Tag: Bibliocloud

Sara O'Connor

Interview with Sara O’Connor [Full Stack Developer]

Sara O’Connor worked in children’s publishing for 13 years and is now a full-time web developer. Frustrated with the cost and creative limitations of outsourcing good digital ideas (check out this article), she decided to retrain as a programmer. She now works with Emma Barnes at Consonance (the new name for Bibliocloud), helping to build the software she wished she had when she worked in publishing. Sara will be joining our panel at BookMachine Unplugged 2018: Talking Tech.

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Rebranding: more than just a publicity exercise

Emma Barnes taught herself to code after founding her own independent publisher, Snowbooks. She went on to build Bibliocloud, the next-generation publishing system. Now she’s on a mission to promote tech skills within the publishing industry and beyond.

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future of publishing

Silence is the ultimate consent: why companies are becoming political

Emma Barnes taught herself to code after founding her own independent publisher, Snowbooks. She went on to build Bibliocloud, the next-generation publishing system. Now she’s on a mission to promote tech skills within the publishing industry and beyond.

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Jessica Ballance

Coding for publishers: taster course

SYP member Jessica Ballance combines her work as a bookseller and manager of Daunt Books in North London with the role of associate editor at Dodo Ink, an independent publisher of daring and diverse literary fiction. In September she attended the first Coding for publishers: taster course – here is her review.

For a long time now, I have wanted to code. Like, seriously code. Yet I’ve been continually procrastinating or chickening out or never “finding the time”, as though time were that bit of loose change you find in the pocket of your winter coat when you dust it off again in mid-October. I am drawn to languages you never have to actually speak, and the structural logic minus the performance anxiety of actually speaking it are reasons why I studied Latin into University. Zero performance anxiety.

I have been wanting to attend classes, learn the whims of the different languages, manipulate data and write my own code and programmes and do all sorts of clever things that would make me a more flexible and diverse publisher, not to mention a better human. I looked around, admittedly exhaustively, and spoke to a few friends and friends of friends, and a quick bash of key terms into a search found a few groups on MeetUp, WomenWhoCode for example. I cannot big this group up enough – they host events in association and in the offices of Twitter, ASOS, Sky etc. and have built a community of such strength that their events book up ridiculously quickly and there are sizeable waiting lists of hopeful would-be attendees hoping that some early bird drops out last minute. But many of these women work in tech industries or use programmer languages and deal with data and other such analytics-y things (can you tell I don’t yet?) and glancing over the summaries for each event, as it pings into my inbox (you can opt in for email updates, don’t cha know), there is often a scary amount of jargon for my layman brain to handle.

I am probably hooked up and plugged in to the internet for more hours in a day than I would care to mention, lest any prospective employers are reading this, and through my work with independent publisher, DodoInk, I have had the privilege of working with the wonderfully savvy people at PigeonHole. I read the posts from FutureBook as they land in my inbox and my mind expands and broadens as I take in all the innovative and creative ways people are redefining what it means to be a publisher and how we share, access, and experience books. But like a puckered old balloon, after the excitable expansion, an inevitable deflation ultimately sets in.

If any of you reading this are getting sick of my overuse of the past pluperfect: NO LONGER. Emma Barnes has supplied me with the training wheels to make coding far less intimidating. In her intensive workshop we spent the afternoon getting to grips with four basic (ish) programming languages: HTML, CSS, Java and finally, and youngest of all, Ruby. The way Barnes evangelises about Ruby I think this may be her favourite of the bunch. Just a hunch.

I learnt the jist of when and where to use the different languages, and what they were responsible for in terms in the make-up of a finished, functioning, and hopefully stylish, webpage.

  1. HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language if we’re being formal, is basically your bread and butter. From my limited understanding it seems to be the main structural element of the four, expressing the information you want on your page — and what’s a webpage with no information? Pretty useless, that’s what.
  2. Probably among the most fun and easiest to play around with was CSS which essentially controls the look of your page allowing you to customise and make it feel even more like your own. Tinkering with this you can alter the font, font colour and size, background colours, etc. Once you find a Hex code database your palette becomes pretty endless.
  3. Java script seems like the most complex of the bunch, and also the most dynamic, enabling your static pages to come to life with smoothly collapsing dropdown information and far more interactive movement elements. Java script also executes within the page as opposed to sending out a request.
  4. Finally: Ruby. To quote Barnes, Ruby is “like poetry”, beautiful and elegant and spare and an extremely coder-friendly language. It also allows you to dynamically find the information you want by utilising a wealth of open-source data resources such as APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces).

As we progressed we applied each stage of our new-found knowledge to build a functioning website, that would be able to mine GoogleBooks’ API data to create our own user-friendly search engine (not too dissimilar from Barnes’ own Bibliocloud). The project based ‘learning by doing’ suited me down to the ground and I didn’t quite realise how quickly I was accruing my new skills — though, don’t get me wrong, I still have a ways to go!

Barnes was backed by an immensely helpful team who were on hand to answer any question, no matter how silly, and help us spot the seemingly indiscoverable errors in our script within seconds of glancing at our screen. They are an impressive bunch, and hugely supportive. In fact, the whole day lacked the often parodied frustration of rage-bashed keyboards and technological tantrums, and was buoyed along by Barnes’ clear enthusiasm and passion for her work, finding joy in the possibilities that code offers, and giving us a glimpse of her curiosity-driven mind.

