Thursday, February 25, 2010

Things to Do in a Library

From our student paper: “Things to Do in a Library.” Suggestions include studying, sleeping, streaking, and reading:
The library is an especially convenient place to get books from because, well, it’s right there. And it’s a place where most people would be going anyway. So in a way, the library promotes the reading of books by making books easily accessible.
To learn more about our wonderful library and students, see this.

Image: Students working in the archives research room this morning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Collaborative Digital Preservation

Members of the MetaArchive Cooperative have published A Guide to Distributed Digital Preservation. From the introductory chapter:
Paradoxically, there is simultaneously far greater potential risk and far greater potential security for digital collections as compared to physical and print collections. Risk, because such collections are as ephemeral as the electrons with which they are written, and can be catastrophically lost because of both technical and human curatorial failures much more easily and quickly than our physical and print-based holdings. Security, because digital collections, unlike physical artifacts, can be indefinitely reproduced and preserved with perfect integrity and fidelity. For all intents and purposes, anything less than perfect continuity of digital collections implies complete corruption and loss of data. Thus we as cultural stewards must create fail-safe methods for protecting and preserving those collections that we deem to be of sufficient cultural and historical importance.

The apparatuses, policies, and procedures for preserving digital information are still emerging and the digital preservation field is still in the early stages of its formation. Cultural memory organizations are experimenting with a variety of approaches to both the technical and organizational frameworks that will enable us to succeed in offering the perfect continuity of digital data that we seek. However, most cultural memory organizations are today underprepared for the technical challenges incurred as they acquire, create, and preserve digital collections. …

The central assertion of the MetaArchive Cooperative, a recently established and growing inter-institutional alliance, is that cultural memory organizations can and should take responsibility for managing their digital collections, and that such institutions can realize many advantages in collaborative long term preservation and access strategies. This assertion is based both on the shared convictions of our members and on the successful results that MetaArchive has achieved in recent years through coordinated activities as a cooperative association (1-2).

First the Dissertation Monograph, Then …

From the MLA President: Beyond the Dissertation Monograph:
Digital media and computational technologies are radically transforming how knowledge is produced, communicated, and evaluated. The digitalization of scholarly work in the humanities brings new modes of research; new formats of presentation; new networks for communication; and new platforms for organizing knowledge, orchestrating argument, and visualizing intellectual exchange. Doctoral students in the modern languages will increasingly create and use digital archives and invent multimodal forms of scholarly presentation and communication in the next decade. Why should the dissertation remain inflexibly wedded to traditional book-culture formats?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Digital Fragility, Rigidity, and Malleability

On digital fragility: There is an interesting article over at American Scientist, “Avoiding a Digital Dark Age,” by the digital research director at the Long Now Foundation. For another explanation of digital fragility, see Abby Smith, “Preservation,” in A Companion to Digital Humanities (Blackwell, 2004, and available online).

On digital rigidity: Kindles don’t seem to work well in academia (“generally, students were more apt to use their Kindles for recreational reading”).

On digital malleability: Macmillan “is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From Inquiry to Preservation

The IMLS has identified a number of 21st-century literacies, and more are suggested over at HASTAC. A discussion of the latter set includes preservation literacy. I rather like that, given the fleeting and fragmentary nature of our digital lives, but this archival function ultimately must be an institutional one.

Some years ago, the European CALIMERA project developed a “research roadmap” model that identified user needs and aligned these with library functions. Here is a slide of this model from a presentation I’m working on:

Although the proliferation of digital tools makes it easier for us to mange this communications cycle on our own, there remain important institutional contexts for supporting and sustaining these activities. Perhaps institutional literacy should be added to the list.

For a brief history of media anxiety, see “Don't Touch That Dial!” over at Slate.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Toward the Primarily Digital Library

In the closing paragraph of her book A is for American (Knopf, 2002), Jill Lepore observes that, “in the transformation from a ‘republic of letters’ to a ‘digital economy,’ we’ve replaced characters with numbers” (196).

So yesterday there appeared (at least) three articles on the future of printed books and physical libraries.

Fortune asked “10 media and tech luminaries” what becomes of the printed word? There is a consensus that printed newspapers are doomed. What happens with printed books is less clear.

More interesting was The New York Times’ question: “Do School Libraries Need [Printed] Books?” Those surveyed said:
James Tracy (headmaster, Cushing Academy): No: “This freed up our beautiful library space to be used in a new way … [teachers and students] need more help from librarians to navigate these [digital] resources, so we have also increased our library staff by 25 percent.”

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (English professor, University of Maryland): Yes.” Not everything is digitized yet, nor soon will be. A screen is less conducive to deep concentration than the stillness of the page. Bits are brittle … Books, precisely because of their (literally) bounded limitations, teach us to ask questions that are no less essential for the databases and deep archives of the online world … knowledge is proximate.”

Liz Gray (library director, Dana Hall School): Yes: “no online collection can replace the unique collection of resources that I have built over a period of years to serve the specific needs of my students, faculty and curriculum … [libraries] keep up with new technologies but we also hold on to the things that work well.”

Nicholas Carr (author, “The Big Switch”): Yes: “emptying our libraries of books is not an example of progress. It’s an example of regress … the book focuses our attention, encouraging the kind of immersion in a story or an argument that promotes deep comprehension and deep learning … the medium matters.”

William Powers (author, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”): Yes: “The idea that books are outdated is based on a common misconception: the belief that new technologies automatically render existing ones obsolete … What are often considered the weaknesses of the old-fashioned book are in some ways its strengths.”
Finally, an article over at Inside Higher Ed, “E-Library Economics,” discussed two new studies that examine the digital transformation of academic libraries:
those academics who exalt the serendipitous pastime of browsing through endless stacks may be overcome by budget-minded administrators as new research brings the relative costs of electronic-oriented libraries versus traditional ones into focus and best practices begin to emerge from experiments in library design.
One commenter, Concerned Scholar, who thinks that librarians do not “want libraries to continue to be archives for future generations,” points out three important issues that must be kept in mind when discussing digital library materials:

  1. Selection, which includes enduring value (beyond current interest).
  2. Ownership, which impacts control of access (immediate and long-term).
  3. Stewardship, which involves the commitment to long-term preservation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Current Scholarly Communication Lifecycle

The Center for Studies in Higher Education, which has been studying “the needs and practices of faculty for in-progress scholarly communication (i.e., forms of communication employed as research is being executed) as well as archival publication,” has issued a report on “faculty values and behaviors throughout the scholarly communication lifecycle” (i).

The report identifies five “key topics” related to the current scholarly communication system that “require real attention.” They are: (1) tenure and promotion practices; (2) peer review; (3) journal and monograph publishing platforms; (4) new publishing platforms (“plus institutional assistance to manage permissions of copyrighted material”); and (5) “Support for managing and preserving new research methods and products” (v).