Thursday, May 04, 2006

Thanks for a great semester

Folks, our last discussion was way too short and I'm sure I could have moderated/guided it better, but overall I hope you found our class as useful as I did in trying to bring some sort of organization to a century or more of library and information studies history. In the short term, write me a good paper. In the long term, keep arguing about, defending, defining, and redefining your profession -- you are the historical actors today. I'll be around over the summer for anyone staying in Madison -- please keep in touch, especially if you happen to see me down at the terrace on a sunny afternoon. Cheers,



If anyone is interested, there is an article in the May 2006 issue of National Geographic concerning some ancient texts about Judas that are currently being restored by the NGS. I thought there were some interesting quotes that relate to Nicholson Baker's Double Fold. On page 93, the journalist reveals that "the manuscript was so brittle that it would crumble at the slightest touch". This is a quote that undoubtedly would drive Baker crazy, but in this case it is factually true, though it does partake in preservation cliche. The manuscript also is said to consist of "a thousand fragments" much like the 'snow' term he so virulently argues against. It is an interesting blend, nonetheless, of conservation efforts and preservation rhetoric.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Live Homework Help

After doing some research on the Live Homework Help we saw the ad for last week, I turned up some facts. It is a subscription service from a commerial provider located at . Libraries from across the country seem to subscribe to it, though it is not actually affliated with any sort of library. It appears that their various tutors generally work from their individual home computers. Individuals can also subscribe to it on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Cox responds to Baker

Folks looking for the "archivist's response" to Nicholson Baker's arguments may want to check out this essay by Richard Cox in First Monday. Cox attempts to refute Baker's arguments against newspaper microfilming and subsequent destruction one by one:

Novelist and literary essayist Nicholson Baker once again has caused a stir in the library world, this time attacking the sale and/or destruction of original newspapers once they have been microfilmed. Ably and eloquently arguing his case, Baker is still wrong while succeeding in raising public awareness about the care of basic documentary sources and in forcing librarians and archivists alike to re-think basic assumptions and practices. My essay responds to what I discern as Baker's four main points - a lie foisted upon the public about the care of the newspapers, the insidious destruction of original newspapers, the resultant loss of trust by the public in libraries and archives, and a set of wrong priorities leading to the misguided microfilming and destruction of the newspapers. My essay also suggests that we should expect more such public debates as the developing Digital Age brings more intense concerns for original books, archives, and other documents.

As the final reading of the semester in our class -- and a reading which recounts the library history of the twentieth century from the perspective of one who is neither librarian nor historian -- I hope we can respectfully consider and/or challenge Baker's points as Cox does. But I will be curious to see what you think, in the end, of the contradictory meanings of "preservation" and "conservation" that Baker reveals.

Once again, though I know you're sick of it: What is (has been, should be) the social function, social purpose, social value of the library?


A link to LC's Mass Deacidification: An Initiative to Refine the Diethyl Zinc Process and their current, and hopefully safer, initiative.

Baker v. Librarian

Nicholas Baker tells an exciting story about the failures of microfilm and American libraries in general. He uses his years of experience as a fiction writer to craft a doomsday tale so believable that you must keep yourself from running to the microforms office of your local library to protest the destruction of our collective historical record between chapters. Baker sprinkles his tale with histories of paper made from mummy wrapping, exploding vacuum chambers, and connections to CIA torture experiments.

My question to the class is, what of Baker’s story do we believe and why have we done so? Here is a man who has no formal library training, traipsing through some of our country’s greatest information depositories telling us, librarians, how to do our jobs. Moreover, he spends thirty-eight chapters telling the public that we have lied to them about the state of our collections and that our books are not in fact falling apart on our shelves as we have stated for years in our requests for funding. What has driven him to tear apart decades of procedures perfected by library professionals and are his concerns about these practices valid?

Digitization vs. Microfilm

Late in Double Fold Baker addresses the issue of digitization of library materials as a replacement for microfilming. He does not give this subject as lengthy or detailed a treatment as he does microfilming, perhaps because digital reformatting was not yet as important as it has since become. Double Fold was published in 2001, the same year that the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections (UWDC) were established.

Given Baker's opinions on microfilm, how do you think he would feel about digital reformatting today? How do YOU feel about digital reformatting today? Does it have any particular strengths or weaknesses when compared to microfilm, or to print-and-paper books?

If you don't have much experience with digital collections, visit the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections and see what the UWDCC has put online.

