Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Religion and the Record

Specialists in religious history recently surpassed all other topical categories in our annual look at AHA members, raising interesting questions about what is attracting fresh interest in the field. …

A number of the specialists noted that social historians had highlighted the interests of common people and cultural historians had supplied the tools for studying the influence of religion, but until recently, much of the work treated religion as aberrant. There was a perception that this left a significant opening for new research that treated religion on its own terms.

William Taylor (Univ. of California at Berkeley) encapsulated the observations of a number of respondents on this point, noting that he had come to the subject because it was so prevalent in the documentary evidence. “I came to recognize that [expressions of faith] were woven into just about every aspect of life, not separate subjects I could leave for another time or someone else. My ongoing research and writing about religious matters continues to be carried out in this spirit—not as a field apart, but as integral to my reckonings with how people then understood their lives and acted upon those convictions.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Google Scholars, Books, and Digits

Earlier today, I read the Christian Science Monitor article “The E-Book, the E-Reader, and the Future of Reading,” in which the engineering director of Google Book Search is paraphrased as saying this:
Imagine, Clancy suggests, that a scholar is digging for information to weave into a new paper. In the past, the scholar would spend hours running circles through the stacks of the university library, perhaps emerging with three texts. The perspectives, angles, and arguments offered in the three texts would necessarily constrain the breadth of analysis as compared with what that same scholar is able to access today by clicking through millions of texts, searching each volume for phrases or words that correspond to the area of interest.
Well, I spent a good bit of time running circles around the bibliographical records of Google Books today and emerged with a few PDFs. I’m searching for more than verbal links, but I wonder what kind of textual analysis can be done with this:

(I have commented on these digital issues before, here and here.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Francis Bacon on Antiquities: Some Remnants of History Which Have Casually Escaped the Shipwreck of Time

Antiquities, or remnants of histories, are (as was said) like the spars of a shipwreck; when, though the memory of things be decayed and almost lost, yet acute and industrious persons, by a certain persevering and scrupulous diligence, contrive out of genealogies, annals, titles, monuments, coins, proper names and styles, etymologies of words, proverbs, traditions, archives and instruments as well public as private, fragments of histories scattered about in books not historical,— contrive, I say, from all these things or some of them, to recover somewhat from the deluge of time: a work laborious indeed, but agreeable to men, and joined with a kind of reverence; and well worthy to supersede the fabulous accounts of the origins of nations, and to be substituted for fictions of that kind; entitled however to the less authority, because in things which few people concern themselves about, the few have it their own way.

See The Advancement of Learning in volume 8 of Bacon’s Works below (423f.).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Libraries and Digital Scholarship

In “It’s the Content, Stupid,” Steven Escar Smith and Holly Mercer discuss the role of libraries in digital scholarship (i.e., “digital monographs and journals as well as … scholarly websites, online archives, blogs, wikis, and other outlets for research”).

According to a 2008 report from the Association of Research Libraries, Current Models of Digital Scholarly Communication, the existence and influence of “new model” or “new media” publications of digital scholarly communication are “no longer hypothetical but increasingly part of the everyday reality of research and scholarship.” But there is resistance to the transition from older to newer forms of scholarship. Smith and Mercer quote from the Modern Language Association’s 2007 Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, which found it necessary to make this distinction: “scholarship should not be equated with publication, which is, at bottom, a means to make scholarship public. … Publication is not the raison d’être of scholarship; scholarship should be the raison d’être of publication.”

Smith and Mercer discuss many of the reasons for resistance and highlight one issue which, they claim, “has not been sufficiently considered”:
longstanding biases about the value of certain kinds of work in relation to others. This is a problem because much of the content that has so far proven most amenable to the web has long been regarded as second tier scholarship at best, academic scutwork at worst—the online equivalents of author or subject guides, critical editions, bibliographies, encyclopedias, indexes, concordances, or collections of letters or manuscripts.
The authors’ principal argument is that libraries have an important role in the transition to and sustainability of digital scholarship:
In general terms, there is still great value in doing what we have always done: selecting resources based on their current and future value to scholars, describing those resources so they can be located and studied, and managing collections so they are available for the long term. More specifically, we must continue to work to improve our ability to preserve the scholarly record in digital form.
Most individual faculty lack the time, resources, or expertise to ensure preservation of their own scholarly work even in the short term and clearly can’t do it in the long term that extends beyond their careers; the long term can only be addressed by an organizationally based strategy.
Historically, the library has been the organizationally based strategy for both immediate and long-term access: “Libraries are a central part of the scholarly communication system and have taken responsibility for preserving scholarship in analog formats for centuries.” (Earlier in the article, in the context of discussing data curation in the sciences, the authors point out that, “Primary materials … are typically gathered and preserved by archivists and librarians.”) “Libraries have curatorial experience needed for digital preservation,” Smith and Mercer write, therefore “libraries as traditional and trusted stewards should assert their roles in the preservation continuum” and concern themselves with preserving non-traditional forms of scholarship.

