Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Epicentral, Emblematic, and Exciting

The college library, whether ornate or modern, digital or dusty, is in many ways the epicenter of the college experience — at least for some students. It is at once a shining emblem of vast, acquirable knowledge, a place for deep discussions and meetings of the mind, and of course, a big building full of books, which, as far as we’re concerned, is exciting enough. Colleges and universities are understandably quite proud of their libraries, which can be a selling point for prospective students and donating alumni alike, and they often become the most well-designed and beautifully adorned buildings on campus. To that end, and perhaps to inspire your studies a bit, we’ve collected a few of the most beautiful college and university libraries in the world, from Portugal to France to Boston.
Included are two libraries I've spent some time in, the Bodleian and Suzzallo libraries (the latter of which is pictured above).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Entrepreneurial Library Space

Over at the Ubiquitous Librarian, Brian Matthews considers an “entrepreneurial model” for study space. In the comments section, I highlight a collaborative work space that I find intriguing. The challenge is to incorporate ideas from non-library spaces into the unique or  “uncommon” learning spaces that libraries provide. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don’t Forget the Books

From “We're Still in Love With Books” (The Chronicle):
Contrary to many futuristic projections—even from bibliophiles who, as a group, enjoy melancholy reveries—the recent technological revolution has only deepened the affection that many scholars have for books and libraries, and highlighted the need for the preservation, study, and cherishing of both.
Students at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John held a protest at the campus Tuesday about a lack of quiet study space … the new $25 million Hans W. Klohn Commons is more like a computer lab and café than a library, with students clustered around tables chatting and working in groups. It also comes up short on basics, such as desk space, and even books.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Library Shenanigans

A colleague sent me an article about singing in the library, and it reminded me of an earlier post here. It also reminded me of this:

For more about the prank collective Improv Everywhere that staged this, see this TED talk:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Library as a Site of Inspiration

Perhaps because of my fondness for Borges, I like thinking of the library as a site of inspiration. Today, a professor’s students installed site-specific sculptures in our library. Here is one called “Through the Looking Glass”:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another Step Toward Universal Search: Google’s Cultural Institute

From “Quietly, Google Puts History Online” (The Times):
The digitization of the [Dead Sea Scrolls] was done by Google under a new initiative aimed at demonstrating that the Internet giant’s understanding of culture extends beyond the corporate kind. The Google Cultural Institute plans to make artifacts like the scrolls — from museums, archives, universities and other collections around the world — accessible to any Internet user.
See how this initiative fits within Google’s vision of search: “The Evolution of Search” (YouTube).

Next, they need to figure out how to introduce humor into the discovery process. See “Why Our Brains Make Us Laugh” (The Boston Globe):
our brains make sense of our daily lives via a never ending series of assumptions, based on sparse, incomplete information. All these best guesses simplify our world, give us critical insights into the minds of others, and streamline our decisions. But mistakes are inevitable, and even a small faulty assumption can open the door to bigger and costlier mistakes. …
Mirth is agnostic of the content, because it’s just the reward for the discovery of a false assumption.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Bookless Vision

From “The Myth of the Bookless Library” (Inside Higher Ed):
Every now and then, someone who doesn’t do research and hasn’t been following issues relating to intellectual property, digital rights management, or academic publishing (let alone scholar's preferences) argues that we need to do something radical to get over our fetish for outdated technology, suggesting that we burn books or ban them. These visionaries assume that everything that matters is digital and free, so why bother keeping paper copies? …
In fact, going bookless is not particularly popular. Books are strongly and positively identified with libraries, and libraries that ditch them get into trouble with the communities they serve, even when they have good reasons for reducing the number of books sitting on shelves. But there's no denying that academic libraries now spend far more of their budgets renting temporary access to knowledge controlled by a few big corporations than they do on buying and cataloging paper things. …
No matter how innovative the bookless library sounds, this isn't a situation we planned. If the academic library of the future is bookless, it won’t be because of vision. It will be because of the lack of it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Uniquely Held Materials in Public Libraries

[a] large proportion of materials (nearly 90 percent) ... are held by five or fewer of the 25 institutions. In contrast, less than 1 percent of the publications are held by all twenty-five institutions, and only 4 percent are held by more than ten. These results suggest that the individual institutional collections that make up the collective collection are, at least at the publication level, characterized by a considerable degree of uniqueness vis-à-vis their peer collections. In other words, each institutional collection supplies a significant contribution to the scope and depth of the overall collective collection. In contrast, the core set of materials that are held by all, or at least most, of the institutions is comparatively small.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Can Be Learned from Five Million Books

Here is a entertaining example of what I wrote about in my last post:


Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Archive: At the Beginning of the Creative Process

Tony Schwartz, over at the HBR Blog Network, outlines the stages of creative thinking. At the beginning of the process is saturation:
Once the problem or creative challenge has been defined, the next stage of creativity is a left hemisphere activity that paradoxically requires absorbing one's self in what's already known. Any creative breakthrough inevitably rests on the shoulders of all that came before it.
And inspiration, on which creativity depends (see Why Inspiration Matters,” also available at the HBR Blog Network), depends on the availability of and access to an archive of knowledge.

