Thursday, January 29, 2009

Museums and Missions in Academia

From today’s Inside Higher Ed, “Museums and Academic Values”:

a museum may be vulnerable financially whenever its supporters’ sense of its mission differs from that of the leaders of the university. … At Brandeis, everyone at the art museum and many others saw its role as a key part of the liberal arts environment. At Penn’s museum, the scholars whose positions have been cut saw their wide ranging studies as essential to the university’s research mission.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Public Knowledge about Historical Photographs

The Library of Congress’s Flickr Commons project and the German National Archive’s Wikimedia Commons project are covered in “Historical Photos in Web Archives Gain Vivid New Lives.” An excerpt:
Compared with the stream of photographs being uploaded (an estimated three million a day on Flickr alone), the historical material can seem a mere trickle. Yet over the last year there have been important new efforts to put these classics online, both to find new audiences for material typically used by researchers and to use those audiences to breathe new meaning into photographs from long ago.
The increased visibility of and access to these digitized photographs can both create and harness knowledge about historical images.

Image at top: A teletypewriter, 1930, from the Deutsches Bundesarchiv and available from:,_Fernschreibmaschine_mit_Telefonanschluss.jpg.

Image below: Switch lists coming in by teletype to the hump office at a Chicago and Northwestern railroad yard, Chicago, Ill, 1942, from the Library of Congress and available from

Publishing and Perishing

See “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab”:

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.

One of the issues with self-publishing not mentioned in this article is that libraries do not typically acquire these books. Consequently, they do not become part of our preserved cultural record.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Read All about It (i.e., the End)

The end of the newspaper—in the form of a bundle of cheap paper delivered to your door—is near, or nearly near. Jill Lepore, in “Back Issues: The Day the Newspaper Died,” asks: “what was the beginning about?” Newspapers were at the center of the American Revolution, and in the early republic they functioned to provide a space for the ununified voices of the union.

Getting Students to Study History

Here is one successful model: link students’ lives to the study of history and get them comfortable with basic information literacy and research skills.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Novel Networks

Here are two recent articles about how the internet is transforming the discovery and marketing of novels.

From Time, “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature.” A snippet:

We think of the novel as a transcendent, timeless thing, but it was shaped by the forces of money and technology just as much as by creative genius.

From The New York Times, “See the Web Site, Buy the Book.” A snippet:

The days of just holing up and writing in solitude are gone. Today, you can’t be a successful writer without having a little Barnum in your bones.

Speaking of solitude in our networked age, see: “The End of Solitude”:

we no longer live in the modernist city, and our great fear is not submersion by the mass but isolation from the herd …

A constant stream of mediated contact, virtual, notional, or simulated, keeps us wired in to the electronic hive—though contact, or at least two-way contact, seems increasingly beside the point. The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity. … Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection. Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone.

New Rule on Records

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

President Obama drew praise from scholars last week for abandoning Bush-era restrictions on the release of presidential documents. But researchers say much more needs to change for such records to be truly open to the public.

See “Scholars Hail Obama's New Rules on Records, but It’s Still ‘Not Nirvana.’

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Atlas of Early Printing

The Atlas of Early Printing,” created by the University of Iowa Libraries, provides an excellent overview of the 15th-century printing process. The site also includes an essay about one incunable (a 1490 edition of Scriptores Historiae Augustae) and an animation of the operation of an early hand press.

Scholarly Practices and Libraries Today

OCLC has published a report that synthesizes research findings about scholarly information practices, Scholarly Information Practices in the Online Environment: Themes from the Literature and Implications for Library Service Development, which is available from:

From the conclusion:

The question facing service developers … is not what services need to be offered digitally, but rather how do we proceed in the long term to move all services to an e-research platform.

Here are the scholarly practices associated with disciplinary approaches:

The report maps these practices to recommendations clustered under “bibliographic,” “collection development,” and “Other Services.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

NARA’s 75th Anniversary

This year is the 75th anniversary of the law that established the U.S. National Archives to keep the nation’s records “until the end of the republic.”

Today I subscribed to a new type of government record, the President’s blog. A few years ago, I published an article on the archival value of blogs. It is good that NARA is around to preserve such things.