To begin:
Abby Smith recommends short-term actions scholars can take to ensure their digital scholarship is sustainable, including working with librarians when beginning a project, using standards and nonproprietary formats, declaring the intended use and audience for the work, and declaring the work’s intended longevity. These steps make it easier for librarians to act as responsible stewards by providing additional context for digital works. For repositories—libraries—she recommends working with data creators during all phases of creation and declaring policies and capabilities for archiving differing formats. She further recommends libraries take custody of new media publications for preservation experiments.
For a view of the whole range of activities involved in digital curation, see the Digital Curation Center Curation Lifecycle Model.

Finally, consider what is at stake:

David Rumsey Map Collection

For the first time since its launch in 1999, the website has been completely redesigned and updated. … More.

The State of the United States Archives

In his first State of the Archives address, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero quoted Robert Digges Wimberly Connor, the nation’s first archivist, on the state of country’s records in 1934:
…45.0 per cent of the total are infested with silverfish, cockroaches, and other insects, rats, mice, and other vermin, and exposed to such hazards as dirt, rain, sunlight, theft, and fire. More than…46.0 per cent of the total were in depositories that were dark, dirty, badly ventilated, crowded, and without facilities for work. Typical was the case of valuable records relating to Indian affairs which were found on dust-covered shelves mingled higgledy-piggledy with empty whiskey bottles, pieces of soap, rags, and other trash. In another depository crowded with the archives of the Government the most prominent object to one entering the room was the skull of a dead cat protruding from under a pile of valuable records. If a cat with nine lives to risk in the cause of history could not survive the conditions of research in the depositories of our national archives, surely the poor historian with only one life to give his country may be excused if he declines to take the risk.
Ferriero said, “we are at a similar crossroads in the history of the Archives in the challenges we face with the electronic records of the agencies we serve.”

Related to NARA, there is this from “Founders Early Access” at AHA Today:
Last year, Congress encouraged the National Archives to create an online forum that would make these documents more accessible to the public and historians alike. Working with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Documents Compass, “a nonprofit organization designed to assist in the digital production of historical documentary editions,” the National Archives recently released their newest project, Founders Early Access, through the Rotunda (the University of Virginia Press’ site for the publication of original digital scholarship). Founders Early Access features “digital editions of the papers of many of the major figures of the early republic are presented in a fully searchable and interoperable online environment.” 

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Present of the Present

Google used to index the past; now it is indexing the present, too:
we're introducing new features that bring your search results to life with a dynamic stream of real-time content from across the web. Now, immediately after conducting a search, you can see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before. When they are relevant, we'll rank these latest results to show the freshest information right on the search results page.
For example, if one searches right now on Kirkus Reviews (which is history), here are the results:

But if one selects “show options” and “latest,” here are the results:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Value in Old Books

This article—“All That's Old is New Again”—discusses the market for print-on-demand copies of rare books. What is most interesting about this is the acknowledgment of consumer interest in particular features of specific editions (e.g., early illustrated editions) and even particular copies of books (e.g., association copies). From the article:
Consider this curious example. In December 2008, Titles Bookstore at McMaster created a very plain text slim volume of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. With very simply formatted text and a “no frills” cover much like the “no name” brand packaging style, this slim volume was made available for retail sale at the cost of printing, which was $2.50. At the same time, a McMaster Library replica version (a scanned replica of one of the first print runs of the timeless Dickens classic, complete with original illustrations, publisher ads, and which was about three times the size of the thinner volume) was produced and retailed for $14.99.

Last December, over 40 copies of the more expensive original edition replica were sold, while the more affordable version that tells the exact same story has still not sold a single copy. The good news is that the replica versions include a “fund-raising” proceeds fee, allowing the campus library to generate revenue. So while customers benefit from having access to a rare edition of a book for the first time, the library is also able to raise operating funds from the sale of that material.
Speaking of Dickens, have a look at his draft of A Christmas Carol (courtesy the Morgan Library and Museum and The New York Times).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time Traveling Online

Here is an interesting presentation about Memento, a project that seeks to add a temporal dimension to searching the internet. From the abstract:
Remnants of the past Web are available, and there are many efforts ongoing to archive even more Web content. It's just that the past Web is not as readily accessible as today's. For example, if you want to see an archived version of, you can go to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and search for it there. Or if you want to see an old version of the Wikipedia page about—say—clocks, you can go to the current page and from there follow a link to one of the many prior versions. And, if you are interested in stories that featured on the BBC news site on your last year's birthday, you can explore the archive that Matthew Somerville set up in his spare time.

But doesn't doing so feel more like walking to a library, than using the Web the way you usually do? Wouldn't it be much easier if … you could activate a time machine in your browser or bot?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“I’ve now also painted a woman reading a novel.”