I recently published an essay in which I introduced the Archival Cycle. This model can be used to represent the past, present, and future situation of librarian and arhcives within the iterative lifecyle of information—the process of creation, distribution, reception, storage, and preservation that supports the discovery, creatoin, and sharing of knowledgge. We recently created a sign for our library that represents this cycle of use:

But this cycle of use depends on the Archival Cycle, which reperesents the infrastructure that faciliatates inspiration and innovation.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Institutional Context

Over at hangingtogether.org, there is a summary of a talk given by Sarah Pritchard at the last RMBS conference. Her talk was about the importance of aligning an academic library with its parent institution’s mission. (Not the “window dressing” bits but the core parts about student learning and faculty research.) 

ACRL’s new Standards for Libraries in Higher Education do a nice job of helping libraries strategically plan within their institutional contexts and demonstrate their contributions to institutional effectiveness.

For a good summary of the challenges facing higher education in general, see Anthony Grafton’s Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?” (The New York Review of Books), Here is a bit from his discussion of Academically Adrift:
those majoring in liberal arts fields—humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics—outperformed those studying business, communications, and other new, practical majors on the CLA. And at a time when libraries and classrooms across the country are being reconfigured to promote trendy forms of collaborative learning, students who spent the most time studying on their own outperformed those who worked mostly with others.
Update: Sarah Pritchard's talk is now available online.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Our Libraries Reveal

I recenlty published an essay, Defending My Library” (The Curator), in which I presented my apologia for bothering to keep a personal library (and pay for the expense of moving it).

In this week’s New Yorker (“Shelf Life: Packing up My Father-in-Law’s Library”), James Wood considers the value of another’s personal library. While he acknowledges that “in any private library the totality of books is meaningful,” he wonders if “a private library [isn’t] simply a universal legacy pretending to be an individual one”:
The books somehow made [my father-in-law] smaller, not larger, as if they were whispering, “What a little thing a single human life is, with all its busy, ephemeral, pointless projects.” All ruins say this, yet we strangely persist in pretending that books are not ruins, not broken columns.
Perhaps our abandoned libraries are not merely ruins because they continue to hold the promise of speaking, if no longer to us then for and beyond us.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Books on the Side?

The author of The Atlas of New Librarianship asks, are books (or collections) at the center?:

Expeditions: Books on the Side from R. David Lankes on Vimeo.

According to a Project Information Literacy study, it would seem that books are on the side. From “Booting Down” (Inside Higher Ed):
a University of Washington study, “Balancing Act: How College Students Manage Technology While in the Library during Crunch Time … reveals that students are taking to the library as a place of refuge—and their laptops and cell phones aren’t necessarily the pesky distractions some assume them to be … students are using the library less for its traditional resources—books, journals, etc.—and more as a place to get away from the hectic world around them.
While most of us would agree that library collections are for something and that use is a central function of a library, can we really say that collections are not—from an investment and infrastructural point of view, from the perspective of the library as a work of and for time—at the center of libraries?

I’ve published a defense of my library collection here (The Curator).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where Is the Electric Eraser?

Check out “Checking Out” (The Times): “On this page are images of a few items that I have pulled from the trash cans of various libraries … their passing marks an important shift in the role and functions of the library.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Symbolic Capital of the Library

Related to a point made in my last post and to a post from earlier this year, a student protesting the removel of books from the University of Denver Penrose Library notes that losing library books was "just a small symbol of a broader cultural trend. The scribbles and sounds we interpret as 'library' would have begun to lose all meaning" (see "College students rally to save what they see as a 'real' library"). 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Plenty on Place

Librarians advised attendees to pay close attention to how undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members really use library resources, beginning with physical study space. Use that information "to realign the library to be a more obvious partner" in research and learning, said Susan Gibbons, now the university librarian at Yale University. 
The most recent issue of Library Trends is titled Library Design: From Past to Present.” From the introduction: 
The era of the hybrid library has arrived. The marriage of the traditional library to the “library without walls” is progressing happily, it seems ... Throughout history, library buildings have adapted to society’s beliefs, precepts, and aspirations. This adaptability has also been evident in the digital age.
From the first article, The Emergence and Challenge of the Modern Library Building: Ideal Types, Model Libraries, and Guidelines, from the Enlightenment to the Experience Economy, through the last, The Dark Side of Library Architecture: The Persistence of Dysfunctional Designs” (don’t miss the unfortunate sightline on page 246), this is great collection on the topic.

