Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Book: No Longer Static and Something You Can’t Simply Hold

I just finished reading Ken Auletta’s New Yorker article “Publish or Perish.” Among the many interesting things discussed in it, I was most interested in these two statements by publishers:
The iPad … has opened up the possibility that we are no longer dealing with a static book. You have tremendous possibilities.

No matter where consumers buy books, their belief that electronic media should cost less—that something you can’t hold simply isn’t worth as much money—will exert a powerful force.
I finished the print article in the Suzzallo Library Reading Room (pictured above). Following page 37, there is a two-page ad that is part of the multimillion-dollar “Power of Print” advertising campaign. It asserts: “We surf the Internet. We swim in magazine. The Internet is exhilarating. Magazines are enveloping.” A lot more text follows, but you get the idea. I happened to be reading this in print because I was on a plane this morning.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Fragment and Some Other Things

Here is another fragment, this one photographic, that won’t make it into a presentation I’m working on:

It is a photograph taken looking out from our Napoleon Room. (Part of the presentation is about why we have a Napoleon Room.)

Speaking of photography: Via CNN, linking the past with the present through photographs; and via Wikipedia, the first photograph of a human.

Speaking of Wikipedia, there is an interesting article in the Chronicle about using the crowdsourced encyclopedia to document public art: “Scholars Use Wikipedia to Save Public Art From the Dustbin of History.”

Speaking of crowdsouring, the Archivist of the United States, who is blogging at AOTUS: Collector in Chief, posted about “Cultivating Citizen Archivists.”

And speaking of public archives, the Library of Congress is going to archive “ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006!” (See “Twitter Makes It Into the Historical Record.”) Update: This is what a tweet looks like.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Fragment

I recently gave a talk on the history and future of the archive. Here is something that didn’t make it into the presentation, which I’ll deposit here (a part of my personal archive).

When I hear or read something about “the end of the book” (e.g.)—and this is not an infrequent occurrence—a number of questions come to mind.

First, I wonder why apocalyptic language is used. To quote Umberto Eco, “in the history of culture it has never happened that something has simply killed something else. Something has profoundly changed something else” (“Afterword,” in The Future of the Book [University of California Press, 1996], 304). (Eco begins his essay with a reference to Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which a character compares a book to a cathedral and says, “Ceci tuera cela”—“this will kill that,” the book will kill the cathedral.)

Second, what is book? Usually, what is being discussed is the printed codex. But what about manuscript codices or codices of mixed media? What about writing technologies before the codex, such as scrolls and tablets? (I’ve touched on the etymologies of biblos and book elsewhere on this site.) Extent is another issue: In 1877, Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford wrote to a publisher: “The statutes regulating copyright have never defined the meaning of the word 'book' as used repeatedly by the law, nor do they afford any answer to the query as to what or how much is protected or may be covered by the entry of a book.” (This quote appears in a footnote in Carl Ostrowski’s “‘The Choice of Books’: Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the Ideology of Reading, and Literary Collections at the Library of Congress in the 1870s,” Libraries & the Cultural Record 45 [2010]: 83, available via Project Muse.)

Finally, assertions or prophecies about “the end” often fail to explore fully the more interesting question of telos: what are books for?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clock of the Long Now Book

Long Now has published “a record of all of the drawings made to create the first 10,000 Year Clock Prototype.” In addition to publishing these online, Long Now is using print as a preservation strategy:
Long Now hopes that the widespread distribution of these plans will ensure that the knowledge and work that went into building our first Clock prototype is not lost and that this will help the survival of the Clock itself and the long-term thinking it represents.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Post-Apocalyptic Library Science Fiction

Via The New Yorker Book Bench, see what is “quite possibly the finest post-apocalyptic educational series about library science ever produced by Mississippi Public Television.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sustainability Means What?

digitally driven literary scholars, historians, classicists, and other humanities scholars … talked, and talked some more, about sustainability. Jerome McGann, convener of the gathering and a professor of English at the University of Virginia, called it "the elephant in the room." … An arresting idea emerged: Sometimes sustainability means knowing when to let a project die. Technologies are superseded; data moves on and takes new forms.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Continuing Role of the Library As …

Ithaka released another report yesterday: “Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies.” As with the last report, faculty rated their perceptions of the library’s functions as buyer, archive, and gateway (not surprisingly, the process of disintermediation continues, but library resources are preferred).

This time the survey asked about two additional roles: “teaching support” and “research support,” both of which are rated at about the same level as the library’s gateway function. So far, the report concludes, “faculty members across disciplines do not yet value the teaching and research support roles nearly as highly as they do the ‘infrastructural’ roles” (14). It will be interesting to see how perceptions of this role change over time.

The report is covered in the Chronicle (“Scholars Increasingly Embrace Some, but Not All, Digital Media”) and, with more provocative titles, in Inside Higher Ed (“Eroding Library Role?”) and Library Journal (“Faculty Survey Warns of Potential Irrelevance for Academic Libraries, Suggests New Roles”).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sustaining Culture, Digital and More

Stewart Brand’s summary of David Eagleman’s “Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization” are available from the Long Now Blog:
1. “Try not to cough on one another.” …
2.  “Don't lose things.” … [more]
Finally, there is this: “How Green Is My iPad?” (The New York Times). The conclusion:
All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.
Update: Webcast recordings of the symposium are available via OCLC.