A very impressive digital collection of van Gogh’s correspondence, complimenting the publication of a new critical edition of them, is available from

From The Economist review of the book:
The publication of the six volumes is cause for celebration. To have all the artist’s words together with all those images is like being given a pair of super-special 3D spectacles. The resulting self-portrait has a depth that would not exist were this a collection only of images or only of words. This could be the best autobiography of an artist yet to appear anywhere.
Image: Detail from a letter to Willemien van Gogh, Arles, circa 12 November 1888.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Archives and the Absurd

In the latest issue of the American Archivist (72:2) Scott Cline argues that, since archives presuppose “that there will be a future and generations to which archives will matter,” the archival profession is a “faith-based profession.” A commitment to a long-term view of human existence, Cline suggests, is absurd. (For some suggestions about the absurdity of this belief, see the mashup of apocalyptic scenarios below.) With Kierkegaard, Cline claims, “we can live in this world only on the strength of the absurd, which … [one] ‘grasps by faith.’” Through faith archivists embrace the absurd and “toil in the preservation of the past for the benefit of the present and ‘an indefinite future.’” (“‘To the Limit of Our Integrity’: Reflections on Archival Being,” 334.)

Video via Larry Cebula over at Northwest History, who was kind enough the other day to draw attention to my repository.

The Royal Society: Past, Present and Future

To celebrate its 350th anniversary, the Royal Society created an interactive timeline, Trailblazing, which offers access to the most influential, inspiring, and intriguing papers published by the society.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Legal Research in the Digital Age

From Nathan Kozuskanich, “Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms,” Journal of the Early Republic 29:4 (2009): 586, 606:
The digitization of historical documents into comprehensive archives with keyword search capabilities opens up a new avenue for scholars to recover the usage and meaning of key constitutional phrases, like "bear arms." …

Although digital research cannot be a substitute for traditional historical methods, it can give legal scholars access to a wealth of resources that have been relatively unused in constitutional research. Indeed, a historical focus on context and change over time can complement the legal focus on structure and precedent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More on The Case for Books

Robert Darnton was on the Diane Rehm show recently, talking about The Case for Books. Darnton’s interest in the history of the book began in the archives. Now, as the director of a great university library, he says he is appalled by the amount of digital archival material that we are losing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The End of an Era

A report on Harvard’s library systems declares, “Harvard libraries can no longer harbor delusions of being a completely comprehensive collection.” Further:
It recommends that the system—the largest at any university in the world—adopt a twenty-first century approach that focuses on greater collaboration with other institutions of higher learning and shift toward more digital purchases, rather than traditional print resources.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Reason to Keep the Shelves Loaded

Travis Bryant, director of digital products for Keen Communications, a small publisher in Birmingham, Ala., said he had gotten a surprising amount of reading done while waiting in lines. … But Mr. Bryant acknowledged that the iPhone, while convenient, did not serve every reading purpose. “I’ve got a 3-year-old at home, and he really digs books,” Mr. Bryant said. “I remembering [sic] pilfering my parents’ shelves, and if everything is on the iPhone, he’s just not going to have that visual temptation. So we keep the shelves loaded.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monty Python’s Primary Materials

From “And Now For Something Completely Different” by Scott McLemee:
While brainstorming for their feature films Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, the group enjoyed reading up on the Arthurian legends and the world of Roman-occupied Palestine. And it shows. The irreverence works because there is, to begin with, a core of reverence for the primary sources [e.g., Le Mort d’Arthur and the Dead Sea Scrolls].

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Archival Panopticon

In “The Virtue of Hitting 'Delete,' Permanently,” a recent episode of Talk of the Nation, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger discusses his book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Mayer-Schonberger argues that, in the analog age, we used to make choices about what to remember; forgetting was the default. Now, in the digital age—which gives us a “digital Panopticon”—the default is to remember. But forgetting helps us shed irrelevant information and unwanted details, and it helps us generalize and abstract: “rather than being tethered to an ever-more-detailed past [forgetting] helps us act and evaluate and live in the present.”

See also: “Do digital diaries mess up your brain?.” Digital technologies create opportunities for “greater, moment-by-moment record-keeping,” but:
Being able to compress a lot of experiences and summarize them well is part of the very nature of human intelligence, said Douglas Hofstadter … "It's about finding the essence of things," he said. "It's not about restoring everything. It's about reducing things in complexity until they're manageable and understandable."

Image: Panopticon blueprint by Jeremy Bentham, 1791

Friday, November 6, 2009

What the Library Was, Is, and Will Be

In “Bookless Libraries?Inside Higher Ed reports on a recent debate about the future of academic library buildings

Richard Luce, director of university libraries at Emory, made the important point that the history of academic libraries “has been marked by evolution”:
They were founded as places where materials were collected and stored. Then they shifted their focus toward connecting clients with resources. Then, with the addition of creature comforts such as coffee shops, they became "experience" centered, effectively rendering student unions obsolete.