Finally (for now), from a fascinating study in the the latest issue of College & Reserach Libraries, Serving Higher Education’s Highest Goals: Assessment of the Academic Library as Place: 
This empirical study affirmed our hypothesis that spaces deemed as “sacred” or “sanctified” produce affective benefits for people that extend beyond attitudes and into the realm of behavior (projected library use). Circulation statistics do not measure these benefits; students may not actually use the books on the shelves, but they “sanctify” the books—being around the books makes them feel more scholarly and connected to the institution’s educational mission. ... While students clearly value computers in libraries, paradoxically they do not like tech-heavy–looking spaces; students want new technologies presented in traditional academic surroundings.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Time Exists and Other Insights about Time

Via the Long Now Blog, five of the “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time” (Discover Magazine):

  1. “Time exists … Time organizes the universe into an ordered series of moments.”
  2. “The past and future are equally real … every event in the past and future is implicit in the current moment.”
  3. “Everyone experiences time differently.”
  4. You live in the past.”
  5. “Your memory isn’t as good as you think. When you remember an event in the past, your brain uses a very similar technique to imagining the future.” 
In addition, it seems “we’re all a little ‘millennial’ now.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Libraries and Limits

From the “Other Socrates(Barnes & Noble Review), which marks the centennial of the Loeb Classical Library:
Here, then, is 1,400 years of human culture, all the texts that survive from one of the greatest civilizations human beings have ever built -- and it can all fit in a bookcase or two. To capture all the fugitive texts of the ancient world, some of which survived the Dark Ages in just a single moldering copy in some monastic library, and turn them into affordable, clear, sturdy, accurate books, is one of the greatest accomplishments of modern scholarship …
Pursuing the figure of Socrates through the Loeb Classical Library leads, then, to troubling conclusions … the three portraits are a reminder that we have no direct access to the real Socrates, whoever he was. We have only interpretations and texts, which both reveal and conceal -- just as ancient Athens has exercised such enormous sway on the imagination of the world based solely on the texts and images it left behind. Even so, the Loebs' promise of completeness is spurious -- after all, the Library can only give us what survives from 2,500 years ago, which is a tiny fraction of what the Greeks and Romans wrote. (We have eleven plays by Aristophanes, but we know he wrote forty.) The image of the Loebs on the bookshelf is an emblem of total knowledge, yet the totality is an illusion …

But the New York Public Library appears to have a complete record of the plan.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Importance of Digital Humanities

Digital humanities cultivates scholarly collaboration as well as individual exploration, technological innovation alongside methodological rigor. It redefines the nature of academic careers while dealing with longstanding disciplinary conversations. And it engages in complex, theoretical heavy lifting while building projects that are often based on the Internet, available to the public, and indisputably useful. … 
Like the founders and builders of museums, libraries, concert halls, and critical editions in the last century, digital humanists are creating the new infrastructure of our history and culture and changing the nature of education and scholarship. 
For a framework and rationale for integrating digital humanities and archives, see Matthew Kirschenbaum’s “Digital Humanities Archive Fever.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

All-Too-Common Commons

From “Just don’t call it a Commons” (The Ubiquitous Librarian):
we’re not building a commons. The Library is a library; it’s not a commons. A commons is what they have over in the student resources building. The library is something beyond that. It has value-added services. Anyone on campus can build a commons, there is no real distinction there programmatically—but we’re the University Library. No one else can claim that and so through this process we are shaping and expanding what exactly the University Library is and should be. ...
Beyond services and spaces, we need to offer experiences not found elsewhere on campus. … We don’t want to be just another computer lab on campus. We don’t just want to be another place to study, but rather, a place that enhances the educational process like nowhere else.
Image: The dinning commons visible from my office in the library.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trends in Academic Libraries

Highlights from ALA’s Trends in Academic Libraries, 1998-2008 (July 2011):

