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publishing (let alone scholar's preferences) argues that we need to do something radical to get over our fetish for outdated technology, suggesting that we burn books or ban them.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, 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.