“Now, in the fourth generation, we’re really seeing the library as a place to connect, collaborate, learn, and really synthesize all four of those roles together,” said Luce. “How do you do that without bricks and mortar?”

Libraries are older than institutions of higher education (and printed books). Many colleges, such as Harvard and Yale, started with a library. Over time, academic libraries have accommodated themselves to meet the needs of their parent institutions and they have evolved along with them. The provost of my institution recently gave a presentation on the pre-modern, modern, and postmodern development and nature of our undergraduate curricula. The institution’s library—its stuff, space, services, standards—is a reflection of that mixture of change and continuity. The library’s collections, locations, and functions will continue to evolve along with the institution’s teaching, learning, and research needs. 

Here is Robert Darnton, recently quoted in “Google v. Gutenberg,” on “bookless” libraries:
It’s naïve to think that all information is online. It’s also naïve to think that all information is in books, either,” he said. “I see this vast world of information in many different forms, and the notion that digital is going to encompass it all is just wrong-headed.
Image: Allen Reading Room, Penrose Library, Whitman College, about 15 minutes ago. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stop Being Ashamed of Dead Animals and Other Advice for Natural History Museums

Chronicle of Higher Education contributor William Pannapacker, who recently wrote about the centrality of the library for undergraduate education, turns his attention to natural history museums in “Preserving the Future of Natural-History Museums.” Here are his recommendations (explanations and reading suggestions are available in the article):

  • Do not sacrifice the history of your museum …
  • Regard the museum as a palimpsest …
  • Do not attempt to compete with other forms of entertainment …
  • Stop condescending to children …
  • Show people—in small groups—the museum behind the scenes …
  • Apart from prehistoric human evolution—a branch of the history of primates—avoid anthropology …
  • Stop being ashamed of dead animals …
  • Encourage patrons to build their own natural-history collections …
  • Teach the conflicts …
  • The most important point: The world is full of simulations. Natural-history museums should cultivate the aura of the real: the rare and unique, the beautiful, the exotic, and the grotesque …
Image: Whitman College Natural History Museum, circa 1964. The bison partially pictured on the right had to be deaccessioned at some point, due to the arsenic used in the taxidermy process.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Kindle at the Heart of the University

Here is an interesting article on the Kindle from an academic point of view. The fundamental issue the author highlights is that the Kindle is not designed for readers who require more than a casual interaction with texts. Such readers need to annotate, work with paratextual matter, and preserve long-term access to their personally augmented texts. The risk is that Kindles may alienate readers from their personal libraries “rather than empowering them to immerse themselves in them.”

The author concludes:
A key to making [e-book readers] attractive is developing an ecosystem of scholarly information sources around them: larger libraries of scholarly books, reasonably priced, and with a firm title to ownership. Better connections between the content repositories such as journal websites and our handheld readers, more ways to make annotations and display information. Compatibility of files across readers (something that could be facilitated by adopting Open Access standards) and ways to share marked up documents with our colleagues.
Should we turn to corporations such as Amazon to develop this system, or should we look toward a comparable system that already exists—the academic library? For some initial ideas about  this, see: “As the Book Changes Form, the Library Must Champion Its Own Power Base—Readers.”

For other views of the Kindle, see “School Chooses Kindle; Are Libraries for the History 'Books'?”:

Asher Chase, 16, a junior, says anyone who thinks digital books are the future should read a digital book. He remembers his English class last year being assigned Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol on their laptops.

Taking notes on the text? Forget it. "It was terrible: 'Shade, file, edit, highlight.' We were like, 'Wow, reading books on computers is awful.'"

Monday, November 2, 2009

“The Museum at the Heart of the University”

I could quote more from this article by James Christen Steward, but I’ll limit myself to this:
In the way that great texts live in our libraries, available for revisiting and sustained scholarly investigation, the works of art in our museums offer the possibility of deep critical engagement, close looking, and technical analysis -- made all the deeper when brought together as collections in which dialogues arise through the conversation of objects with each other and with their scholarly interlocutors. Surely a key role of the academy -- the advancement of new knowledge and the challenging of past knowledge -- is that fruit of curatorial, faculty, and student research made possible by the sustained presence of great works of art, whose survival for the future is also thus (and not incidentally) guaranteed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bach’s Bible

An interesting account of Bach’s personal Bible—and its research value—is available here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Map at the Center of the Copernican Revolution

This map, the Waldseemüller Map (1507), is the first known document to name America. The only known surviving copy is at the Library of Congress.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Signs of Strange Times

From Twitter:
#balloonboy is a popular topic on Twitter right now.