  • Circulation of collections declined 20.9% (“The decrease in reported circulation figures must be considered in relation to the significant growth in digital and electronic collections, specifically E‐Books, serial subscriptions in electronic format, and electronic reference sources and aggregation services” [14].)
  • Interlibrary loans grew, to other libraries 54% and from other libraries 62.9%
  • Collection grow: books, serial backfiles, and other paper materials, 20.2%; ebooks, 898.3% (2002-2008); microform units, 9.2%; serial subscriptions, 244.6%; audiovisual materials, 19.6%; electronic reference sources and aggregation services, 92.6%
  • Total expenditures grew 48.5%
  • Staffing overall decreased 1.6%: but librarians increased 10.1% and other professional staff increased 57.5%; other paid staff decreased 5.8% and student assistants decreased 11.9%
From the conclusion (46):
The analysis for the years 1998‐2008 found that there are more academic libraries with more buildings serving more students with a wider variety of content in new formats. …
The impact of technology and maturation of the Internet as the conduit for information delivery has not reduced the need for library space but, in many respects, has increased that need. The data indicate greater investments in collections and services. Even with increased virtual reference and information services, up 52.4 percent from 1998, use of academic libraries rose during the 1998‐2008 period.
Resource sharing continues to augment academic library collections, increasing 54 percent in 2008 from 1998. …
Expenditures for information resources represented a majority (more than 50 percent) of overall expenditures for degree‐granting levels 4‐years and above. …

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Information and Ideas

According to a USC study, the digital age began in 2002. In that year digital materials surpassed analog materials. Now, almost all of our recorded knowledge is in digital form. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to discover or use. See, e.g., What Students Don’t Know” (Inside Higher Ed).

Moreover, information does not necessarily generate ideas. From “The Elusive Big Idea” (The Times):
In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us. ...
But if information was once grist for ideas, over the last decade it has become competition for them. We are like the farmer who has too much wheat to make flour. We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to.
(The image above is a Google Doodle from last week that honored the birthday of Jorge Luis Borges, whose writing is full of information, ideas, and imagination.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Corkboard at the Laundromat

From “When Data Disappears” (The Times):
With data, intervention needs to happen earlier, ideally at an object’s creation. And tough decisions need to be made, early on, regarding what needs to be saved. We must replace digital preservation with digital curation … [this] allows us to see preservation as active and continuing: managing change to data rather than trying to prevent it, while viewing data as a living resource for the future rather than a relic of the past.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Weeding Goes Wrong

An exception to today's plentiful and widely duplicated print resources is the cache of special collections that many college libraries protect, and that the best teaching libraries use to benefit student learning. … Special collections may become the defining aspects of college libraries, especially as other library resources are delivered electronically and are increasingly the same from one library to the next.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Places for the Process

From “Library Spaces for the Scholarship Process” (EDUCAUSE Review), an interview with UCLA University Librarian Gary Strong:
To me, use of the new spaces is not just about the process of discovery. How can these spaces also be used in the process of sharing scholarship? Our traditional way in libraries has been to buy the finished scholarship, put it on the shelf, and serve it up. I want libraries to be much more involved in the sharing, episodically or snapshot‑wise, of the scholarship that is being created as groups get together in these new library spaces.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Catching Up

I’ve been busy transitioning into a new position, so here is a backlog of posts. The main branch of the New York Public Library was dedicated 100 years ago. An article in The Atlantic, “What Big Media Can Learn From the New York Public Library,” lauds an “old and august” institution that is flourishing in the digital age: 
Everywhere you look within the New York Public Library, it's clear that the institution has realized that its mission has changed. It's no longer only a place where people take out books and scholars dig through archives. The library has become a social network with physical and digital nodes.
An analysis of 120 years of census data on librarians is available over at the OUPblog. From “Librarians in the U.S. from 1880-2009”: 
Starting from a very small beginning, librarians grew into a large profession after in the mid-20th Century.  Like other professions related to the media: books, newspapers, magazines, recorded music and movies, the internet seems to be having an effect on the field, as it has faced a significant decline since 1990.  That decline seems to have slowed substantially since 2000, as librarians adjust to and find new roles in the internet age and the extensive increase in information that it has brought about.
The Chronicle reports on how much of the web is archived, an article in the Times focuses on distant reading, and there is a defense of paper books at the Independent.

