Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Libraries asssessments and futures...

The writings for this week are in many ways foreshadows of current technology. In other ways they are the dream ideas of brilliant Futurists. Aspects of both types of thought can be seen in the Memex conceived by Vannevar Bush (no relation to George W. Bush).At its core his ideas were based on the premise that we did not lack the ideas or thoughts to propel society forward. Rather we lacked a way of accessing ideas and creating connections between diverse and divergent concepts. His Memex sought to “store” and “extend” concepts in order that they should be “useful to society” (Bush p.2). He places his technology and ideas within the framework of other advances, such as photography, film and recording devices and in many ways sells his ideas as a product that will revolutionize the way we think about information and ideas. His Memex is said by some to be an early form of the internet, sans worldwide connections, for its ability to place ideas in web-like frameworks of connectivity.

In the world of Bush and his allies, the world-wide web is not computer based but micro-film based. Surely he never considered the way that the technology degrades as Nicholson Baker would decry many decades later in DoubleFold . Such is the drumbeat of progress, considering more the desire to get someplace new than the ramifications of the journey. One has to wonder what the value of historical archives are if they are all degrading. Yet there is no consideration for the preservation of documents in their original form within the Memex.

The work of Bush sidles up nicely to Leigh’s The Public Library Inquiry inasmuch as one considers the way in which information can be shared for the purposes of research, and Leigh considers the way in which resources can be shared amongst libraries to build an efficient network of libraries that would share materials for the enjoyment of users and the cost-savings of taxpayers. It is rare in our society when bastions of culture and the arts as libraries are, are put under the microscope of scientific analysis in dry calculations that seeks to quantify all the meanings derived from the place and from the services derived within. How do you measure something that is at once the “People’s University” and at the same time (but perhaps in a separate room), a place for the education of children (p.225)?

Written in the 1950’s during the rise of the interstate fast-car society, the chapter entitled “The Direction of Development” calls for centralization to take advantage of economies of scale, and provide an equalization of resources between smaller and larger libraries. The document further tells of the expansion of the libraries role as educator of adults and children. At the time of writing, the school library as we know it today had not yet come into being. Therefore it was impressed upon both the schools and the public library to make materials and staff resources available to younger students. To this end, the document calls increased training of librarians for this role, in both school libraries and in the public library sector.

While the document touches on many topics, the ultimate theme is the need for streamlining, Definition of duties and the efficient provision of resources to carry out those duties.

Pennavaria’s 2002 work Representation of Books and Libraries in Depictions of the Future captures a more modern perspective on our never diminishing fascination with The Library of the Future. She divides tales of the future into the categories of “utopian” or “dystopian” (p.230). That is to say happy tales and sad tales. Pennavaria speaks of Orwell’s 1984, and provides this writer a means of connection to another of this week’s writings, Bush’s “As We May Think” *(1945), which she notes is both hopeful in its offer of salvation through technology, but also cautionary in his plead that technology can be peaceful, even as he is aware of the constant drumbeats for war.

One has to wonder if the futuristic idea of “Libraries as community center” came from librarians as a gift to the writer, or if the futurists gifted us with this concept (p.237). Just as little thought was given to the mechanisms that would increase the speed of knowledge acquisition according to Pennavaria, so too was little consideration given to the types of people that would use the library. Could they know that libraries would collect GLBT works, that they would house original copies of infamous works such as Mein Kampf? Just as they had no idea about the mechanics of technology, so too it would seem that they had little idea about the human mechanics of support for libraries – staff members and interest groups that form the backbone coalition for the support of any library.

Sapp’s Early Visions of Future Librarianship begins with Ranganathan’s 5th law of Library Science that “the Library is a growing organism’ (p.xi). He begins with Dewey’s hope for the future of the library and uses that as a catapult to discuss the dreams of other library greats. During the early years, were obsessed with notions of professionalization, such that it had to be overtly stated that librarianship existed as Bibliothecal Science (P.xiv).

