Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Pre-Computing History of the Computer

Today AHA Today points to online exhibits from the Computer History Museum. The image below, showing Pascal’s Pascaline and Leibniz’s Stepped Drum, is from Visible Storage: Samples from the Collection: “These samples from the Computer History Museum's large collection span the history of computing from pre-computing to supercomputing.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Archaeology of Academia

From the editors of Beneath the Ivory Tower: The Archaeology of Academia (Inside Higher Ed):
Conducting archaeological investigations on a college or university campus is important for a number of reasons. All of these relate to making the university’s past relevant both to its ongoing role as an institution as well as to its students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the larger university community. …

All schools, colleges, and universities have a land base. Under those campuses may be preserved evidence of prehistoric, nonacademic, or early academic life. These are natural laboratories for the study of local and institutional histories and should be used for education and research … [these] stories need to be told and archaeology can tell stories that were never recorded in campus newspapers and official histories.
Image: Pompey's Pillar, Alexandria, Flickr Commons.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Keeping Track of Where Information Is Located

From The Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog: Students Retain Information in Print-Like Formats Better”:
The report, "To Scroll or Not to Scroll: Scrolling, Working Memory Capacity, and Comprehending Complex Texts," described how two groups, of 20 students each, wrote essays after reading materials in either in print-like or scrolling formats. Those given the scrolling versions to read had poorer comprehension of the material.
If memory itself is the problem, then there is this: “Can't get rid of your memories? Call Death Bear” (LA Times).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Research Libraries at Risk?

OCLC Research has released a new report, “Research Libraries, Risk and Systemic Change.” Here are the risk clusters it identifies (9):

The report suggests two main strategies for mitigation: shared infrastructure and restructured workflows. While these strategies are emerging, the report concludes with this:
Most institutions continue to direct resources in traditional ways towards operations that are marginal to institutional and national research priorities, towards processes and services that are ignored or undervalued by their clients and towards staff activities that are driven more by legacy professional concerns than user needs. To properly respond to the risks identified here, research libraries need to come together around an action agenda aimed at improvement of the research enterprise they serve. Incremental revision of traditional operational models will only hasten the movement of important new research services to other entities within the academy, leaving the library with only the vestigial values of its book-determined legacy. It will look the same but everything will have changed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mapping Time

I’m fascinated by the relationship between texts and time, so it was a thrill to receive recently a copy of Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010), in which Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton provide “a short account of how modern forms of chronological representation emerged and how they embedded themselves in the modern imagination” (23). Although the timeline did not appear until modernity, “to clearly communicate the uniformity, directionality, and irreversibility of historical time” (19), this form of temporal representation is now “one of the central organizing structures of the contemporary user interface” (246).


Monday, March 22, 2010

Texts, Contexts, and Temporality

From Time

The article “Texts Without Context” (New York Times) reviews a number of books that “share a concern with how digital media are reshaping our political and social landscape, molding art and entertainment, even affecting the methodology of scholarship and research.” Themes of fragmentation—epistemological, communicational, and cultural—dominate. Near the end, the article quotes William Gibson, who claims that, “The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital.” To which Jaron Lanier responds: “culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.” Are these examples of what the article calls Manichaean arguments?

The issue of cultural fragmentation reminded me of Manuel Castells’s “Museums in the Information Era: Cultural Connectors of Time and Space,” in which he argued that cultural heritage institutions such as museums can be “cultural connectors for a society which no longer knows how to communicate.” The preservation of temporality is of particular significance:

Museums are repositories of temporality. They constitute an accumulated historical tradition or a projection into the future. They are thus an archive of human time, lived or to be lived, an archive of the future. Re-establishing temporalities in a long-term perspective is fundamental to a society in which communication, technological systems and social structures converge to destroy time by suppressing or compressing it, or arbitrarily altering time sequences.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Exemplary Emulation

Accompanying the The New York Times article “Fending Off Digital Decay, Bit by Bit,” is a video showing an emulated environment in which researchers can explore one of Salmon Rushdie’s earliest computers.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Fourth R