Finally, there is an article in Time about bookless libraries. From “Is a Bookless Library Still a Library?”:
From a design perspective, some architects also lament the inevitable trend toward booklessness. Steven Holl, architect of Queens Library's new branch, in New York City, says books still provide character and are a nice counterpoint to technology. "Acknowledging the digital and its speed and putting it in relation to the history and physical presence of the books makes it an exciting space," Holl says. "A book represents knowledge, and striking a balance in a library is a good thing."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Internet Archive’s Book Bank

After the Internet Archive digitizes a book from a library in order to provide free public access to people world-wide, these books go back on the shelves of the library. We noticed an increasing number of books from these libraries moving books to “off site repositories” (1 2 3 4) to make space in central buildings for more meeting spaces and work spaces. These repositories have filled quickly and sometimes prompt the de-accessioning of books. ...
As the Internet Archive has digitized collections and placed them on our computer disks, we have found that the digital versions have more and more in common with physical versions. The computer hard disks, while holding digital data, are still physical objects. As such we archive them as they retire after their 3-5 year lifetime. Similarly, we also archive microfilm, which was a previous generation’s access format. So hard drives are just another physical format that stores information. This connection showed us that physical archiving is still an important function in a digital era. ...
Internet Archive is building a physical archive for the long term preservation of one copy of every book, record, and movie we are able to attract or acquire.  Because we expect day-to-day access to these materials to occur through digital means, the our physical archive is designed for long-term preservation of materials with only occasional, collection-scale retrieval. Because of this, we can create optimized environments for physical preservation and organizational structures that facilitate appropriate access. A seed bank might be conceptually closest to what we have in mind: storing important objects in safe ways to be used for redundancy, authority, and in case of catastrophe.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Gift of Time to Think Beyond

Today we have immediate access to more recorded information than ever before in history. However, assuming that we desire knowledge to be housed in the human brain as well as inside technological gadgets and data store clouds, it must always be remembered that accessing information and the acquisition of knowledge are two different phenomena. Information access does not equal knowledge gained. Thanks to our information technology, the former is becoming relatively easy, while the latter continues to be difficult. It continues to take time. The power of reading, whether of print or online text, continues to lie in this power of time — time to digest words, time to read between the lines, time to reflect on ideas, and time to think beyond one’s self, one’s place, and one’s time in the pursuit of knowledge.

Monday, June 6, 2011

E-Books and Some Limits of Digital Materiality

From “5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet” (Wired), five things about e-books that might give you pause about saying good riddance to the printed page”:

  1. An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.
  2. You can’t keep your books all in one place.
  3. Notes in the margins help you think.
  4. E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.
  5. E-books can’t be used for interior design.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Marginal Marginalia

Below, pulled from the general collection last week, is one of Myron Eells’s reactions within a copy of J. P. MacLean’s A Manual of the Antiquity of Man (Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1877). (There are more substantial interactions with the text elsewhere.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

“The Sagacity to Find Serendipity”

From “Serendipity in the Archive” (The Chronicle): 
In the humanities, a prime site for serendipitous discovery is an archive. This semester, I have introduced my graduate students in English to the concept of serendipity in archival research. ... 
My students now understand that most rare archival material, and materials in private collections, will never be scanned and digitized. And even if much of this material is digitized, its virtual presence is no substitute for the tactile and sensory experience of being in an archive.
Most important, however, the students got a taste of the thrill of discovery that one can experience only in an archive, where good sleuthing and the expert guidance of a willing archivist fosters serendipity. Archival researchers, those whom Richard Altick named "scholar adventurers," still labor in the rarified spaces where only pencils and bare laptops—their carrying bags shuttered in lockers outside—are allowed. Here, acid-free boxes suddenly emerge from closed stacks at the flourish of a call sheet, and first editions recline on velvet book cradles.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Site but Out of Sight

Inside Higher Ed has an article, “A Hole Lot of Books,” about the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago. Although the new facility has no bookshelves, the university librarian stresses the importance of having books onsite: 
Reality shows that you cannot do your research well having materials off-site ... The cost of what you would give up in terms of research, studying, and teaching outweighs the cost of the building.
And the university “thoroughly considered” which works would be out of sight: 
They include serial works that have already been digitized, special collections that were not able to be browsed in the first place, and large collections of state documents. Plus, there will still be more than 4 million books in the Regenstein library to be browsed in stacks ... the combination of extensive browsable stacks with high-density, on-site storage as an ideal solution.
In a post at the Wired Underwire blog, “Robots Retrieve Books in University of Chicago’s New, Futuristic Library,” the university librarian says that “research at the university has shown that the more people look to digital resources, the more they consult physical materials as well.”