As was noted in the readings for last week, wars played an important role in defining the mission of the library. They also played a role in increasing the visibility of librarians, even as it came late to the idea of the library as a proponent of democracy. The writer notes the “technical” aspects of early training and efforts to develop curriculum that reflected the desired higher status. Specialization was one method used to both enhance the status of librarians and enhance the level of service available for the growing needs for academic and corporate librarians. The overall training was touted alongside aspirations for the increase in cultural impact and relevance of librarians in wider society

Other descriptions sought to clarify divisions of labor, monetary support for librarianship through endowments and the role of librarians as intelligent gatekeepers of the new information economy. Throughout the work, one has to wonder where the line between the formation of new mission statements and pure aspirational wishes lay. At some point like the rantings of those who insist on the existence of extra-terrestrial races, one has to wonder if the fantastical writings of Futurists enhanced or in fact diminished the credibility of librarians in the mind of the public.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Discussions for 11 Mar 2008

Article 1
Leigh’s article pieces discuss the future of public library function and action from a 1950 perspective. Interestingly, the report was not done by the library itself; rather, the ALA contracted the Social Science Research Council to do so in order to gain a more objective and independent judgment. In the prose and setup of the article, there is definitely a noted difference in their approach opposed to many of the articles we have read from an internal library perspective. The Public Library Inquiry aims to evaluate the library’s success in terms of its own goals as well as their aptness within the framework of American social and cultural institutions. The author proposes increased funding and bureaucratic organization to better run the library in the coming decade.

(1) In discussing the alternate directions proposed by some librarians in the beginning of part II, Leigh presents a tension between catering to public demand and providing “valuable” information and resources to society. How do you think the public library has handled this balance since 1950, and do you agree with the study’s suggestions on pp. 234-5? (On a more personal note for us: are collections of video games and popular music in College Library warranted? Does this detract from the purpose of collegiate libraries?) Why (not)?
(2) Wisconsin’s share of public library systems costs is 8.1% and the 2007-2009 proposed budget aims to maintain this level. Do you think the state, based on Leigh’s analysis, has a higher obligation to contribute to the financial aid of libraries or are other pressing issues more important? How should the government appropriate funds to their public library institutions?
(3) In his general summation of the library’s future, Leigh remarks that the library “would provide people of all ages in all places in the U.S. with abundant opportunity to learn so far as library materials can give that opportunity.” Based on historical context and our previous readings, do you think the library truly catered to this goal, or was it more geared toward the middle-class white population?

Article 2
In this article, Bush proposes potential new paths for peacetime physicists to follow. No longer able to focus on the more war-related elements of physics, they are now encouraged by Bush to use their skills for the maintenance and retention of stored knowledge. Focusing on “the record,” physicists can use technology to find innovative ways of information storage (microfilm), transcription (like the Voder and Vocoder), performing mathematics, and effective means of research. While not all of Bush’s article concentrates directly on the library, his methods and applications definitely transfer over to library processes and ways to manage information and collections, most importantly in how to preserve access to such information. Through Bush, the library and scientific communities merge, lending themselves to one another.

(1) Discussing photography and its potential use in microfilm records, Bush suggests something that could clear space in the library rendering hard copy books, magazines, newspapers, etc. almost unnecessary. Obviously, microfilm today is not the technological innovation of the century to revolutionize library storage, but might the Internet have a similar effect? Does this outlet of information threaten the necessity of such hard copies as well? Why or why not?
(2) Bush mentions the difficulty of actually being able to consult “the record” (for libraries – their collections and resources), but the librarian is a professional who can maneuver through such complicating records and collections. If physicists are able to simplify this process for the common library patron, how might this affect the role of the librarian?
(3) Based on all of Bush’s suggestions, what do you think is technology’s role in the library? How has the Memex from 1945 come into the contemporary library?

Article 3
Pennavaria, in her article, discusses the future of the library and books/information in general – not through her own predictions, but rather through writings of fiction and nonfiction by other authors. She focuses mostly on how writers in the past thought information access would be in the future. Fiction writing, she claims, tends to focus more on long-term future and make more concrete predictions about how the library will actually BE in the future. However, fiction does not necessarily attempt to prophesize (is that a word?), instead it expresses the writer’s own fears and beliefs about the potential of their own society – most often for the worst. Pannevaria cites numerous fiction examples where books and information are completely destroyed by an overbearing government, reflecting the value of books for independent thought and existence. Nonfiction, on the other hand, tends to be more conservative in their predictions. She references a few articles relating to technology, but points out that most deal more with the actual role of the library. Librarians themselves were the optimistic futurists, believing the library will remain similar but grow in importance and become a true cultural center. Interestingly, aspects of their predictions – whether literally or in a more figurative sense – can today be found in the modern library.

(1) As noted in Pennevaria’s description of fiction, there seems to have existed a deep-seated fear about a society losing its information exposure and retention. Was their fear valid and can you see its repercussions today? What parts of fictitious predictions came true?
(2) Why might the librarians have been the only “optimistic futurists?”
(3) Charles Cutter in 1883 offered the fantasy that all libraries in the country would be technologically connected and open every day. To what extent was Cutter correct?
(4) In the Cambridge Review one author makes a social commentary about the university libraries and its need to be run by scholars instead of bureaucrats. Has the university situation improved in your eyes?

