Friday, April 24, 2009

The World Digital Cabinet

The U.N.’s World Digital Library has been reviewed by Time:

While the artifacts themselves are well-presented and engrossing, it's hard to see how this promising collection of primary sources can avoid competing with the likes of Google and Wikipedia …

This WDL is really more a cabinet of curiosities than a library. A search on “darwin” turns up nothing; “lincoln” turns up three items.

The 151 “books” in the library are interesting and include: A Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and in Quest of a North-West Passage Between Asia & America, Performed in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, and 1779; History of the expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the sources of the Missouri, thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the river Columbia to the Pacific Ocean; Declaration of Independence. In Congress, July 4, 1776, a Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.; The Book of Urizen; The Special Features of French Antarctica, Otherwise Called America, and of Several Lands and Islands Discovered in Our Time; Apocalypse of Saint John; The New and Unknown World: or Description of America and the Southland; Description of Egypt: Antiquities, Descriptions; and The whole booke of Psalmes faithfully translated into English metre (the Bay Psalm Book is also available here).

Among the 124 “manuscripts” are: a Book of Hours; Bill of Rights; Constitution of the United States; Emancipation Proclamation; Jewish Antiquities; and Codex Gigas (from which the image below comes—although you’ll have a devil of a time getting to this page [577]).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Fragility of Digital Archives

This article—“Digital Archives That Disappear”—is disturbing on many levels. The concluding paragraph:

Whether scholars like it or not, Huggins said, Google is uniquely able to manage large-scale projects at a reasonable pace, despite the problems with Paper of Record. "There is no other entity on the planet that is Google," he said.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saved from Oblivion by an Image

For an interesting account of an effort “to put together a picture of the past from odds and ends of material,” beginning with an ambrotype, see Errol Morris’s “Whose Father Was He?” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

At the heart of this is the dream of defeating time and thereby achieving immortality, creating a past that can live on after we die.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Special Challenges and Opportunities for Special Collections

The Association of Research Libraries Working Group on Special Collections has released a “discussion report” on current, critical issues related to the management of special collections material.

The report, which defines special collections broadly and is concerned with traditional and as well as digital special collections, begins with an increasingly common claim about the value of unique local collections:

In an environment where mass digitization of books and periodicals for Web access is accelerating, and electronic journals and aggregated databases are part of the shared landscape of scholarly communication, it is their accumulated special collections that increasingly define the uniqueness and character of individual research libraries. The time is now to meet the challenges and responsibilities that these materials present.

And then it goes a bit further, and suggests that special collections “encapsulate the essence of a research library” (9). The claim is restated in the conclusion: “special collections, taken together, define the distinctive features of the modern research library” (31).

The report highlights many challenges and presents 17 recommendations under three broad rubrics:

I. Collecting Carefully, with Regard to Costs, and Ethical and Legal Concerns

II. Ensuring Discovery and Access

III. The Challenge of Born-Digital Collections

Given the “exceptional opportunities” and “glorious future” for special collections, these issues are worthy of attention and resources (6).

The report’s preface mentions “the increasing convergence between special collections in libraries and those held in museums and archives” (6), but little is said about integrating the management of such collections. Moreover, nothing is said about how special collections operations might be integrated with general library operations. If special collections are essential or central to a research library, then we need to begin thinking about their departmental status.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Vook

Is This the Future of the Digital Book? No.

Also on the digital front: The Library of Congress announced an expansion of its Web 2.0 initiatives and YouTube has launched YouTube Edu.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Present of Publishing

From the New York Times article “You’ve Read the Headlines. Now, Quick, Read the Book”:

the unprecedented pileup of historic news is motivating a broader industry speedup. Hoping to capture the public interest while it is still ripe—and to beat out competition—publishers are rushing out a cavalcade of books tied to the election of the first African-American president, a spiraling economic crisis and eye-popping financial scandals.

This form of “extreme publishing” challenges a more traditional view of book production:

Many publishers maintain that books are not meant to chase headlines. “What we need to do on the book side is to do the most thorough, the best and most contextualized” work, said Ann Godoff, president and publisher of the Penguin Press.