Image: “The Future,” at the National Archives Building. The inscription on the statue, “What is Past is Prologue,” comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The Republic of Digits

Robert Darnton responds to the Google Library Project settlement in “Google & the Future of Books,” available from:

Darnton invokes the Enlightenment in an argument for open access:

Our republic was founded on faith in the central principle of the eighteenth-century Republic of Letters: the diffusion of light. For Jefferson, enlightenment took place by means of writers and readers, books and libraries—especially libraries, at Monticello, the University of Virginia, and the Library of Congress. This faith is embodied in the United States Constitution. Article 1, Section 8, establishes copyright and patents "for limited times" only and subject to the higher purpose of promoting "the progress of science and useful arts." The Founding Fathers acknowledged authors' rights to a fair return on their intellectual labor, but they put public welfare before private profit. …

To descend from the high principles of the Founding Fathers to the practices of the cultural industries today is to leave the realm of Enlightenment for the hurly-burly of corporate capitalism. … we live in a world designed by Mickey Mouse, red in tooth and claw. …

When businesses like Google look at libraries, they do not merely see temples of learning. They see potential assets or what they call "content," ready to be mined. Built up over centuries at an enormous expenditure of money and labor, library collections can be digitized en masse at relatively little cost—millions of dollars, certainly, but little compared to the investment that went into them. …

the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. … Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.

An ARL/ALA “Guide for the Perplexed” about this settlement is available from:

Update: Darnton on NPR.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yesterday’s Record

Yesterday I watched one of the more than seven million video streams of the inauguration of Barack Obama. The documentation of this event must have set a new record for records:

The inauguration has been recorded and relayed in all kinds of ways, from Twitter, to Flickr, to Facebook status updates, to blog postings, to emails going back and forth—a lot of effort has been put into recording the events and emotions of the day. Much of that effort has been expended by citizens, not by journalists. Much of the recording has been done via mobile devices.
—“Changes over time
See also: “Day #1 of a new era …

Image: GeoEye-1, a satellite that supplies Google with high-resolution images of Earth.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Infinity

An update on the Archimedes palimpsest is available here. Ironically, one of the recovered texts has to do with infinity (actual infinity, that is). Unfortunately, “Archimedes's key argument about infinity appears on pages so damaged that Heiberg had been unable to transcribe them.”

Image below: One of Google’s oldest books, the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Inaugural Words

The New York Times has a timeline of text clouds generated from previous presidential inaugural addresses.

For some insight into Obama’s view of the power of words and books, see: “From Books, a New President Found his Voice”:

Mr. Obama’s first book, “Dreams From My Father” … suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others—as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame.

Update: Obama’s inaugural has been added to the Times timeline.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A History of the Internet

History of the Internet from PICOL.

Writing in This Age of Distraction

See Cory Doctorow, “Writing in the Age of Distraction,” which he describes as “a grab-bag of practical tips for getting the writing done in the internet era.”

It begins:

We know that our readers are distracted and sometimes even overwhelmed by the myriad distractions that lie one click away on the Internet, but of course writers face the same glorious problem: the delirious world of information and communication and community that lurks behind your screen, one alt-tab away from your word-processor.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Library of Human Imagination

Last month I wrote a post about Jay Walker’s Library of Human Imagination. A video of Walker talking about his library is available here.

Like the old cabinets of curiosities, Walker uses his collection to find hidden connections between things.

He says:

How do we create? … We create by surrounding ourselves with stimuli, with human achievements, with history, with the things that drive us and make us human …

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Boundaries of a Book

There is a new article about Google Book Search in the The New York Times, “Google Hopes to Open a Trove of Little-Seen Books,” available from:

Google Book Search, which makes books more searchable and accessible, is changing how we use books as well as how we think of them.

When one renders a book from Google’s collection, one is looking at a digital copy of a particular physical copy of a book: the physical copy, whatever its condition, has been used to create a new, universal digital copy. Fortunately, Google scans whole physical books, including covers and endpapers; this helps preserve a sense of how a book is more than its intellectual content—it consists of a material container, too. But the digital containers for these reformatted books are rather different from their physical predecessors. Today I was surprised to discover that the text from a library label was included in my search of the text of a book.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What Will Change Everything?

A few possibilities:

According to Roger Schank, wisdom: it will find you, in just-in-time bite-sized bits—no more libraries, just an immense “archive … that has all the wisdom of the world in it.”

According to Charles Seife, the record: “Just a few years ago, we had to be content with archiving a mere handful of events … All else, all of our memory and knowledge, melts away when we die. That era is over. It's now within your means to record, in real time, audio and video of your entire existence.”

According to Howard Rheingold, literacy: “we’re only in the earliest years of social media literacy. Whether universal access to many-to-many media will lead to explosive scientific and social change depends more on know-how now than physical infrastructure.”

According to David Myers, texts: “Inexpensive, customizable, interactive e-texts for worldwide use.”

According to Marti Hearst, not texts: “it is only a matter of time before text and the written word become relegated to specialists (such as lawyers) and hobbyists.”

More available from: