Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Oldest Substantial Book to Survive Antiquity is Online

This year is the sesquicentennial of the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus by Constantin von Tischendorf at the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai. Created in the mid 4th century, Codex Sinaiticus is “the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity.” The Codex Sinaiticus Project is reuniting the entire manuscript in digital form online.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Transformational Times, the University and the Dissemination of Research, and A National Digital Library

The good people associated with ARL have been rather busy recently. In addition to a report on digital repositories, there are a few other new reports worth noting here.

First, there is “Transformational Times: An Environmental Scan Prepared for the ARL Strategic Plan Review Task Force”: http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/transformational-times.pdf. Here are a few of the trends identified in the introduction (5f.):

  • Libraries need to change their practices for managing traditional content and develop new capabilities for dealing with digital materials of all types, but especially new forms of scholarship, teaching and learning resources, special collections (particularly hidden collections), and research data.
  • Content industries inevitably seek to extend control over the copyright regime and over content, in general, while libraries, authors, and research institutions endeavor to provide more access to and active management of the intellectual assets produced by the academy.
  • Collaborative approaches are being applied to new activities both with regard to traditional operations as well as emerging functions.
  • Radical reconfiguration of research library organizations and services is needed coupled with an increasingly diverse and talented staff to provide needed leadership and technical skills to respond to the rapidly changing environment.
  • New relationships must be formed with library users to support rapid shifts in research and teaching practices.

Second, there is “The University’s Role in the Dissemination of Research and Scholarship—A Call to Action”: http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/disseminating-research-feb09.pdf. The report, which consists of a number of recommendations, opens with “A Vision Statement”:

The creation of new knowledge lies at the heart of the research university and results from tremendous investments of resources by universities, federal and state governments, industry, foundations, and others. The products of that enterprise are created to benefit society. In the process, those products also advance further research and scholarship, along with the teaching and service missions of the university. Reflecting its investments, the academy has a responsibility to ensure the broadest possible access to the fruits of its work both in the short and long term by publics both local and global.

Faculty research and scholarship represent invaluable intellectual capital, but the value of that capital lies in its effective dissemination to present and future audiences. Dissemination strategies that restrict access are fundamentally at odds with the dissemination imperative inherent in the university mission.

Finally, there is a call to “Establish a Universal, Open Library or Digital Data Commons”: http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/ibopenlibpsa2.pdf. Conclusion:

A large-scale initiative to digitize public domain collections meets just about any test of an effective response to the mounting problems that challenge the United States. Beyond retraining workers with new, valuable skill sets and putting them to work, this initiative will bring high-quality public domain resources into every home, school, community college, university and workplace. It will give businesses, state and local governments, and jobseekers needed resource and will enrich education at all levels by bringing the world’s collective knowledge to parents, teachers, and students. Finally, these scientific, cultural and historical assets will provide much needed content to the extended deployment of broadband throughout the country. Above all, these online, high value intellectual resources will remain available permanently to the Nation as research libraries will provide long-term preservation and access to the digitized content.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Which President’s Day?

C-SPAN has surveyed historians on the performance of past US presidents and posted the results here. Abraham Lincoln comes out on top, but George Washington rates highest for “economic management.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Time and Books

The relationship between books and time is explored by Ian F. McNeely and Lisa Wolverton in the second chapter of their Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet (Norton, 2008). They argue that in medieval monasteries:

Emphasis on the written word of God provided a religious rationale for the preservation of written knowledge after the infrastructure of civilization collapsed in the West. As the most devoted Christians, monks and nuns relied especially on texts, both sacred and profane, to mark out every hour, week, and year of their lives together in monastic communities. …

Contrary to the popular image, the monastery was more than an institution devoted to tending lifeless manuscripts through centuries of darkness, bridging two periods of light, classical antiquity and the European Renaissance. Instead, its dual devotion to texts and to time constituted a reinvention of knowledge … (41f.).

The earliest libraries, such as the one at Alexandria, facilitated the creation, translation, collation, synthesis, and dissemination of texts. They transformed “a largely oral scholarly culture into a largely written one” and “made the Greek intellectual tradition both portable and heritable” (3). But in monasteries, texts functioned “not merely to orient individuals during their time on earth but to sustain the wider monastic community itself over the generations” (55).

Image: The Medieval Clock, Salisbury Cathedral, available from: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/gallery.php?id=42. Completed in 1306, this clock is perhaps the oldest running clock in the world and part of what is thought to be the first European clock tower.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Watch Library

Reading the New York Times online recently, I discovered Watch Avenue: “a world of beauty, luxury, and delight”—or, the world of watches.

Among virtual designer shops, there is La Librarie de L’Horlogerie, which is a bookstore, and the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie, which has a modest library with books you can read.

Image above: The library at the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie.

Image below: From Fine Watch Making: A Tribute to Women, from the “Time … to discover” section of the library.

There is a quite a lot of advertising here, but also a bit of information about watch-making. In case you didn’t know (I didn’t), www.hautehorlogerie.org is “the number-one reference portal for Fine Watches and the promotion of the culture and expertise of Fine Watchmaking.”

Now it’s time to get back to work.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Digital Repository Services: A New Frontier

An ARL Digital Repository Issues Task Force has released its final report: “The Research Library’s Role in Digital Repository Services.”

The report begins: “Digital repositories are developing rapidly as a key element of research cyberinfrastructure” (11).

Existing digital repository collections include (cf. 5):

  • published faculty research archived for institutional purposes
  • unpublished text material from faculty
  • research data in various numeric and image formats
  • administrative records
  • primary source documents from libraries and research centers
  • digitized book, journal and image collections
  • instructional materials and courseware
  • platforms for publishing journals
  • software

From an archival point of view, what is interesting in this list and in the report is the recognition of a broadening collection scope for repositories—from one that focuses on scholarly publications to one that includes research and institutional material:

Twenty-first century institutions now require new kinds of services to manage all sorts of unique content that have enduring value (15).

As daunting as it may be to consider the diversity of [digital records management] issues, research libraries have substantial expertise in content management and opportunities to support high-value institutional content and to complement repository services being developed to serve campus research. Particularly where these activities draw on existing relationships, capacities, and expertise, libraries are likely to meet with success in assuming a broader role in supporting content such as course-related assets or institutional records (17).

Digital repositories require ongoing content curation to ensure that current content remains usable and valuable into the future. Much digital content is unique content, in the sense that only a single institution may be able or willing to take responsibility for its management (21).

(I’ve advocated for this approach to institutional repositories here and elsewhere.)

From a special collections point of view, the report’s expectations for the future shape of library collections are rather interesting:

The balance between investing in management of unique collections and supporting widely replicated content will have shifted substantially. Similarly, libraries will have reallocated resources from supporting local collections to collectively managed collections. Network technologies and digital collections will have significantly transformed traditional emphases on local, individual, and uncoordinated strategies toward new approaches that more efficiently manage collections collaboratively. At the same time, managing unique content, not just traditional special collections but entirely new kinds of works and locally-created content, will be an important emphasis for collection and management (33).

(Almost five years ago, I filed away a statement by James Neal that appeared in a Library Journal article titled “Rarities Online.” Neal said: In the future, I believe great research libraries will be evaluated more and more on their special collections.”)

This report stresses that digital repository services “present libraries with attractive opportunities to develop roles that will become increasingly mission-critical for the research enterprise” (21). (The term “frontier” is invoked on page 41.)

Researchers and scholars with access to a spectrum of repository services will possess a substantial advantage in conducting cutting edge research, delivering high quality teaching, and contributing valuable services to society (10, 41).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Universal Bookstore

Paul Courant responds to Darnton’s essay on the Google settlement:

in the absence of the settlement … we would not have the digitized infrastructure to support the 21st century Republic of Letters. We would have indexes and snippets and no way to read any substantial amount of any of the millions of works at stake on line. The settlement gives us free preview of an enormous amount of content, and the promise of easy access to the rest, thereby greatly advancing the public good.

Of course I would prefer the universal library, but I am pretty happy about the universal bookstore. After all, bookstores are fine places to read books, and then to decide whether to buy them or go to the library to read some more.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

“The record shows …

… I took the blows / And did it my way!”
—Frank Sinatra, “My Way”
Bono’s New Year reflections on Frank Sinatra, “Notes From the Chairman,” can be found here:
Fully inhabiting the moment during that tiny dot of time after you’ve pressed “record” is what makes it eternal.
For the moment, videos of U2’s concert for Obama are available via YouTube, but since all of these violate copyrights I wonder how long they will remain accessible there. (For a recent article on the subject, see “Copyright in the Age of YouTube” from the ABA Journal.)

Speaking of Sinatra’s record, the FBI’s dossier on him is available here.