each other. The point being is that not all accounts on social media will be untrustworthy. Information literacy is also a key factor for positive changes in the future.

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Mark Roquet writes in ‘What Happens Now? Fake News, the Gross Internet, and What to do about Information Literacy’ in Info Today March 2018 – “Librarians and other adults have often developed habits that protect us from some of the ugliness of our digital society… We must take some responsibility for the hate and ugliness our students encounter online and equip students with the critical skills and orientations required to fix internet ugliness rather than fall for the worst lines”. Mark also lists other fact-checking and digital skills that we can equip the youth of the future. If we up-skill the next generation, hopefully we can have radical new information literacy skills that prepares students for our current world. It may be in better hands in future.

There are counter fake news initiatives that are being provided by governments everywhere from Sweden, Malaysia, the United Kingdom – and hopefully many more countries. Companies and professionals should also understand that information is integral to the very fabric of our lives. We all have the responsibility and obligation to share and provide content that is truthful…and prevent the dissemination of false information. We may not be able to do so always in the real world, but we should keep our ideals and ethics as life moves more digitally. This is not a war we can win easily, but the consequences and responsibility lie with each one of us to remain truthful when sharing information.