Six year old Falcon Heene was found to be hiding in the attic after allegedly being carried away in his father's experimental balloon aircraft. 
In others news, the Times asks: Does the Brain Like E-Books?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Google Ark

The Times has published an op-ed piece by Google co-founder Sergey Brin titled “A Library to Last Forever.” Brin addresses many of the criticisms of the Google Books settlement and closes with a justification that explains the title: 
In the Insurance Year Book 1880-1881, which I found on Google Books, Cornelius Walford chronicles the destruction of dozens of libraries and millions of books, in the hope that such a record will “impress the necessity of something being done” to preserve them. The famous library at Alexandria burned three times, in 48 B.C., A.D. 273 and A.D. 640, as did the Library of Congress, where a fire in 1851 destroyed two-thirds of the collection.
I hope such destruction never happens again, but history would suggest otherwise. More important, even if our cultural heritage stays intact in the world’s foremost libraries, it is effectively lost if no one can access it easily. Many companies, libraries and organizations will play a role in saving and making available the works of the 20th century. Together, authors, publishers and Google are taking just one step toward this goal, but it’s an important step. Let’s not miss this opportunity.
Accompanying the piece is an image of books moving, two-by-two, into an ark.

The day before this piece appeared, Wired published an article, “Google’s Abandoned Library of 700 Million Titles,” about Google’s management of the Usenet archive. Google responded rather quickly.

P.S. It took me a bit of time, but I did find the Insurance Year Book cited by Brin:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

In this TED talk, William Kamkwamba speaks about how he built a windmill to power his family’s home. Kamkwamba was inspired and informed by books he found in a local library.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Whither the Academic Library?

An address last week, reported in “Libraries of the Future” at Inside Higher Ed, has gained quite a lot of attention. Here is the lead:
NEW YORK CITY — The university library of the future will be sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas.
For another perspective on the future of the research library, see Anne Kenney’s presentation, “Approaching an Entity Crisis: Reconceiving Research Libraries in a Multi-institutional Context,” available from OCLC’s website. Kenney talks about reducing redundancies and competition, developing uniqueness, and, through radical collaboration, finding global solutions to local needs. Promising areas for collaboration include:

  • Building collective collections prospectively and retrospectively
  • Sharing backroom functions (e.g., technical services)
  • New domains and services (e.g., data curation)
  • The power of many: exercising collective influence
A couple other trends impacting the transformation of libraries:

The buzzwords for the technology that librarians hope will allow users to rediscover their collections are "Web-scale index searching." … You expect a Google search to cast the broadest possible net. The same should apply to a library catalog, the thinking goes. That means a single entry point to the collection. The entire collection: books, articles, digital objects. Heck, why not even herbarium specimens?
This is what libraries are seeking—they haven’t found it yet.

2. On dumping paper journals, see “What to Withdraw? Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization”:  
For journal collections that are available digitally, the online version provides for virtually all access needs, leaving print versions to serve a preservation role and therefore be required in far fewer numbers. Based on our analysis of community needs for print original materials, we see at least a medium-term need to maintain some level of access to print originals in the library community, although our analysis suggests in certain scenarios that long-term or perpetual preservation of many print materials may not be necessary. Consequently, certain print journals can be responsibly withdrawn today, and with concerted effort it should be possible to steadily increase the journals subject to withdrawal. On the other hand, we have also reviewed a number of situations, such as image-intensive titles and digitized version that are subject to inadequate digital preservation, in which the community will rely on print copies retained and preserved without system-wide coordination by hundreds of libraries that have long been the backbone of assured preservation and access (24).
Given that these and other trends are changing the definition of the term “library,” I was glad to see the appearance of Ken Price’s article, “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What's in a Name?,” in the latest issue Digital Humanities Quarterly 3:3 (2009). Price explores how the terms used to describe the productions of digital scholarship “both clarify and obscure.” Consider, for example, the term “archive”:
In the past, an archive has referred to a collection of material objects rather than digital surrogates. This type of archive may be described in finding aids but its materials are rarely edited and annotated as a whole. In a digital environment, archive has gradually come to mean a purposeful collection of surrogates. As we know, meanings change over time, and archive in a digital context has come to suggest something that blends features of editing and archiving. To meld features of both — to have the care of treatment and annotation of an edition and the inclusiveness of an archive — is one of the tendencies of recent work in electronic editing.
The term that Price ends with is arsenal—a metaphor that has been applied to the library.

Update: For an example of radical collaboration, see this announcement about 2CUL (CUL is the acronym of both Columbia University Library and Cornell University Library):

2CUL represents a new, radical form of  collaboration that pairs two leading research libraries in a voluntary, equal  partnership,” said James G. Neal, Vice President for Information Services and  University Librarian at Columbia University. “Columbia University Libraries and Cornell University Library are committed to developing an enduring and  transformative partnership that will enable us to achieve greater efficiencies  and effectiveness and to address new challenges through combined forces.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Spreading the Word and …

In an interview about his new book, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution, Dennis Baron says, “The goal of the library is to spread the word … ”

So is Goucher College’s Athenaeum a library? Well, there is a library in there … 

I’m interested in the trend of missional convergence among archives, libraries, and museums. The early history of Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum provides an interesting model of this. Established in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth, the Atheneum brought together a number of cultural institutions and collections, including an art gallery, a historical society, a natural history society, and a public library. Wadsworth’s vision was to support the study and enjoyment of art, literature, and science under one castellated Gothic roof.