Here is how the library’s storage and retrieval system works:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Place Matters

An article in The Chronicle, “Learning Today: the Lasting Value of Place,” identifies the following benefits of place-based education:

  • Peer-learning environments (including those outside the classroom)
  • Exposure to diversity
  • Research opportunities (From laboratories to historical archives, place-based higher-education environments feature significant research infrastructures that give students opportunities to apply and enrich their classroom learning.”)
  • Campus and community engagement
  • Chance encounters (“that come with membership in a diverse intellectual community”)
For an interesting example of place-based education, see “Long Reads” (Inside Higher Ed): “To get students more engaged in texts, some professors hold marathon sessions where students read the books out loud.”

And of course the digital dimension shouldn’t be forgotten. See, for example, “The Humanities, Done Digitally”: “Scholarly work across the humanities, as in all academic fields, is increasingly being done digitally.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Revelatory Power of Books

At the Northwest Archivists annual meeting last week, I gave a presentation called “The Apocalypse of the Book.” Here is the description submitted to the program committee:
We have all heard about the end of the book. As books migrate en masse into digital repositories or offsite depositories, it is important to remember that new revelations—apocalypses—can be found in old books, which are both records and artifacts. With a focus on teaching and research, this presentation will highlight some of the ends for which archival books can be used.
Here are the slides that accompanied the talk:

At the other Penrose Library (the one I work at is named after a younger cousin), there is “No Room for Books.” According to Inside Higher Ed, the University of Denver plans “to permanently move four-fifths of the Penrose Library’s holdings to an off-campus storage facility.” Rather than housing “legacy collections” on site, the library will maintain a “teaching collection.”

In the article’s comments section, one student writes:
The University of Denver's library has some incredibly beautiful, incredibly old, incredibly useful books--regardless of whether they've been checked out or not. The ambiance of a library is supposed to be stacks and stacks of books that allow students to get lost in subjects outside of their own area of study. No one will be drawn to the library without books. We will study elsewhere. We already have places to "hang out". Leave our books in peace.

Monday, April 18, 2011

About the So-Called Information Age

Robert Darnton’s 5 Myths About the ‘Information Age’” (The Chronicle):

  1. "The book is dead." 
  2. "We have entered the information age."
  3. "All information is now available online."
  4. "Libraries are obsolete." [Another myth is challenged here: “Libraries never were warehouses of books.”]
  5. "The future is digital."

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Rest of the Records

Kenneth Price of the Walt Whitman Archive talks about his discovery of Whitman documents in the national archives:

These types of archival discoveries can be both exciting and enlightening. A few years ago I found a cache of business correspondence in Princeton from the writer Charles Williams, which revealed much about his publishing and literary careers. (I presented a paper and published a chapter on the material.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Between the Past and the Apocalypse

From Behind the Wizard’s Wand: Making the Harry Potter Films” (The Times), a review of “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” (which I saw last November in Seattle)
The Harry Potter films and books are suffused with a reverence for the past. They almost seem to be about the past. And in the exhibition, we feel its weight. ...
Ms. Rowling looks forward and backward simultaneously. The heroic figures are the hybrids, the orphaned, the outcast, the eccentrics, the true inheritors of a great and long tradition. The villains are the pure-blooded absolutists who threaten to overturn it all.
This places the Potter tales right at the center of the 20th-century fantasy tradition that grew out of the work of two British writers around World War II: [C. S.] Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. It also gives the series an almost touching nostalgia for a world about to be destroyed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Two Questions

First (again): What is a library? See Barbara Fister’s “What Is a Library? An Attempt at Common Sense” (Library Journal).

Second: What has Blondie to do with Gutenberg? See this:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Maintaining the Many Roles of Academic Libraries

The Chronicle reports on a new Ithaka survey, “Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2010: Insights from U.S. Library Directors,” which was previewed at last week’s ACRL conference. 

Key findings of the report include:

  • “Library directors at all types of institutions see supporting teaching and learning as one of their primary missions ...
  • “Library directors believe that it is strategically important that their libraries be seen by users as the principal starting point in the discovery process ...
  • “The librarys role as a buyer of materials remains of primary importance ...
The archive role remains important, too (see pages 12-15).