Project Information Literacy, which is studying what it’s like to be a student in the digital age, has posted a number of reports and videos (such as the one below, related to “presearch”) at its site. The project directors argue that a fourth R—research—should be added to education’s traditional three.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Better Alexandria

In “Toward a New Alexandria: Imagining the Future of Libraries” (The New Republic), Lisbet Rausing writes:
Imagine a new Library of Alexandria. Imagine an archive that contains all the natural and social sciences of the West—our source-critical, referenced, peer-reviewed data—as well as the cultural and literary heritage of the world's civilizations, and many of the world’s most significant archives and specialist collections. Imagine that this library is electronic and in the public domain: sustainable, stable, linked, and searchable through universal semantic catalogue standards. Imagine that it has open source-ware, allowing legacy digital resources and new digital knowledge to be integrated in real time. Imagine that its Second Web capabilities allowed universal researches of the bibliome.  

Well, why not imagine this library?
Read and dream on. From the concluding section:
The obstacles to a true and electronic Reformation are real, but perhaps also caused by the continuation of “business as usual,” perhaps ultimately founded in the mental difficult [sic] that older folk have imaginatively re-drawing work practices, as well as organizational and legal “silos.” Remember Henry Ford’s comment: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse carriage.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Libraries and Obituaries

From Whitman

In her review of Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, Pagan Kennedy links librarians and obituary writers:
They are people who struggle to bring the dead back to life. Johnson’s characters desperately care about half-forgotten brawlers, freedom fighters and canine celebrities. They are the guardians of all there is to know. It doesn’t matter whether they carry on their efforts in analog or digital format. For they are waging the holy battle to resurrect the entire world, over and over again, in its entirety—keeping every last tidbit safe and acid free.
This reminded me of something from John Milton’s Areopagitica:
books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon's teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Preservation Brought to You by …

In “Magazines Team Up to Tout 'Power of Print',” the Wall Street Journal reports on a multimillion-dollar campaign to boost magazine print advertising:
The ads press the case that magazines remain an effective advertising medium in the age of the Internet because of the depth and lasting quality of print, compared with the ephemeral nature of much of the Web's content.

"The Internet is fleeting. Magazines are immersive," says one ad.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Digital Documentation and Disappearance

Via AHA Today, two interesting pieces about the digital record:

The first, about the Center for History and New Media, which aims to build participatory “archives of the future,” argues that “collecting history online floats in a world between the uneditable, didactic Web 1.0 and the completely open and editable Web 2.0, leaving us with a place we are calling, ‘Web 1.5.’” (Note, however, that collection is not preservation.)

The second, “Digital Disappearance,” discusses a range of issues related to “unpublishing” and the impermanence of the things we access online.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From Institutional Repository to Personal Workspace

The University of Rochester has transformed its IR into an IR+, “a virtual workspace for academics,” which offers a suite of online tools to support the creation, presentation, and preservation of digital materials.  

In other IR news, JISC has created a guide that:
contains information on a broad range of topics running from the initial idea of a digital repository and the planning process, via detailed sections on repository set up and promotion, through to the maintenance and ongoing management of the repository. The main focus is on institutional repositories and the kit reflects current repository community best practice.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sustainable Economics for Digital Preservation

The final report from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, “Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-term Access to Digital Information,” is available online.

From the executive summary:
Economic analysis of digital preservation of these materials [of long-term public interest] reveals structural challenges that affect all digital preservation strategies: (1) long time horizons, (2) diffused stakeholders, (3) misaligned or weak incentives, and (4) lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities among stakeholders. These risks, once identified, can be anticipated and provided for throughout the digital lifecycle. Major findings can be summarized as three imperatives for sustainable digital preservation (1).
The three imperatives are:

  1. Articulate a compelling value proposition (“make the case for use”).
  2. Provide clear incentives to preserve in the public interest.
  3. Define roles and responsibilities among stakeholders to ensure an ongoing and efficient flow of resources to preservation throughout the digital lifecycle.