For anther vision of a present-day Athenaeum, see Sam Demas's “From the Ashes of Alexandria: What's Happening in the College Library?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Future of Primary Sources

From the AHA Blog
The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is conducting a series of case studies, funded by the National Science Foundation, to examine the longevity of digital resources. To obtain scholarly input on these studies, CRL is hosting a series of brief (22.5 minute) online forums for researchers in the fields of history, social sciences, and chemistry. These micro-webcasts are free and open to interested researchers and scholars, and cover the following topics: The Historical Record in the Post-Newspaper Age; Political Science, Sociology, and Economics; and Chemistry.
From the series' Agenda:
Digital technology has revolutionized the very nature of scientific and historical evidence. Today’s research data exist in many electronic forms, such as news Web sites, computer models of chemical compounds, and public opinion data sets. These new types of evidence defy the traditional ways libraries and archives have preserved information--putting much historical and scientific evidence at risk.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

They’re Not Dead Yet

In Publisher’s Weekly, Robert Darnton writes about his new book:

History shows us that one medium does not necessarily displace another—at least not in the short run. … Every age has been an age of information, each in its own way. In my new book, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future [PublicAffairs], I make that very point, because I believe we cannot envisage the future—or make sense of the present—unless we study the past. Not necessarily because history repeats itself or teaches us lessons, but because it can help to orient us when faced with the challenges of new technologies.
And now for something completely different ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A New Open Access Publishing Model

See “Breakthrough on Open Access”: MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Berkeley have committed to:
the timely establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable publication charges for articles written by its faculty and published in open access journals and for which other institutions would not be expected to provide funds.
This new funding model changes the way institutions of higher education have been supporting the publication of scholarly journals. Rather than fund academic libraries, to purchase journals or pay fees to publishers for access to content, institutions would pay fees directly to open access publishers. (See also Stuart M. Shieber’s article in PLoS Biology, “Equity for Open-Access Journal Publishing.”)

A report released earlier this year, Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher Education, examined perceptions of three roles of the library: purchaser, archive, and gateway. The most highly rated role was that of purchaser. The perceived value of the gateway role is declining. So what's left? The role of the library as archive is “uniformly high and has remained static over time” (5).

The CLIR report No Brief Candle, which was released about the same time, identifies another critical role of the library: the library as teacher. Indeed, in this report Paul Courant argues that an academic library’s “signal contribution to undergraduate education is the teaching of scholarly methods” (22).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Digital Curation 2.0

Dorothea Salo, over at “The Book of Trogool,” draws attention to and comments on the special issue of Nature on data sharing.

A couple of interesting points from the Nature editorial:

  • “Agencies and the research community together need to create the digital equivalent of libraries: institutions that can take responsibility for preserving digital data and making them accessible over the long term. The university research libraries themselves are obvious candidates to assume this role.” Let libraries be libraries!
  • Students should be taught “information management—a discipline that encompasses the entire life cycle of data … data management should be woven into every course in science, as one of the foundations of knowledge.”

Related to the second point, see Gardner Campbell, “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” in the latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review:

At the turn of the century, higher education looked in the mirror and, seeing its portals, its easy-to-use LMSs, and its "digital campuses," admired itself as sleek, youthful, attractive. But the mirror lied.

Then the web changed again: Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. The medium is the message. Higher education almost completely ignored Marshall McLuhan's central insight: new modes of communication change what can be imagined and expressed. "Any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes. . . . The 'message' of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs."

Campbell argues that institutions of higher education can inspire and empower students to become creative web users by providing them with tools and training to build personal cyberinfrastructures—to become “effective architects, narrators, curators, and inhabitants of their own digital lives.”

And far away Trogool upon the utter Rim turned a page that was numbered six in a cipher that none might read.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On This Day in History, 09/09/09--Nothing

At least according to the Google News Timeline, mentioned over at the AHA Blog.

No news for or about tomorrow, either. There is one Wikipedia article for this month in 1909 (old news?), but nothing for the year 1009. And 909 “is not a valid date.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

After the Deluge: Or, Libraries This Week

An interesting article about data curation recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal: “A Data Deluge Swamps Science Historians.”
Over at CNN, there is “The future of libraries, with or without books.” (I was pleased to see this: “Some libraries are trying to gain an edge by focusing on the ‘deeply local’ material—the stuff that only they have.”)

At the Boston Globe, there is an article about a school that is getting rid of its “traditional library”: “Welcome to the library. Say goodbye to the books.” More.