I was on a panel at ACRL that focused on primary source literacy and included a discussion of using an archives as a learning laboratory. Slides from my part of the presentation are below.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Visualization of Virtual Libraries

In “Plotting a Library,” The Chronicle looks at Places & Spaces: Mapping Science: “a multidisciplinary physical and online art project, running since 2005, that seeks to create a complete picture of ‘human activity and scientific progress on a global scale.’” This year’s theme is the digital library.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Library Time

So a clock in our library recently went missing. We may have found an explanation:

Speaking of our library, the current issue of our alumni magazine includes a photo feature called “24 Hours at the Penrose Library.” (Also in this issue is a nice piece by book artist Mare Blocker, who talks about how going to a special collections library “changed the pathway” of her life.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pileup and Preservation

An op-ed piece in The New York Times, “The Digital Pileup,” recommends a digital conservation effort. An article in D-Lib Magazine, “Discovering the Information Needs of Humanists When Planning an Institutional Repository,” highlights solutions that an institutional repository can offer. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waiting for Google

The latest iteration of the Google Books Settlement has been rejected. See the ruling and possible results

Update: HathiTrust responds

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Library Facilities

[The Library Learning Terrace] won’t have any books or computers, but it will provide wireless internet access and electrical outlets for laptops and mobile devices; flexible seating options to allow up to 75 students to work individually or collaboratively; and a space for tutors, faculty consultations, and study groups. It will also include an outdoor space for use in good weather. 
See also “From Modernist to Modern,” (Inside Higher Ed): 
At one well-attended presentation [at the Society for College and University Planning's North Atlantic regional meeting], officials from Lafayette College and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth discussed their efforts to transform massive (and in many ways outdated) Modernist libraries at the heart of their campuses into modern, technologically advanced, sustainable centers for learning.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Archival Turn

Recent scholarly interest in archives—“not only as sites for research or as a theoretical concept, but also as fascinating objects of study themselves”—is part of a larger movement within the humanities. See “From the Desk of Roland Barthes” (West 86th)
The last decade or so has seen what we might call a “technical turn” in the humanities. Inspired largely by science studies, humanists have started to think seriously about the technics of knowledge, its material conditions, infrastructures, and mediations. ... 
These days ... stuff is all over the place. ... 
Knowledge emerges out of arrangements and rearrangements of paper. Formats and protocols matter. Matter matters.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Compulsory Lie of Clock Time

Ready to save some time? See “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (The New York Times).

As for keeping time, catch a glimpse of what goes on in the French National Library's Tower of the Times in “A Memory of Webs Past” (IEEE Spectrum).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brains in Libraries

John Medina, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, was on our campus this week speaking to a number of groups about brain science and education. The challenge, he says, is that we know very little about how the brain works. What we do know is that the brain is suited for sovling problems in an outdoor setting while in motion: “If you want to design a setting that is the exact opposite of how the brain is designed to work,” he said, “you’d design a classroom.”

A number of Medina’s brain rules are releveant for thinking about the library as place. Consider rule number 4: “We don’t pay attention to boring things”: “What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Culture matters too. ...”

Or consider rule number 9: Stimulate more of the senses”: “Those in multisensory environments always do better than those in unisensory environments.”

Or rule number 12: “We are powerful and natural explorers”: “The desire to explore never leaves us despite the classrooms and cubicles we are stuffed into.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Standards for Academic Libraries

An ACRL Task Force is updating the 2004 Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. A draft is available for review and feedback.

Missing from the nine principles—Institutional Effectiveness, Professional Values, Educational Role, Discovery, Collections, Space, Management/Administration, Personnel, External Relations (it is not clear if there is a logical order here)—is preservation. Here is the feedback I posted
Preservation is a core role and contribution of libraries. Academic libraries in particular do a number of things to ensure long-term access to the scholarly and cultural record. Performance indicators could include (1) collecting and curating local materials in a variety of formats to advance the teaching, research, and administrative needs of an institution and (2) partnering with others (e.g., library consortia) to ensure long-term access to widely replicated content. Outcomes could include (1) unique educational and research opportunities for students and faculty and (2) support of administrative operations and projects.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Checkout Limits

How many times can you check out a book?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Futures and Fantasies

From A&L Daily (26 Feb 2011):
Sure, the future of publishing looks grim. But not entirely. New literary objects are taking root in the digital world... more [Paul Duguid in The Times Literary Supplement] ... more [Virginia Hefferman in The New York Times Magazine].
In the first of these articles, Duguid reviews John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture (about trade publishing), Irving Louis Horowitz's Publishing as a Vocation (about scholarly publishing), and Jacques Bonnet’s The Phantoms on the Bookshelves (about a “bibliomaniac”). Duguid concludes:
Though the form may change, the book chain itself is likely to continue to endure. For ultimately, it is a communication chain, and it is hard to believe our garrulous species will cease trying to communicate. We cannot communicate without a medium, and as new media develop, new authors will push at their edges to experiment in the sort of unplanned possibilities that make the best books. You cannot have art, as William Morris argued, without resistance in the material. Books have provided splendid resistance. But as long as there is a medium, there will always be resistance, and, with luck, art. So while we codex-bound bibliophiles may look with gloom on the future, new cultural forms worthy of the name “book” will develop in the digital world.
A few weeks ago in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik offered a typology for all the “books explaining why books no longer matter”:
call them the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment. One’s hopes rest with the Never-Betters; one’s head with the Ever-Wasers; and one’s heart? Well, twenty or so books in, one’s heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.
In something of a never-better moment, Gopnik suggests that the Hogwarts library would have disappeared if the Harry Potter series had appeared after the launch of Google. But see, below, Hedwig delivering a parchment letter. Below that is the Book of Pythia from the 21st-century version of Battlestar Galactica. (Both from exhibitions in Seattle, November 2010.)