Barnes eyes would flit over passages of code that were, to me, largely unintelligible and exclaim: ‘oh now THAT’S cool’, or ‘Hmm, THAT’S interesting! I wonder what else I could make that do’. At the end of the day, thanks to Emma Barnes and her team, BookMachine, and FaberAcademy, I think we all left wondering a similar thing: That was cool. Now, I wonder what else I can do…

If you would like to take part in the next Coding for publishers course, sign up to the BookMachine mailing list and we will let you know when tickets are available.


Get with the program: Why and how to start coding

codingYou work in publishing, right? You think you’re creative? What do you spend most of your time at work doing? If you’re in a low-level position, Snowbooks and Bibliocloud founder Emma Barnes suggests your answer is likely to comprise a list of decidedly uncreative tasks.

In a witty, insightful and inspiring talk at the Galley Club this week, Barnes bemoaned the publishing industry habit of hiring bright, creative people and then getting them to do dull and repetitive administrative jobs. As she wrote in the Bookseller last year, if you joined publishing because you wanted to create wonderful books, you’re left wondering “why copying and pasting between Excel, Word and InDesign feature so heavily in this ostensibly creative process”. But Barnes isn’t just a bemoaner, she’s a problem solver. Her solution to this problem? Get coding. Because if you can code, you can automate some of these dull jobs and free up time to do the fun – and important – creative things publishers should be doing.

For many publishers, the word “coding” is almost as terrifying as “maths”. Certainly, when I used to introduce a 2-hour MA Publishing session on coding at Kingston University, the response was usually a mixture of fear, disinterest and irritation that I was forcing students to spend time doing such a dull and difficult thing. If these are your natural responses, try replacing “coding” in your head with words like “carpentry” or “poetry”. Writing code, says Barnes, is “the modern equivalent of being a carpenter”. It’s an opportunity not just to come up with ideas, or to shape them (as editors do with authors’ work), but to make ideas happen yourself.

Coding can definitely be challenging (Barnes uses the phrase “mind-bendingly awful”), but you don’t need to be a maths geek to be good at it. Barnes has publicly admitted to being “useless” at arithmetic. Instead, she brings a love of patterns, words, symmetry and brevity to the activity. “Writing code trips many of the pleasure centres in my brain,” she says. “And I love feeling that I’m doing something meaningful, creating something out of nothing. Plus, the inherent difficulty of writing good code is a source of huge pride”. My former students, when they made things appear on screen in a browser in a matter of minutes, often shared this pride – evidence that if you can get over the fear or disinterest factor, this undeniably creative pursuit can be extremely satisfying. What’s more, publishers’ natural tendency to grammatical “correctness” makes them excellent coders.

Our love of pedantry feels like a perfect match for a pursuit based on strict rules and zero tolerance for inaccuracy. And our love of words reinforces the idea that publishers are natural coders. As Barnes points out, code is written, just like poetry and books are. Code is even created in narrative arcs, which Barnes likens to “reading the best novel ever” if done well. If you appreciate “the careful crafting of a narrative flow, or the finely-edited end-result of a piece of prose, honed and whittled and buffed to perfection,” says Barnes on Digital Book World, then you’ll appreciate good coding too.

For me, Barnes’s almost evangelical talk of creating things and sending them out into the world was enough to get me thinking I should sharpen up my own coding skills. But the value of coding isn’t just this personal satisfaction. If you can code, you can start to automate those decidedly uncreative tasks that fill up your day. And then you can find time to get down to the collaborative, creative business of publishing. What more encouragement do you need? If that’s truly not enough, then the doomsday scenario suggests school-leavers in a decade or so will all be able to code and your old-fashioned spreadsheet skills will look positively archaic on your CV.

So, how to get coding? Here are some of the ways Barnes’ suggests you “start to dabble with code”:

  • Spend just 15 minutes on Try Ruby – a quick and basic online programming tutorial.
  • Try Scratch – a free coding app, designed for kids, that helps you think systematically and build simple games, animations and interactive stories.
  • Read Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial – Barnes claims that if you work through it for half an hour every day for three months, you’ll have built Twitter.
  • Sign up to a Codeacademy or Code School course – free online courses on programming languages. Barnes recommends learning Ruby.
  • Join a coding community like Rails Girls or Code Bar – offering help, advice and events (including free workshops). Barnes and the Bibliocloud team volunteer at Rails Girls.

As a result of attending Barnes’s Galley Club talk, I’ve applied to participate in the free Rails Girls London workshop in June. If I get accepted, I’m expecting a day packed with creativity, challenge, making and – I hope – a sense of pride and achievement. Oh, and a newly enhanced CV too. See you there?

Anna Faherty is a writer, publisher and teacher. She collaborates with global publishers and museums on digital, print, exhibition and training projects and has taught on publishing programmes at Kingston University, Oxford Brookes University and University College London. Anna blogs at http://strategiccontent.co.uk/blog and tweets as @mafunyane.


How to create a catalogue automatically using ONIX and InDesign

This is a guest post from Emma Barnes. Emma is co-founder of General Products, and indie publisher Snowbooks. General Products is the company behind FutureBook-award-winning Bibliocloud, the web-based all-in-one publishing management system.

Did you go into publishing so that you could spend your days copying and pasting ever-changing metadata from spreadsheets, emails and databases into InDesign? You did? Great. No need to read on.

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