Oxford Bodleian Library’s Book Storage Facility (in Swindon)

Oxford is a very crowded place, and it is very hard to build anything there. As a result, the greatest single part of the University of Oxford Bodleian Library collection – the Book Storage Facility, holding 8,328,367 books (and roughly 1.5m maps) on the day I visited – is not actually in Oxford, but on the Keypoint trading estate just north of the A420 on the edge of Swindon.

The beautiful new Weston Library on Broad Street, opened last spring, would not exist without the Book Storage Facility, because the latter holds all the books that were previously stored in the space that is now the atrium and exhibition space (including the Sheldon Tapestry Map of Worcestershire, featuring Chipping Norton). And the Book Storage Facility would not exist without a load of IT: the environmental control systems, the Bodleian catalogue and the software that works out the routes for the pickers that retrieve and return items to the huge 11-metre high shelves. Continue reading “Oxford Bodleian Library’s Book Storage Facility (in Swindon)”

Visit to the Spaceguard Centre in Powys for the Register

The Register has published my article on a visit to the Spaceguard Centre, near Knighton in Powys. This privately-run observatory is Britain’s only facility dedicated to monitoring Near Earth Objects (NEOs), large Earth-bound asteroids and comets that could do anything from blow out thousands of windows (as happened in Chelyabinsk in 2013) to taking us the way of the dinosaurs.

The good news, according to Spaceguard founder Jay Tate, is that unlike the dinosaurs we have a space programme, and are perfectly capable of spotting and moving any rogue NEOs before they hit. Best not to nuke them like Bruce Willis – turns out you can simply nudge them on to a different course.

We do need to get better at the spotting part than at present, which is where Tate and the Centre come in, through educating visitors and using the entrance fees, donations and gift shop receipts to fund more spotting.

Continue reading “Visit to the Spaceguard Centre in Powys for the Register”

From Tynemouth chic to Whitley Bay, where every day is like Sunday

Tyneside in England’s north-east has a revived centre for everyone in Newcastle and Gateshead, but its coastal edges are struggling, like Whitley Bay, or moving upscale like Tynemouth. It’s like Britain in miniature.

Originally published on Beacon.

Continue reading “From Tynemouth chic to Whitley Bay, where every day is like Sunday”

Marconi on The Lizard: article on radio history for The Register

Following my article on Goonhilly Earth Station in December, The Register has published the other piece I researched while visiting Cornwall last autumn: on how Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian working in Britain, transmitted a signal from Newfoundland to Cornwall and changed the world.

The article is based on two sites on The Lizard peninsula, the southernmost part of Great Britain: the Lizard Wireless Hut, right on its southern edge, and the Marconi Centre and Wireless Field, just above Poldhu Cove on the peninsula’s western coast. Continue reading “Marconi on The Lizard: article on radio history for The Register”