Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Keeping the Whole Scholarly Lifecycle in View

Hot Type: No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No Respect” (The Chronicle) suggests four elements of successful digital scholarship: “the content, the digital tools used to build it, how its data are structured, and the interface.” Findings in recent reports from the Center for Studies in Higher Education, ARL, and others, suggest that sustainability—including preservation or long-term access—should be added to these four. At issue here is what has been described as the “archive deficit.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Permanent Dialectical Struggle of Librarians

From Chronicle writer William Pannapacker, who previously described the academic library as a “Laboratory of Collaborative Learning,” comes “Marian the Cybrarian”:
more than any other class of professionals in higher education, librarians possess a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly ecosystem. They know what's going on across the disciplines, among professors and administrators as well as students. No less important, they are often the most informed people when it comes to technological change—its limits as well as its advantages. …

They see the potential of new tools, but they are also the guardians of tradition. From that permanent dialectical struggle, they appear to acquire a mixture of whimsy and wisdom …
Quoting Robert Darnton, Pannapacker points out that as librarians are “advancing on two fronts: the analog and the digital” special collections should receive “renewed attention”:
"Google will have scanned nearly everything in standard collections," Darnton observes, "but it will not have penetrated deeply into rare-book rooms and archives, where the most important discoveries are to be made." … More effectively utilizing special collections can increasingly become the basis for new collaborations between professors, students, librarians, and technologists. …

Through the many twists and turns of Darnton's book, one major point emerges: "Libraries were never warehouses of books. They have been and always will be centers of learning. Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication."

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Regressive Kindle

James O'Donnell's recent lecture at Yale, “A Scholar Gets a Kindle and Starts to Read,” is available via YouTube:

O’Donnell discusses how the Kindle drives readers away from the nonlinear use of texts, making it more like an old papyrus scroll. It also doesn’t help books talk to each other. He says that the Kindle is better for ludic reading, or ludic ludic reading (what Velveeta is to cheese). That is to say, the Kindle supports a limited and old set of reading practices—in this sense, there is no innovation in this device.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

British Library Bits

1. The Economist reviewed the British Library’s online exhibit Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda, and Art:
These globes and charts also reveal the impulse, old as man, to hold the gathered knowledge of the world in one's hands. To describe is to possess, preserve: for centuries maps served as visual encyclopaedias, storing what is known in one great annotated document.
2. The British Library has been awarded the “Oscar of the Museums World” for Timelines: Sources from History.
Timelines: Sources from History ( is a ground-breaking, rich-media interactive that allows users to explore British Library collection items chronologically … The timeline allows students to get a sense both of change and continuity when studying historical events.
3. The other day I stumbled upon some information on the British Library website about Solomon’s House, a research institute imagined by Francis Bacon. For more on Solomon’s House, see Anthony Grafton, “The World in a Room: Renaissance Histories of Art and Nature” and “Where Was Salomon’s House: Ecclesiastical History and the Intellectual Origins of Bacon’s New Atlantis,” in Worlds Made by Words (Harvard, 2009).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Browsing Myth

On the “Myth of Browsing” (American Libraries Magazine):
Although today’s academic library users may feel that browsing is an ancient scholarly right, the practice is in fact no older than the baby-boomer faculty who so often lead the charge to keep books on campus. Prior to the Second World War, the typical academic library was neither designed nor managed to support the browsing of collections. At best, faculty might be allowed to browse, but it was the rare academic library that allowed undergraduates into the stacks. To this day academic-library special collections—real treasure troves for scholars in the letters and humanitie [sic]—remain entirely closed to browsing.
Image: A student in the stacks (Princeton, circa 1970)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More on the New Instability of Texts

From “Amazon: A Patch for Your Novel Is Ready To Download” (The Wall Street Journal):
An Amazon spokesman confirms that the company does, from time to time, contact customers with updates, and they occur with both fiction and non-fiction titles … now that books, like computers, are connected to the Internet, they’re much more dynamic. Theoretically, the ability to change a book could be used both for good and bad purposes.
Image: Detail of a manuscript Bible leaf (Paris, circa 1350)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Oldest Book

Ian Boyden’s Field of the Sky, a new art installation in the Whitman College Hall of Science, is a work in two parts: a book made from a meteorite and an abstract painting. The painting’s pigments include, among other things (such as cuttlefish), filings created when the book’s pages were cut.
According to the artist:
Field of the Sky presents a small piece of the Campo del Cielo meteorite … an object that has remained more or less unchanged for four-and-a-half billion years, that is until it hit the Earth … Bound, this meteorite has become the oldest book in the world.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Preservation Week

Speaking of preservation, what do chief academic officers think about academic libraries? See “Critical Assets: Academic Libraries, a View from the Administration Building” (Library Journal). (Bottom line: “They like us. They really like us.”)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Completing the Archive

A post over at, “Research dissemination and ‘the archive’,” highlights the disconnect between dissemination and preservation in the digital age. Libraries and archives, which have traditionally managed the scholarly and cultural record, need to address this “archive deficit” by linking preservation with dissemination. In a recent presentation I merged existing book and record life-cycle models into what I call the archival cycle, which I use to show where libraries and archives have been situated in the past and how they can reposition themselves to close the gap between dissemination and preservation.