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Broader Vision for a National Digital Library

In “It's Time for a National Digital-Library System” (The Chronicle), David Rothman makes the case for establishing something greater than a repository of digitized books. His “national system” would include: 
A wide variety of books and other items ... everything such as textbooks, carefully vetted scholarly papers, user-contributed photographs, local oral histories, and multimedia job-training materials, as well as other directly practical content ... let the content be both formal and informal, dynamic and static, popular and academic, cultural and directly practical ... 
Accessibility, mixed with realism ... The ability of the public to contribute items ranging from informal neighborhood guides to videos of news events ...
Interactivity and long-term trustworthiness ...
Meanwhile, “Social Media Lure Academics Frustrated by Journals” (The Chronicle): 
Librarians ought to be especially concerned by what's coming out in these discussions of social-media use, Mr. Nicholas said, because "nobody is talking about librarians' being involved at all in this." The academic use of such tools may leave libraries out in the cold, he said. "There's a lot of soul-searching that needs to be done on the part of librarians, because this is their constituency."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Challenging the Limits of the Scholarly Record

The [Learning From YouTube] book was peer-reviewed and comes with an ISBN number, but beyond that it has little in common with the books we're used to seeing. Users get to it by visiting a Web site that consists of about 250 "texteos," pages that combine text and video. The videos, many of them produced by Ms. Juhasz's students, encourage readers to reflect on YouTube by learning inside it. The closest thing to chapters are "YouTours," which guide viewers through related pages. That format also makes the book a test of staying power: Since much of the content isn't owned by Ms. Juhasz, its owners could take it down, leaving holes in her book.

Other People’s Books

There were two recent and interesting articles in The New York Times on the value of association copies: one focuses on marginalia, the other on a part of Jefferson’s “retirement library” that was discovered in the Washington University library.

(I’m looking forward to the appearance of the book that is referenced in the first article and from which this post’s title is taken.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More than a Symbol

During the protests in Egypt, Alexandria youth protected the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The Wall Street Journal reports on the role of the “hypermodern successor to the ancient library of Alexandria” in “A Symbol for the New Egypt.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beneath the Tip of the Iceberg

In 10 new articles, also published in Science, researchers in fields as diverse as paleontology and neuroscience say the lack of data libraries, insufficient support from federal research agencies, and the lack of academic credit for sharing data sets have created a situation in which money is wasted and information that could reveal better cancer treatments or the causes of climate change goes by the wayside.
(The title of this post alludes to this quote in the article: “When I see a figure in a paper, it's just the tip of the iceberg to me. I want to see it in a different form in order to do a different kind of analysis.”)

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Edison Record


Google reminds us that today is Thomas Edison’s birthday, which reminds me of cylinder recordings. From the UCSB Library’s excellent “Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project” website: 
Cylinder recordings, the first commercially produced sound recordings, are a snapshot of musical and popular culture in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. They have long held the fascination of collectors and have presented challenges for playback and preservation by archives and collectors alike.
(The first sound recordings were phonautograms. Wax cylinder recordings had a much longer life.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cleopatra Behind and Beyond the Sources

I recently read Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, which raises interesting questions about the use of sources. (I’m currently teaching a class on primary sources, so I’m especially interested in this facet of the book.) Schiff opens the book with a discussion of the historiographical challenges:
No papyri from Alexandria survive. Almost nothing of the ancient city survives aboveground. We have, perhaps and at most, one written word of Cleopatra’s (6).
And the sources that have survived are problematic: 
Classical authors were indifferent to statistics and occasionally even to logic; their accounts contradict one another and themselves (6).
The book presents an interesting reconstruction of a life (Cleopatra has been given many lives and will be given many more), and before the topic of reception is revisited in the last chapter the consequences for the historical record seem inevitable: Because of her epic failures, Cleopatra was destined to be both erased and mythologized.