Article 4
Sapp details thoughts about future librarianship and libraries throughout different decades since the ALA’s establishment in 1876. While obviously concerns change with the times, it is surprising to see how many elements remain the same (concerns over technology, proper organization, supply/demand). Between 1876-1900 Sapp cites concerns over the social agenda for librarians, and between 1900 and 1945 a sense of civic responsibility only increased with the outbreaks of World Wars I and II. The question of getting information to patrons remained a large issue throughout the 20th century as librarians were unsure and in disagreement whether technology should aid the library, and if so, how. After 1946, as academic scholarship changed and increased, the library further questioned how it would meet the demands of its new and ever-growing patronage and the appropriate technology to aid them along. Even today, we see this debate in libraries over the future role of technology as the library enters the digital world as well as keeping its foot in print culture.

(1) After 1900, many librarians asserted the library’s continual role in adult education. Do you think this role continues today? What does this role say about the library’s view of civic responsibility? Have the libraries “fundamental values remained in tact”?
(2) What do disagreements over computers in the library say about the debate that goes on today and the library’s sensitivity to tradition?
(3) Do you see a heaver dependence on technology in the library – and reduction in print resources – as a reality?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Readings for Week 7: Libraries and War

Good morning, class...we are classmates Ruby LeGault and Amanda Kramer. The following text is a brief overview of our week's reading along with questions suited for discussion.

First article
Wiegand discusses the effects of WWI on Wisconsin public libraries.
He shows how libraries worked with federal, state and local governments
and how they worked independently to aid the war effort as they saw
fit. Wisconsin public libraries stream-lined services and increased
professionalism by focusing on library management and information
retrieval. At the same time, however, these libraries were disseminating
propaganda and censoring library materials.

“In Service to the State” questions

1) What are some differences that Wiegand sees between the missions of
public libraries in the in the pre-WWI era, in the years before U.S.
involvement in the war and once the U.S had declared war? Why? What
stayed the same? Why?

2) What do American public libraries' actions during WWI say about the
debate between putting emphasis on providing resources and service based
on the demands of the public vs. putting emphasis on upholding higher
ideals (i.e. self-education)?

Second article
At the onset of the U.S.’s involvement in WWII the ALA established
methods with which to “meet the needs of a nation at war.” Not everyone
in the library community agreed that change was necessary or how
libraries could be changed to best serve America. In some cases,
libraries were faced with changing populations of patrons or patrons
that wanted new or different information. Some in the library community
saw an alliance with government agencies as critical to the success and/or survival
of the public library.

“To Meet the Needs of a Nation at War” questions

1) Why were public libraries’ willing to undergo the changes that they
did during WWII? How were these changes in missions similar and/or
different from the changes in libraries during WWI? Why?

2) How do the shortfalls that public libraries faced when trying to work
with government agencies (USIS, OCD, OFF and OWI) reflect larger
problems within the public library system?

Third article
During WWII public libraries dealt with tightening budgets, but expected to meet
head-on with ALA policy and patron demands. Not all librarians were enthusiastic about
censorship but the ALA actively worked to make the government recognize
libraries as a viable means to disseminate propaganda. On the whole,
libraries provided recreational reading for children, adults and
servicemen although circulation numbers decreased during the war.

“In Time of War” questions

1) Did public libraries fail in WWII? If so, what would a failure mean
for libraries in the post war period?

2) Do you see Becker’s description of a post-9/11 library as realistic
or “the norm”? Does anyone want to share their personal experiences in
post-9/11 and post-Patriot Act public libraries?

Fourth article
After the fall of Baghdad the Iraqi city experienced widespread looting of
museums and libraries. The military seemed to have failed to anticipate
the looting despite warning from various institutions and scholars - and
also failed to stop it once it had started. While Iraqis lamented the
losses, some members of the U.S. government and media downplayed or
- acc. to the author- outrightly denied the effects of the looting. The loss of cultural
artifacts comes at the detriment to the Iraqi identity, global cultural
and history.

“Errors of Omission and Cultural Destruction in Iraq” questions

1) According to Knuth, was the U.S. government’s failure to prevent/
stop looting of cultural artifacts malicious or was it more a product of
ignorance? Do you agree, why or why not? Should it matter especially to

2) What is the result of losing the materials that were looted?
How do you think it may impact the Iraqi people as a whole?

3) How does reflecting on the use of propaganda and censorship in the
World Wars clarify or complicate our understanding of what is currently
happening in Iraq (and the U.S.)?