Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More on the End of the Book

From Communication

Books figure prominently in apocalyptic literature as metaphors for and means of revelation. These days, latter or not, books are the subject of apocalyptic musings. In future apocalypses, angels may have to produce e-book readers or cell-phones.
See, for example, “End of the book?”:
The book remains a techno-wonder that not even the Kindle has surpassed. But it's a wonder in a very crowded entertainment universe and a world plunging into the worst of times. The chain bookstore, the bloated publishing house and the specific corporate way of publishing that goes with them are indeed in peril. This may no longer be their time. As for the time of the book, it does seem to be shortening as well.
A longer version of this article, titled “The Axe, the Book, and the Ad,” is available from: http://tomdispatch.com/post/175015/the_time_of_the_book. Here is another version of the section quoted above:
The book remains a techno-wonder that not even the Kindle has yet surpassed. But it's a wonder in a very crowded entertainment universe in which habits, reading and otherwise, are changing fast. Add to that a world plunging into the worst of times and you have a combustible combination. The chain bookstore, the bloated publishing house, and the specific corporate way of publishing that goes with them are indeed in peril. This may no longer be their time. As for the time of the book, add on another century if you want, but in our ever restless universe it does seem to be shortening.
Image: Engraving from Biblia Sacra (Venetiis [Venice], apud haeredem Damiani Zenari, MDCV [1605]). This is a representation of the opening scene in Revelation 10:

And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer (KJV).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

A New Literary Form and Document: The Cell-Phone Novel

There is an article in The New Yorker, “I ♥ Novels,” about the popularity of cell-phone novels in Japan. In addition to literary works, these stories have a documentary function:

The stories are like folktales, perhaps not literally true but full of telling ethnographic detail. “I suppose you can say keitai shosetsu are a source of data or information—the way they use words, how they speak, how they depict scenes,” Kensuke Suzuki, a sociologist, told me. “We need these stories so we can learn how young women in Japan commonly feel.”

These works are shaped by the technologies and networks they use. Some, built up through social networks, are published as printed books; but the form of these paper books is influenced by the original digital form of the work.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Athena Checking Her Mail

painted in silhouette on a black vase, [Athena] … stands at ease, a stylus poised in one hand, a writing tablet open like a laptop in the other. The goddess of wisdom is checking her mail, and patiently answering each plea and complaint.
—From “The Glory That Was Greece from a Female Perspective,” a review of the exhibition “Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens” at the Onassis Cultural Center.

Image: Detail from a photograph of a neck amphora, circa 460 BC, available from: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/12/19/arts/1219-WOME_3.html.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Fate of the Digital Record

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, a group launched last year with support from the National Sciences Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Joint Information Systems Committee, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Council on Library and Information Resources, has released an interim report on its work. The report, Sustaining the Digital Investment: Issues and Challenges of Economically Sustainable Digital Preservation, is available from: http://brtf.sdsc.edu/biblio/BRTF_Interim_Report.pdf.

The preface of the report begins with a discussion of “a stable, agreed-upon record,” which consists of the documentation and communications of the methods, evidence, findings, and implications of human inquiry. This record enables advances in research and practice over time. “The practical outcomes of this long historical process and their contributions to the public good are obvious in fields from epidemiology to entertainment.”

“The notion of the record was never confined to explicit publication,” the report points out, and in the digital age “information technologies have revolutionized notions of the record, evidence and analysis.” Materials that are added to the record today “vary in their level of formality and anticipated audience, but the central tendency is obvious: there is more and more heterogeneous digital information of importance to society and in the public good.”

The traditional recordkeeping systems used “in the centuries of analog … are inadequate for the digital age.” Because of the pace of technological change, the proliferation of data and information, and the expanding use of the record, “preserving data for use tomorrow requires decision today” (4). There are significant technical issues, but the greater challenges are organizational and economic. The issue of sustainability comes down to two questions: “How much does it cost? and Who should pay?” (5).

This report is the first of two that the task force will publish. The purpose of this interim report

is to frame the general contours of economically sustainable digital preservation as a topic of both practical importance and intellectual interest. To this end, we have explored and synthesized past studies and analyses pertaining to the economics of digital preservation, the perspectives of domain leaders and subject experts in the field, and discussions within the Task Force. The findings of this report will serve as a basis for the Task Force’s work over the coming year; it should also contribute to the broader discussion of economic issues regarding digital preservation and access.

The task force's second and final report, to be published at the end of 2009, “will identify and analyze a range of economic models suitable for achieving economically sustainable digital preservation activities” (69).

From the executive summary of the interim report:

During 2008, as the Task Force heard testimony from a broad spectrum of institutions and enterprises with deep experience in digital access and preservation, two things became clear: First, the problem is urgent. Access to data tomorrow requires decisions concerning preservation today. Imagine future biological research without a long-term strategy to preserve the Protein Data Bank (PDB), a digital collection that drives new insights into human systems and drug therapies for disease, and represents an investment of 100 billion dollars in research funding over the last 37 years. Decisions about the future of the PDB and other digital reference collections -- how they will be migrated to future information technologies without interruption, what kind of infrastructure will protect their digital content against damage and loss of data, and how such efforts will be supported -- must be made now to drive future innovation.

Second, the difficulty in identifying appropriate economic models is not just a matter of finding funding or setting a price. In many institutions and enterprises, systemic challenges create barriers for sustainable digital access and preservation.

These barriers include:
  • Inadequacy of funding models to address long-term access and preservation needs. Funding models for efforts that incorporate digital access and preservation are often not persistent …
  • Confusion and/or lack of alignment between stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities with respect to digital access and preservation. … costs are not necessarily shouldered by those who enjoy the benefits …”
  • Inadequate institutional, enterprise, and/or community incentives to support the collaboration needed to reinforce sustainable economic models. ... there are few incentives to develop the persistent collaborations and uniform approaches needed to support access and preservation efforts over the long-term.”
  • Complacency that current practices are good enough. … There is general agreement that leadership and competitiveness, if not institutional survival, in the information age depends on the persistent availability of digital information, making preservation of that information an urgent priority. Yet that urgency is often not translated or institutionalized into individual or group behaviors. …”
  • Fear that digital access and preservation is too big to take on. … digital preservation is a big problem, incorporating technical, economic, regulatory, policy, social, and other aspects. But it is not insurmountable. …”

Emphases in bold and italics are in the original report.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From People of the Book to People of the Screen

Christine Rosen has an interesting essay in The New Atlantis titled “People of the Screen.” It is about old (i.e., print) and new (i.e., digital) literacies and ends with this:

Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information. All in the name of progress.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Contemporary Curiosities

Thanks to a post at ACRLog, I discovered the curiously titled “Browse the Artifacts of Geek History in Jay Walker's Library”—which is really about “a library … about human imagination”—available from: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/16-10/ff_walker. It is a wonderful contemporary cabinet of curiosities.

The ACRLog post, “A Night at the Museum,” considers whether library collections could include more than textual documents. Often, they do. It is an ancient idea (recall the Museum at Alexandria).

Image: The Stuart Napoleon Room, Penrose Library, Whitman College.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Future Access to Current Models of Digital Scholarship

From an ARL-Ithaka report, Current Models of Digital Scholarly Communication, available from: http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/current-models-report.pdf:

Although preservation was not the subject of this study, it seems clear that librarians can initiate and contribute to conversations about the long-term preservation of new digital works. Preservation did not seem to be a top-of-mind concern for many of the smaller projects we investigated, and proactive library steps may be valuable in raising and addressing this unrecognized need (35).