And the image below links to an Economist interview with Paul Courant on the Google settlement:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard

This week Harvard announced the public launch of its scholarly repository, DASH, which supports the school’s open access policy. In the repository I found an interesting article by Robert Darnton, “Collecting and Researching in the History of Books.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Last Library?

Is Google’s Book Search the last library? See: “Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars.”

Google's five-year head start and its relationships with libraries and publishers give it an effective monopoly: No competitor will be able to come after it on the same scale. Nor is technology going to lower the cost of entry. Scanning will always be an expensive, labor-intensive project. Of course, 50 or 100 years from now control of the collection may pass from Google to somebody else—Elsevier, Unesco, Wal-Mart. But it's safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google's servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.

A rebuttal to Nunberg’s complaints about quality is available over at Northwest History. More serious objections to Google’s book-scanning project have been raised elsewhere.

Another concern about this project has to do with preservation: I wonder to what extent digital preservation is covered in the settlement. Will this collection exist 50 or 100 years from now?

There’s Too Much Confusion: Or, the Great Mall of Alexandria

The metaphor of the library as mall prevails. There must be some kind of way out of here …

Ritual and Retention

An article in today’s Inside Higher Ed, “Early Pomp and Circumstance,” highlights a trend to revive convocation ceremonies. The goal is to build a sense of community and commitment. The article points out that convocations have a long and continuous history at many small liberal arts colleges and selective four-year universities.

Yesterday, Inside Higher Ed featured a convocation address—“Convocation Critique of ‘I Love College’”—that was delivered at my place of employment.

Update: Later, looking at the above image, I was reminded of the ending of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which reminded me of the ending of the “I am death” bit in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

Digital Lincoln

For its special issue “Lincoln at 200,” the Journal of American History created a companion online project called “Building the Digital Lincoln.”

This special resources site offers a snapshot of how historians and digital humanists have helped to build a new understanding of Abraham Lincoln with a series of innovative and powerful Web-based tools.

Lots of Literacies

From the August 2009 issue of Primary Source, the newsletter of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS):
IMLS has just released Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills. The booklet outlines a vision for the role of libraries and museums in the national dialogue around learning and such 21st century skills as technology literacy, problem solving, creativity, and global awareness. It also provides a self-assessment tool that enables museums and libraries to determine where they fit on the continuum of 21st century skills.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Northwestern Wanderer

I just came across some materials from a 1920s railroad advertising campaign for the Pacific Northwest. I was interested to see that the image in one advertisement (above) is based on Caspar David Friedrich’s Romantic painting “Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer” (below).

From the advertisement copy:
Into the lives of most men comes at some time an urge—
An impulse to journey out and see what lies beyond the local horizon, to prospect other, newer lands.
The story of many a man’s success is a record of that impulse acted upon—of a fortune found in the “land beyond.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Intersection of Natural and Human History

Yesterday “Dean Dad” posted an article on museum hopping over at Inside Higher Ed. Our family’s recent museum hopping got me thinking about the intersection of natural and human history.

Exhibit One: The Thunderegg. Legends of the Thunderbird link together numerous native groups in Western North American. One legend is that when mountains in the Cascade Range became angry, they hurled at one another eggs stolen from the nests of Thunderbirds. These egg-shaped spherulites were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

Exhibit Two: An Obsidian Arrowhead. Many ancient cultures used the glass-like volcanic rock Obsidian—named after the Roman Obsidius, who found a similar stone in Ethiopia—to fashion weapons. (The one pictured here was made in Mexico and sold in Oregon.)

Many of the national parks that our family has visited in recent years integrate natural and cultural topics well. But usually natural and cultural collections are kept and presented separately, and most museums focus on one or the other. The High Desert Museum, about which I posted yesterday, is an impressive model for curating diverse but related collections.

The picture at the top of this post was taken at the National Historic Oregon Trail InterpretiveCenter outside of Baker City, Oregon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Mega Museum

The term “museum” can be applied to a variety of institutions, including art galleries, museums of natural or human history, and zoos. In its most ancient sense, the term “museum” was used to describe a place for worshiping the muses. The term had a broad semantic range into the 18th century—it could be used to describe a study, library, college, meeting place for the learned, or for “Ashmole’s Museum” in Oxford. In the late 19th century, the definition of a museum began to narrow and museums, as institutions, began to become professionalized.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. This is a mega museum: it includes natural and cultural history collections and is full of artifacts, art, living history, and live animals. At the center of the facility is a rare book library. It is a fascinating and fun place to visit, providing visitors with a broad and deep sense of the region’s natural and cultural heritage.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Digital Mindset

For 12 years, Beloit College has assembled “mindset” lists “to identify the experiences that have shaped the lives—and formed the mindset—of students starting their post-secondary education this fall.” From this year’s list:

4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.

14. Text has always been hyper.

34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In Dread of the Sauron Searchlight Gaze of Administrators?

