The voice of an Empire: 300 years of British newspapers

Napoleon Bonaparte was quoted as saying that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”. Napoleon had more reason to fear public opinion and sharp pointy bits than most of us, but what is true for us all is the power of newspapers to inform and reflect the society we live in or sprouted from.

Cultural trends, political currents and social problems are reflected in past newspapers and give  immediacy to historical events. They also contain important genealogical information for those who seek out their own origins. British Library Newspapers consists of two major collections from the British Library that are a fantastic example of this: 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection  and 19th Century British Library Newspapers.

The two collections combined contain nearly three million pages that can be searched separately or together depending upon your needs. You can access this resource from home or within libraries using your customer number and PIN. Within these pages you will find the voices of the populace that Napoleon so feared … and with good reason!

“Cutting and singeing”, 1902

There are combinations mentioned in here that just don’t appear in beauty ads today: “Faded Wrinkled and Withered Skins”, “Toilet and Hairdressing”, and “Cutting and Singeing”.

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We have digitised a rather splendid 1902 publication Tourists’ guide to Canterbury.

I will share some of the interesting ads and pictures from it in a series of posts – there’s lots of information about local businesses and places in 1902.

Neighbourhood Week: Getting to know your neighbours

When the September quake struck I had only been in my house for a few months and had met few of my neighbours. Within a day I met a many more. Suddenly I felt part of the community. It didn’t last though, because many people moved on from our mud-strewn street over the months following the February event. However, I get another chance, because some kind person has organised a street party as part of Neighbourhood Week.
Birthday Party

Many of us have had to move in the last couple of years and need ways to get to know our new community, but how do you do it if you are not lucky enough to have a neighbour organising a street party?

My first port of call would be to CINCH. I’m not a church goer, but I had so many of the local churches knock on my door after the earthquakes that I could have held an inter-denominational conference in my living room – so I know that there are many active in my area. A search for church groups in St Albans brings up an impressive list. Likewise I can look for any groups involved in activities I enjoy, such as the St Albans Art Society or Garden Club.

I could also visit my friendly area community centre and have a chat. Fortunately the Council has just given us a temporary facility to replace the one we lost in September 2010.

If you want to plan your own event for Neighbourhood Week, the Council has lots of good ideas on their web page.


NaNoWriMoJust when things were settling down in my life, I’ve gone ahead and done something crazy. I’ve signed up to NaNoWriMo!

On Thursday this week I am about to embark on a creative writing marathon and I’m panicking. 50,000 words in a month. That averages out at 1666.66 words a day. Eeek. Am I ready for such a commitment? Do I have the concentration? Will the muse even bother to talk to me? Have I stockpiled enough pencils and Arabica espresso beans to keep me going?

I’ve joined the National Novel Writing Month Christchurch Group and they’re a friendly, supportive bunch. There was a kick-off party over the weekend and we were encouraged to wear a crazy hat so you see can see that although writing is an introvert’s sport there is still a chance to get together and have some fun. The group will meet at Central Library Tuam and Upper Riccarton Libraries during the event so people can touch base and support each other. I think we’re going to need it!

Vanessa, who’s in charge of organising the group tells me that even NaNoWriMo veterans like  herself (this is her fourth year) have pre-event insecurities so I’m not alone. It’s going to be tough but if I manage 50,000 words I’m going to feel pretty darn pleased with myself. There is no editing or revision involved. There is no marking, assessment or prize giving. This is an exercise is ‘an experiment in pure output’. Bring it on!

I’ll be blogging about my experiences over the next four weeks. If you’re keen to join in, there is still time to sign up. For more information on National Novel Writing Month visit or to contact a Christchurch Municipal Liaison email Vanessa

Psst! – hidden treasures #5

So far, while exploring, I’ve mainly talked about old stuff in our Aotearoa New Zealand Collection. This time around I want to let you in on a little secret:  whenever our library selectors buy New Zealand titles for the libraries, they buy a special copy for the Aotearoa New Zealand Collection. Just like its brothers and sisters out circulating in the community libraries, it gets processed and organised and added to the records, but after that it (most often) makes its way here to Tuam Street, where it is freely available to read, as long as you don’t leave the room!  Seriously, don’t make me chase you …

Remember that these books are reference only, and not to borrow, so unfortunately if you are number 72 on the list for a popular recent release, you can’t jump the queue; but if you truly are DESPERATE to get a head start on the latest must-read, Central Library Tuam and the ANZC are a great place to visit. Poking round the shelves this morning turned up these treasures:

  • Julie Le Clerc’s Favourite Cakes (for when you need something yummy)
  • Dennis Greville’s Easy on the Pocket Vegetable Growing (in case you spent all your money buying those cake ingredients)
  • Witi Ihimaera’s The Parihaka Woman, and Paula Morris’ Rangatira, both recent novels by two of our most well-known writers
  • Joanne Drayton’s The Search for Anne Perry (for those who saw, or didn’t see, Joanne at The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival)
  • and a series of large and hauntingly beautiful books featuring the photographic work of Doc Ross. I was particularly moved by the 2012 title Quietus: Observations of an Altered City, a large white-covered book recording the changing face of Christchurch, with a mixture of black and white, and colour photos, and script by Andrew Paul Wood. This is one of only 50 copies printed, and it is a real privilege to have a copy here on the shelf at Tuam Street to be read and admired by all.

Oxford and Google Wallet – bonus or bother?

Oxford Reference Online   had introduced a new service. Now instead of just having the titles that the library subscribes to, they have all titles available in the Oxford online catalogue. In practical terms, this means you may start reading a title you have sought an answer from, but then be requested for payment from “Google Wallet”.

The way to get around this is to tick the box to the left asking only to search for  content “provided by library”. You have to keep ticking this box after each search.  Oxford’s explanation for this development?

Google Wallet for Content provides a new model for purchasing short-form reference content designed to provide immediate answers for search queries. By making taster content available for free, this pilot is expected to make the OUP content within libraries’ holdings more discoverable and, ultimately, boost usage of these resources.

Christchurch – this week in history (29 October – 4 November)

29 October 1830
Te Rauparaha charters the “Elizabeth” (under the unscrupulous Captain Stewart) and sails for Akaroa.

30 October 1985
Writer-in-Residence at Canterbury University, Keri Hulme wins internationally prestigious Booker McConnell prize for her novel The Bone People.

1 November 1906
New Zealand International Exhibition (the biggest in the country to that time) opens in Hagley Park. Over 1 million people visited the exhibition during the next few months. A branch railway line was built across North Hagley Park to service the exhibition. The attractions included New Zealand’s first professional symphony orchestra [conducted by Alfred Hill], and the first Dominion pipe band contest which was won by the Dunedin Highland Pipe Band.

2 November 1899
Balloonist Captain Lorraine lost at sea after an ascent from Lancaster Park.

2 November 1914
Riccarton (Deans) Bush presented to the city by the Deans family.

4 November 1989
Record crowd of 60,000 at Lancaster Park to see Irish rock band U2.

More October and November events in our Christchurch chronology.

Picture books: picks from our latest newsletter

Some picks from our October Picture books newsletter:

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Kids’ books: picks from our latest newsletter

Some picks from our October Kids’ books newsletter:

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Christchurch 1980s: Picturing Canterbury

North end of Cathedral Square

A view of the north end of Cathedral Square in the 1980s.