Friday, January 28, 2011

Marking Personal Time

In “Tales of Lives Richly Lived, but True?,” The New York Times reports on an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum called “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.” (See also the Slide Show.) From the Morgan’s online exhibition page: 
How do we tell the stories of our lives? For centuries, people have turned to diaries to mark time, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or capture memories for the future. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Revisiting the Library in 2050

I recently read a criticism of a book that claimed it would require a book just as large to correct the author’s mistakes. I felt a similar response to “Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050” (The Chronicle), which was initially published with the title “Death by Irony: How Librarians Killed the Academic Library.” Fortunately, someone took the time to respond to it point by point: “The Library's End? A Long Way Off” (The Chronicle).

So, for example, this statement: 
Fully digitized collections of nearly every book in the world rendered physical book collections unnecessary. 
is answered with this: 
In 2050, students, faculty, and researchers get their content from a variety of electronic resources ... But working with rare books, archives, and artifacts remains an essential component of pedagogy and research in many disciplines.
For a view of libraries in 2010, see OCLC’s Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Forging Ahead

Earlier this week the National Archives reported that a researcher had changed a date on a Lincoln manuscript.

Over at his Northwest History blog, Larry Cebula searches Google Books and discusses how this forgery has impacted the historical record.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Think Local

In his presentation How eBooks Impact Libraries” (or, “How Libraries Are Screwed” [part I and part II]), Eli Neiburger points out that since the codex is an outmoded technology so too is the cirucluating collection. Neiburger recalls the original purpose of libraries, which was not to subsidize access to commercial content for a community but rather to store and organize the content of a community. Libraries have a future if they return to a focus on preserving and providing access to what is most important to a local community—if they become places for unique content and experiences.

The image above is from part II: “Libraries were created to protect and ensure access to things like this for the communities that produced them, not to subsidize access to the hottest new clay tablets from Babylon. It’s these unique things that don’t exist anywhere else and that matter more to our own community than anyone else that have the future for libraries.”

Friday, January 14, 2011


In a New Yorker profile, Julian Assange describes WikiLeaks as “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis.” According to the article, WikiLeaks “receives about thirty submissions a day, and typically posts the ones it deems credible in their raw, unedited state, with commentary alongside.” Assange says: 
I want to set up a new standard: “scientific journalism.” If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required, by all the good biological journals, to submit the data that has informed your research—the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it. So this is something that needs to be done for journalism as well. There is an immediate power imbalance, in that readers are unable to verify what they are being told, and that leads to abuse.
WikiLeaks sources (cables?), however, are “scrubbed” “to insure that no digital traces embedded in them can identify their source.” This raises interesting questions about authenticity, which is fundamentally a matter of trust—trust in the people, processes, and institutions that transmit a source. For more on the topic of trust and the role of institutions, see section 2.3 of the digital forensics report I posted about last month.

Update: More on WikiLeaks, from “Dealing With Assange and the Secrets He Spilled” (The New York Times): 
I think the impact of WikiLeaks on the culture has probably been overblown. Long before WikiLeaks was born, the Internet transformed the landscape of journalism, creating a wide-open and global market with easier access to audiences and sources, a quicker metabolism, a new infrastructure for sharing and vetting information and a diminished respect for notions of privacy and secrecy. Assange has claimed credit on several occasions for creating something he calls “scientific journalism,” meaning that readers are given the raw material to judge for themselves whether the journalistic write-ups are trustworthy. But newspapers have been publishing texts of documents almost as long as newspapers have existed — and ever since the Internet eliminated space restrictions, we have done so copiously.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Digital Mortality

From “Cyberspace When You’re Dead” (The New York Times):
increasingly we’re not leaving a record of life by culling and stowing away physical journals or shoeboxes of letters and photographs for heirs or the future. Instead, we are, collectively, busy producing fresh masses of life-affirming digital stuff ...
But the tools we use privilege the moment, not the long term; they also tend to make everything feel roughly equal in importance and offer us little incentive to comb back through our digital scribblings and sort out what might have lasting meaning from what probably doesn’t. The results are pretty much the opposite of a scrapbook carefully edited to serve as a memory object but could end up serving that function by default.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

History and Heritage

From Gordon Wood’s “No Thanks for the Memories,” a review of Jill Lepore’s The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History (The New York Review of Books): 
some intellectuals have come to believe that historical scholarship over the past generation has more than fulfilled its role of destroying memory, and they have reacted with alarm. ... Memory, or what [David] Lowenthal calls “heritage,” may be, like the Tea Party’s use of the Founding, a worthless sham, its credos fallacious, even perverse; but, wrote Lowenthal, “heritage, no less than history, is essential to knowing and acting.” It fosters community, identity, and continuity, and in the end makes possible history itself. “By means of it we tell ourselves who we are, where we came from, and to what we belong.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Futures: The Cloud and Cold Storage

The objective of the project was to examine the feasibility of outsourcing management of low-use print books held in academic libraries to shared service providers, including large-scale print and digital repositories (8).
From the conclusion: 
Our year-long study of the mass-digitized book corpus in the HathiTrust Digital Library and parallel investigation of potential shared print service providers has confirmed that there is an opportunity for significant library space savings and cost avoidance if management operations for digitized books are deliberately and systematically outsourced or externalized to shared service providers (64).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

“You don't buy paintings to blend in with the sofa!”

This, from “Selling a Book by Its Cover” (The New York Times), reminds me of a scene in Hannah and Her Sisters
Book lovers, you can exhale. The printed, bound book has been given a stay of execution by an unlikely source: the design community. In this Kindle-and-iPad age, architects, builders and designers are still making spaces with shelves — lots and lots of shelves — and turning to companies like Mr. Wines’s Juniper Books for help filling them.
The associated slideshow, “Books as a Way to Grace a Room,” is nice.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Among the Ruins

Detroit in Ruins” (The Guardian) has some “extraordinary photographs documenting the dramatic decline of a major American city.” Among the ruins are schools, churches, and libraries (Melvil Dewey called these the three great engines of education).

I was in Beloit, Wisconsin, recently and across the river from my hotel were traces of that city’s industrial past.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Vertical Technology

From “Origin of Vertical Files” (Library History Buff Blog): 
Research by the Early Office Museum makes a strong case that the first vertical file cabinets were produced by Library Bureau, the library and office supply company founded by Melvil Dewey.  The earliest advertisement for a vertical file cabinet was found by the Museum in a 1900 Library Bureau catalog. Information in this catalog indicates that vertical files utilized the same technology pioneered in library card catalog cabinets which were also produced by Library Bureau.