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.)