One more post before I take off for a vacation. An article in today’s Chronicle, “A Laboratory of Collaborative Learning,” highlights the continuing value of academic libraries:

it is worth recognizing that a library is not just a warehouse for books; it is a physical representation of a set of cultural values that have accumulated over thousands of years. Libraries salvaged and preserved Western civilization; they have been a hub for intellectual exchange, a ladder of social mobility, and a promise of continuity from one generation to the next. It is not mere courtesy that causes people to become silent in the library, as they do in a church: Libraries are sacred places. That reverence for learning embodied in a physical space is not something we should squander lightly …

Here is my favorite point:

I want to argue (though not in this column) that hands-on, archival research—the cultivation of traditional scholarly sensibilities—should be at the center of the undergraduate liberal-arts experience.

The Future of Libraries and Their Systems

Library Journal has an article on a report recently released by the Open Library Environment Project, which “Sketches a Flexible Future for Library Software”:

The plans cover the range of current library software components, including the functions currently performed by existing integrated library system (ILS) options as well as electronic resource management (ERM) systems.

Moreover, the project document also includes plans for integration with other systems, such as those that govern student and user identity management and human resources functions. It heavily emphases Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to support connections with disparate components and data sources. As the document says, "OLE places the library's business in context within the fabric of the institution and the research process, rather than keeping it a separate, siloed operation."

From the report web site:

project planners produced an OLE design framework that embeds libraries directly in the key processes of scholarship generation, knowledge management, teaching and learning by utilizing existing enterprise systems where appropriate and by delivering new services built on connections between the library’s business systems and other technology systems.

When I saw the words “knowledge management,” I expected to find a broader vision for future library services—specifically ones that would extend the types of information management services delivered through archives and records management programs. But the report focuses on rather traditional library resources and services, albeit in an enhanced electronic environment.

Institutional Repositories and Institutional Infrastructures

A video of a CNI session led by Clifford Lynch, “Revisiting Institutional Repositories,” is available here. Some interesting points:
  • They are here to stay (they have been around since the turn of the century!).
  • They are part of the infrastructure that supports scholarly communication and institutions.
  • There are different views of IRs. One view focuses on published material, which means that access (i.e., open) is more important than stewardship. The problem here is that an IR is not a scholarly journal. Another view focuses on institutional digital material and is more concerned with stewardship. The problem here is that it is difficult to articulate what an IR is. (The solution is to think of archival rather than library selection criteria.)
  • Measuring success for the latter, stewardship view of IRs is harder to measure and requires an understanding digital life cycles.
  • Stewardship is not necessarily a commitment to long-term preservation. IRs may be best for medium to long-term access.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Darwinian Anniversaries and Works

About this time, 150 years ago, Charles Darwin was busy preparing On the Origin of Species for publication. This year is also the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth.

Recently, new records were found related to Darwin’s time at Cambridge. These can be viewed through The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online.

(The Complete Works is not actually complete: Darwin’s unpublished correspondence is available through the Darwin Correspondence Project.)

But here is the work of 1859:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Through the Eyes of Babes

There is a whiteboard in my office that I rarely use. My elder daughter, however, loves it. Here is her most recent work, inspired by the new bookcases I had made for our reading room.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From Collection to House

Flipping through an airline magazine recently, I came across an advertisement for a house “built from pieces of the past.” These pieces include parts from McNary Dam, WWII landing mats, 100-year-old saw mills, old homestead houses, railroad bridges, Snake and Columbia River basalt, wind-fallen Black Locust, river rock, and more.

From the website of the builder and designer, Dirk Nelson:

Nelson had collected a treasure trove of Walla Walla valley history … Among the collection were beams & bolts from the old Louisiana Pacific mill to enormous light poles from the Columbia River’s McNary Dam. Railroad trestle girders lay stacked beside huge locust tree wood taken from the actual home site. With meticulous hand work, Nelson and his team, Living Space Construction transformed the boneyard finds into structural components that each hint at the story of their former lives.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Calvin by the Book

Today, 500 years ago, John Calvin (1509-1564) was born. An exhibition at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, Calvin by the Book: A Literary Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Birth of John Calvin, focuses on Calvin’s life and legacy through books.
From the exhibition site:
John Calvin was a man of the book in every possible sense. First, he lived his life in an uncompromising manner by the Book … Second, he was a humanist and scholar who, living through the birth of modernity, not only depended on the printed word to inform his ideas, but also used the opportunities presented by the invention of the printing press to disseminate his thoughts and reflections to a world that was primed for change. Third, he helped to shape the history of the book itself. … Of all of the sheets of print produced by individual writers in the period from 1541 to 1565, Calvin is responsible for an astonishing 42% of the total …
Because he lived and wrote, Christianity has been forever changed; the political structures of the West have been permanently altered; even the economic realities by which we order our lives have been shaped by the vision that he and his disciples had of humanity’s place in creation.