Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Brought to book

I realised recently that I've not really blogged about books. Good as web stuff is, the age of books is not yet over.

There are electronic and online books (your Athens password gives you access to a collection of mental health and WHO titles), but a lots of people still prefer to read the old fashioned sort. Over the last ten years this library has loaned out more and more books year on year. Perhaps that shows that more people are interested in keeping up to date or life long learning. Perhaps its because medical publishing has improved, producing attractive paperbacks with good illustrations, and responding to hot topics faster than before.

We used to have an online catalogue on the intranet, but it broke, and I couldn't fix it. We currently share an internet catalogue with our partner libraries across the region. It's not updated that often, and wont tell you if something is out on loan, but is gives you a taste of the kind of books you'll find in your local NHS library.

If you like books you'll love Amazon. If you sign in each time you use it then it will eventually start to form an opinion of what you like and recommend more of the same. Sometimes this works better than others, but it's a useful way of finding out about books new and old that you might not otherwise stumble upon. The reviews are useful as they are written by readers who have bought the books, rather than the publishers who are trying to sell them. One of my favourite aspects of the service is "search inside" which shows you the first and last few pages of some books. It can be useful way of deciding whether or not you want to buy.

Don't let Amazon make you feel obliged to spend all your pennies. Do what I do - get Amazon to recommend something and then borrow it from your library!

If you do succumb to temptation and buy books, how do you keep a track of them all? Some of us stick them on shelves, or in piles by the bed and the loo, and hope for the best. Does anyone keep a card catalogue system for their personal collection? The technically minded head for LibraryThing where you can list everything you own. Like Amazon it offers reviews, recommendations for further reading and chat about each book. I have to say this works better with books that lots of people have listed and that's more likely to be the latest Nigella Lawson than the latest anatomy book.

The other way to find useful books is to visit the websites of major publishers. Blackwell produces the ABC and Lecture Notes series, Radcliffe is very good on primary care and education, Oxford University Press does the Oxford Handbooks and Core Texts, Whurr is good for nursing, psychology and therapies, Pastest for Royal College Exam books, RCPsych (formerly Gaskell) for mental health, Jessica Kingsley for learning disabilities, and the giant Elsevier group for nursing.

Of course, there are those who feel they can get by in life without ever reading a book. Sir William Osler once remarked "It is astonishing with how little reading a doctor can practice medicine, but it is not astonishing how badly he may do it." Some doctors are prescribing books for their patients, perhaps thinking of Charles de Secondat who wrote that "I never knew any trouble that an hour's reading didn't not assuage." Or, in the less elevated words of Groucho Marx - "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

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