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.

New Signs

New signs appeared in the library today:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Libraries and Influence

It would be interesting to bring Mark Edmundson’s Narcissus Regards a Book” (The Chronicle) into the patron-driven acquisition discussion. Here is an excerpt: 
Narcissus looks into the book review and finds it good. Narcissus peers into Amazon's top 100 and, lo, he feels the love. Nothing insults him; nothing pulls him away from that gorgeous smooth watery image below. ... 
Is it possible that in the world now there are people who might suffer not from an anxiety that they might be influenced but rather from an anxiety that they might never be? Perhaps not everyone loves himself with complete conviction and full abandon. Maybe there remain those who look into the shimmering flattering glass of current culture and do not quite like what they see. Maybe life isn't working for them as well as it is supposed to be for all in this immeasurably rich and unprecedentedly free country. 
Reading in pursuit of influence—that, I think, is the desired thing. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Primary Materials and Truth Claims in the Sciences

In a class I’m teaching we’re had some good discussions of the New Yorker article “The Truth Wears Off,” which looks at how such factors as regression to the mean, selective reporting, and publication bias can produce a “decline effect” in scientific findings. The article concludes with this: 
The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe. 
One of the researchers discussed in the article recommends more transparency in the scientific process by “the establishment of an open-source database, in which researchers are required to outline their planned investigations and document all their results.

The Chronicle recently spoke with Sayeed Choudhury of the Data Conservatory about the greater transparency and documentation mandated by NSF’s new data management plan requirements.