Full disclosure: I've worked for the UWDCC for about a year and a half. I'll be talking a bit more about this on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Double Fold from an Archivists’ Perspective

In reaction to Double Fold, Richard Cox, a well known archivist within the archival community wrote Vandals in the Stacks?. Cox breaks down Baker’s argument point by point from an archivists’ perspective. The following comments are from Cox’s chapter “Why Can’t the Paper Keepers Keep all the Paper?”. This chapter addresses Baker’s claim that all newspapers should be saved in their original format. Cox discusses that this is impossible to do for a number of reasons.
1. It is impossible to save every newspaper since big city newspapers publish multiple editions daily and libraries often only receive one edition.
2. Archivists do not have the resources to save every newspaper despite what Baker says.
3. Newspapers were never meant to last forever. The quality of paper that newspapers are published on will deteriorate. According to Cox, Baker’s comments about newspapers not deteriorating have little true basis.
Bottom line is that archivists, like librarians, need to make choices about selection. Given the choice, an archivist is going to choose saving correspondence of an important literary figure over a newspaper. So the alternative is microfilming newspapers.

Some Questions to think about:
What do you think about Baker’s idea of saving everything? Do you agree with Richard Cox’s view or more with Baker’s?
Is microfilming of newspaper all evil as Baker suggests?

Literacy 24/7: Where are the libraries?

A blurb in the Isthmus Daily Page connects with our ongoing discussion of the current and historical relationship between libraries, schools, and bookstores. Last weekend was the "Literacy 24/7" event was held at a local bookstore by the Madison Area Literacy Council:

[T]he 1440-minute long event featured marathon reading sessions at the west side Borders. Organized by the council as a fundraiser for its literacy programs, each hour was kicked off by ten minutes of out-loud literacy from a variety of guest readers, including Tammy Baldwin, Pleasant Rowland, and Dave Cieslewicz, not to mention a host of authors.

A quick visit to the MALC web site reveals only a cursory connection to local libraries for this non-profit group. Some of their upcoming events are being held at the Sun Prairie public library, but the MPL system seems totally absent. Surprising?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Books about America ... for Iraq

This article in Slate today talks about an international book translation and distribution effort proposed by a University of Michigan professor who, I can assure you, is no simple mouthpiece for the current presidential administration:

Juan Cole, a blogger and professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan, has come up with an intriguing idea for how to fill this gap. He wants to hire skilled linguists to translate into Arabic the classic works of American political thought -- especially those works that deal with freedom of religion, division of powers, sovereignty of the people, and equal rights. He has in mind the essays and speeches of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Susan B. Anthony; a solid history of American Jews and other minority groups; maybe a few good books, written by American historians, about Iraq. Cole also wants to subsidize Middle Eastern publishers to print these books in large numbers and at low prices, and he wants to pay fees to book dealers throughout the region -- just as publishers pay Borders and Barnes & Noble here -- to display the books prominently.

This isn't just an idea. Cole has established the Global Americana Institute and the Library of Americana Translation Project. Since he outlined the idea in his blog late last year, readers have sent him $13,000. He claims that some foundations are 'jumping-up-and-down enthusiastic' to pour in the big bucks, once he obtained the legal status of a nonprofit organization. The federal government just gave him this status two weeks ago. He's filling out the grant applications now. He also recently returned from the Beirut international book fair, where he says several Middle Eastern publishers and dealers expressed great interest in the project (and, no doubt, in the prospect of the money).

Long ago, the federal government did on its own just what Cole proposes to do. The United States Information Agency -- then an independent agency -- maintained libraries in Amman, Istanbul, and elsewhere, filled with translations of American political and literary classics. The Franklin Book Program, a nonprofit company with funding from the State Department and private foundations, published hundreds of titles and stocked them in libraries and bookstores all over the world. The Franklin Book Program shut down in 1977, its international board having determined -- prematurely, it turned out -- that its mission was accomplished. In the 1990s, under pressure from the Republican-run Senate (especially Jesse Helms, then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee), the USIA was absorbed into the State Department; its budget was whacked and its agenda politicized; its libraries were shut down, their books remaindered.


New Verona library described in the press

Is it just me, or does this seem like a strange way for the Wisconsin State Journal to describe the new Verona library?

Other libraries might have more books, faster computers, more meeting space or a quieter reading room.But topping the view provided by a more than two-story bank of windows at the new Verona Public Library will be tough for any library to match.Visitors taking a break from reading or surfing the net through the library's wireless network may look out through the v-shaped bank of windows and see a hawk, wild flowers or changing cloud patterns above.