Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Idea of a New Order

The Council on Library and Information Resources has released a report, The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship, consisting of three essays: the first asks if a research library can be all digital (not yet); the second asks what it costs to keep a printed book (it's more than an electronic one); the third looks at the utility of large-scale text digitization projects for humanities scholarship (quality is an issue).

From the introduction:
All three [essays] show that our collective relocation from an analog to a digital environment for knowledge access, preservation, and reconstitution is under way and inexorable: the future of libraries and universities is digital. … None of these essays, however, can be considered celebratory. A new research library cannot presume to be completely reliant on digital resources. A hybrid model of electronic and print materials will need to be juggled and budgeted for the foreseeable future.
From the conclusion:
Our future, it appears, depends upon our ability to reconceptualize the traditional model of competing, stand-alone institutions into a coherent system that not only preserves the identity and independence of universities and colleges but also brings together many of the functions and support services that undergird scholarship and teaching in ways that are more effective, efficient, and elegant. As the essays in this volume have articulated, planning for and building this new digital commons is both an extraordinary opportunity and a complex challenge.
Related to the topic of the third essay, see “Crunching Words in Great Number” (The Chronicle):
In the June 4 issue, The Chronicle published an article on what Google Books could mean for researchers. We asked some leading scholars to comment on how "big data" will change the humanities. Here are [a couple of] their responses:

Siva Vaidhyanathan: “Since 2004 a collection of universities, including my own, began donating many of millions of dollars of their rare collections of riches to one of the wealthiest companies in the world. This certainly stands as one of the most absurd cases of corporate welfare that universities have ever been involved in. If we can manage to turn the research corpus into some outstanding scholarly work, then we can all give each other high-fives. But if that happens, it will be because of the work and imagination of a brilliant collection of scholars. And we can only imagine what such a group could do with a collection that was actually designed by librarians for scholars.”

Paul Courant: “[S]uccessful computation in the humanities will require that the corpus of texts and other objects of study be developed by scholars and institutions that serve scholars. It will be Stanford, the HathiTrust, and other library-based entities, not Google, that will do the painstaking work of assuring the integrity of the data.”