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: