The Chronicle of Higher Education published this succinct editorial by Robert Darnton, noted defender of the book and of libraries, titled, 5 Myths About the “Information Age.” Nicely, this is freely available on the web, not just for people whose institutions have access to the Chronicle. You might know Robert Darnton for his The Case for Books, which was based on a series of essays he did for the New York Review of Books (correct me if my memory is misleading me). This editorial in the Chronicle encapsulates some important points.
I have just interviewed Ray Schwartz. Ray is a systems librarian at the William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. He frequently presents on topics relating to the use of many forms of electronic transactional data and datamining. He is teaching a course for Library Juice Academy next month called, “Collecting and Evaluating Electronic Transactions from Library Services.” He agreed to do an interview here to give people a better idea about what will be covered in the class and where he is coming from.
Interesting article from The Moscow News this week about the women behind the great men of Russian literary history. The author claims that creative partnership between writers prior to women’s independence was a uniquely Russian tradition…
I won’t comment much on this except to speculate that this may be an example of a state of affairs in journalism where reporters are making sloppy mistakes because the pace of the newsroom, like the pace of everything else in the internet era, is too quick for us to keep tabs on everything as we should. Numerous reputable newspapers and magazines evidently misreported a story based on a reading of the original Saudi headline, without reading the article itself. Al Jazeera English reports: “Saudi Women-Only City? Look Again.”
Like most librarians, I’ve been following the changes going on at the New York Public Library. It is one of those issues that casts a spotlight on the larger library world because of the vast importance of the institution. Charles Peterson’s essay in the amazing and fabulous journal N+1 burrows deep into the issue and he comes up with some suprising findings that have a lot to say about the corporatization of libraries and the future of reading culture. Here is a representative quote:
“More than anything, this rhetoric reveals the fundamentally anti-democratic worldview that has taken hold at the library. It is of a piece with what the new Masters of the Universe have accomplished in the public schools, where hedge funders have provided the lion’s share of the backing for privatization, and in the so-called reforms to our financial system, where technocrats meet behind closed doors to decide what will be best for the rest of us. Oligarchs acting in the people’s name (with the people’s money) is not democratic; selling off New York’s cultural patrimony to out-of-town heiresses, closing down treasured divisions and branches, pushing out expert staff, and shipping books to a warehouse in the suburbs, all without consulting the public, is not democratic. If the reconstruction goes through, scholarly research will be more, not less, concentrated in the handful of inordinately wealthy and exclusive colleges and universities. The renovation is elitism garbed in populist rhetoric, ultimately condescending to the very people the library’s board thinks they’re serving. It suggests that no one other than an Ivy League professor or student could ever hope to engage in scholarship or original research. Leave the heavy lifting to the folks at Harvard and McKinsey (and the quants in our commodities division), the financiers are saying; for the rest of you, there will be lovely sun-filled spots to check your email.”
Robert Darnton, frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books on libraries and author of The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future, was interviewed prior to a talk at Cardiff University, by Cardiff grad student Rhys Tranter. The interview was posted to the blog of Cardiff University’s Centre for Editorial & Intertextual Research.
Great Onion article lampooning those among us who lack imagination:
WASHINGTON, DC—A study released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that, contrary to the longtime claims of librarians and teachers, books do not take you anywhere.
“For years, countless educators have asserted that books give readers a chance to journey to exotic, far-off lands and meet strange, exciting new people,” Education Secretary Richard Riley told reporters. “We have found this is simply not the case.” …
Here is a guest post from Julie Teglovic, an MLIS student at the University of Denver, where students have been protesting a decision regarding the library…
Library as Space: University Students Want Books
This April, the paper books at the University of Denver’s Penrose Library began a move into a storage facility 10 miles away in preparation for the library’s gutting and renovation. I, like most students not hearing otherwise, assumed that the move would be temporary, until I happened across the “Keep the Penrose Library Book Collection on Campus” Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/savethestacks) in early May. According to this page, secret dealings had been made “behind closed doors and at the last minute” by the university Chancellor and Board of Trustees, culminating in a decision to retain 80% of the books at the storage center and return 20% to campus after the renovation.
About six students and a few faculty members, led by undergraduate English and Psychology major Brandon Reich-Sweet, united to disseminate information through the Facebook page and a website (www.savepenrose.com). They distributed online and paper petitions, contacted news outlets and university officials, made t-shirts and signs, and organized check-out/sit-in protests in and around the library. Because of these efforts, as of right now, university administration has agreed to return 50% of the books to campus (this is according to library faculty and student organizers; no official communication to students has been released).
Concerns over environmental sustainability and transparency were important to the group’s arguments (books will be driven by truck to and from the storage facility indefinitely, and neither students nor library staff were asked for input on the initial decision), but perhaps more interesting here are this group of non-librarians’ deep concerns about the library, its space, and its purpose.
I’ve read a lot in library school thus far about adapting to survive, about the need to see the library as community space, meeting space, and cutting-edge technology space. As gaming space, video-editing space, music-recording space. I’ve taken classes on ebooks and seen the skills requirements for programming languages and systems analysis on academic librarian job descriptions. Librarians want to redefine their collective image, to be tech-savvy and rethink education; we champion webinars and iSchools and digital repositories as solutions. Penrose is certainly not the first academic library to move a large number of books off-campus. Some students supported the Chancellor’s original decision and spoke out in the student newspaper The Clarion, asking why a book that’s never been circulated should gather dust. They argue that the way students learn has fundamentally changed in the last 20 years, and by designing a library with more collaborative learning space, the university is responding to this change.
Yet the (mostly undergraduate) students protesting—the library users, not the librarians—organized this movement and voiced—loudly—a different opinion: they want the books. As symbols of academic rigor, as visible history, as an elegant reminder of long-form reality itself to Brandon—the pages mean something to them. The millennials we jump to categorize as attention-deficient and gadget-crazed are perhaps more attuned to the emotional, existential, and intellectual redemption that a brick of words, a collection not on a screen, can provide than we as a profession would like to acknowledge. “The decision by a group of number-obsessed business-types to remove almost all of the books from a LIBRARY was really just a small symbol of a broader cultural trend,” Brandon says in an editorial for the Clarion. He writes about “Things without meaning…the terrible anxiety that comes standard with existence in modern human society…The victory of the Save Penrose movement then is not only one of logistics but one of meanings.”
While we’re on the topic of John’s book, I will note that he has a new book in the works, which he is writing as a series in web form first. It is about e-book reading, and it is called, I, Reader.
Hello, this is Erik Sean Estep. I’m one of the new bloggers here. I’ve been a librarian for over ten years and I’m currently the Social Sciences Librarian at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
I’m honored to be a contributor because I think that this is one of the most intellectually compelling blogs in our field. Many times, this space has caused me to think more deeply and philosophically about library and information science issues. I hope to continue that tradition. For my first post, I’d like to draw attention to one of the best things I’ve read about the wonders of the library.
A nostalgic piece about going to the library as a young man is in one of the recent issues of The London Review of Books. Alan Bennett is one of England’s great writers and he elegantly gets at the tactile joys of going to the library without resorting to the sentimentality of pining for a lost world. Bennett is a true Renaissance Man and you get the sense that his inspiration came from going to the library. He was raised in a working class family and the library was his gateway to a wider life of the mind. Sometimes it takes an outsider to bring to our attention the important work that we do and the value we bring to our society.
Essay by Lincoln Cushing in Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, Catalog for a 2011 exhibition at the University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach. Exhibition curated by Ilee Kaplan and Carol A. Wells, Center for the Study of Political Graphics.
This article is a brief historical overview, with illustrations, of some of the print shops that were associated with the New Left in the United States. Like a lot of historical writing about the 60s, it’s both nostalgic and indirectly instructive, for people who might want to do analogous projects now. Lincoln is an important and knowledgeable writer in the history of left political printing and graphic design in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and since.
Call for Papers: Protest on the Page: Print Culture History in Opposition to Almost Anything* (*you can think of)
2nd Call for Papers
Protest on the Page:
Print Culture History in Opposition to Almost Anything*
(*you can think of)
Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture
September 28-29, 2012
Protest has a long and varied tradition in America. The conference will feature papers focusing on authors, publishers and readers of oppositional materials, in all arenas from politics to literature, from science to religion. Whether the dissent takes the form of a banned book by Henry Miller or documents from Wikileaks, conference presentations will help us to understand how dissent functions within print and digital cultures.
The keynote speaker will be Victor Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation and George T. Delacorte Professor in Magazine Journalism, Director of the Delecorte Center for Magazine Journalism, and Chair of the Columbia Journalism Review. In addition, he is the author of such noted books as Kennedy Justice (1971), Naming Names (National Book Award, 1982), and A Matter of Opinion (George Polk Book Award, 2005). Perhaps best known for his long career as editor and then publisher of The Nation, Navasky has an understanding of dissent and its publications that has few peers. His lecture, and the subsequent reception, will be open to the general public.
Proposals for individual twenty-minute papers or complete sessions (up to three papers) should include a 250-word abstract and a one-page c.v. for each presenter. Submissions should be made via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2012. Notifications of acceptance will be made in early March 2012.
As with previous conferences, we anticipate producing a volume of papers from the conference for publication in the Center’s series, “Print Culture History in Modern America,” published by the University of Wisconsin Press. A list of books the Center has produced is available at the Center’s website (http://slisweb.lis.wisc.edu/~printcul/). The best proposals will mirror these earlier works, as they speak to their own authors, publishers, and readers.
For information, contact:
Christine Pawley, Director,
Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture
4234 Helen C. White Hall, 600 N. Park St.
Madison, WI 53706 phone: 608 263-2945/608 263-2900
fax: (608) 263-4849
I was in Cambridge, MA last weekend for MiT7: unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition. This conference is put on every two years jointly by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program and the MIT Communication Forum.
The conference is concerned with new media and new communication technologies and their broad implications. Presenters came to the conference with a multitude of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, but most are working in communications, media studies, or digital humanities. There were a number of librarians and archivists present (and presenting), but not everyone who spoke about libraries or archives had a library or archival studies background, which was refreshing and interesting.
The first of four plenary sessions in an auditorium started the conference, and it featured Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard; Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Pomona College (with a book coming out soon on scholarly communication); Mark Leccese, a former journalist now teaching at Emerson College; and Klaus Peter Muller, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. These four addressed questions on the fate of narrative and the shape of the public sphere in the new media environment, and were asked to give visions for the future. The introduction of the subject of narrative at the start of the conference was very interesting; at all of the sessions I attended, people drew ties between what was being discussed and questions of narrative and narrativity. I guess it must be common to talk about narrative among scholars who regularly attend MLA, but I think it is really great to introduce or invoke ideas about narrative in a setting that has a lot of social scientists as well. To me it seems that there is a lot still to be gained from studying narrative (or narrative theory or narratology) and its role outside of the usual literary contexts where it is talked about (film, literature, etc.).
Regarding narrative, the discussion seemed to show that the public at large is more aware of narrative structures in the media they consume than they possibly were in the past, as a result of the participatory online culture, fan culture, etcetera. Joshua Benton noted that “ancillary objects” surrounding news stories (i.e. links and commentary) affect the narrative by providing additional perspectives (alternate narratives) and additional entry and exit points. This makes it seem possible (to me) that people could be growing sharper about how narratives are used to manipulate them and might be becoming empowered by an enhanced ability to see through manipulative narratives (political, commercial, etc.). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for this that I can see though, considering how the masses (forgive me for using the term straightforwardly) continue to be moved by narratives that arise out of the facts but don’t do them justice. As refreshing as it was to me to find questions of narrative addressed throughout the conference, I would have been happier to see connections drawn between narratives and narrativity and social influence and control. That these connections weren’t drawn probably has to do with the fact that narrative is mostly a topic of discussion in the humanities rather than in the social sciences. (Please comment if you have something to suggest in this connection.)
There were two sessions following the opening plenary session on the first day. In the first I heard papers on the media and the Space Race of the 1960s, the 19th century telegraph system as a new communications medium, 19th century fan fic, and late 19th century American literature evidencing responses to media shift. In the second I heard papers on a discourse analysis of internet RFC’s to look for the history of information policies (Sandra Braman); Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists”; and the influence of the Interop conferences on the development of the internet. These two sessions were not the only ones where the point was made that “it was ever thus” or “this is not the first time” that we have been anxious and excited about the impact of new media technologies. I particularly like the insights that can be derived from historical studies such as these, and I began speaking with a couple of presenters about a possible series for Litwin Books in this area.
The conference went on to have three more plenary sessions and five more call sessions, in which I attended panels called Reading and Writing; Legal and Social Links; Classrooms and Libraries in Transition; Capital, Time and Media Bias; and Publishing in Transition. Highlights were talks by librarian Margaret Heller and her collaborator Nell Taylor, Paul van den Hoven, Bob Hanke, Paulina Mickiewicz, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Karen Hellekson.
Margaret Heller and Nell Taylor talked about an interesting, informal community-based library project that is building a collection of locally-published materials representing the diverse communities of Chicago and putting the catalog online in a social-media-rich way. It seems to be a very successful project, which, frankly, is unusual for things that are that innovative.
Paul van den Hoven does media studies of the legal system in Holland, and talked about the way the expanding, democratized media environment has outstripped the judicial system’s ability to handle the proliferation of narratives surrounding cases that have a public nature. His discussion helped me focus my own thinking about the current trend toward democratization of media and the de-authorization of institutions, in the sense that in the context of the law it is clear, to me anyway, how top-down institutions can protect people from the consequences of an irrational, narrative-driven public. Sandra Braman could certainly explain to me why my sense of security in feeling protected by the judicial system is a false one; nevertheless, there is still more to be said than we usually hear, it seems to me, about the dangers of de-authorizing institutions and empowering the masses (again, apologies for using the term in a straightforward manner).
Bob Hanke read a difficult paper (that he was kind enough to send me so that I could study it) addressing the technologization of the university and the changes that have emerged through the process. His paper was political, and addressed “media effects” (a term he avoided) of technology from a Canadian, media-studies point of view, but incorporating a political-economic structural viewpoint as well. Now having read his paper I am afraid to say I still find it difficult to understand in parts; but perhaps I just need to read some of the people he is citing.
Paulina Mickiewicz read a very interesting paper (with slides) about a major work of public architecture and its connection to the media environment: the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec. Mickiewicz’s background is in media studies, and her reading has so far not included much from the library literature. Her focus is on the architect’s thinking in designing the building, and how architectural decisions in building this and other innovative libraries define, or at least aim to define, the meaning of the library as an information place for the community. I will be interested to see her work as it progresses.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Karen Hellekson both gave papers in the Publishing in Transition session, and both were fascinating and informative, on the subjects of trade book publishing and scholarly journal publishing respectively.
It was a very good conference. In addition to the people mentioned above, I felt fortunate to hear papers and comments by William Uricchio, Kelley Kreitz, Heidi Gautschi, Andrew Feldstein, Julia Noordegraaf, and Goran Bolin.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to a couple of librarians from MIT libraries who were present: Patsy Baudoin and Marlene Manoff. I look forward to seeing them again in 2013 if not sooner.
MiT7 was a great conference – intimate, warm, stimulating, interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge. There were some brilliant minds at work. I plan to post a few comments on the conference later. For now, here are links to podcasts from the three topical plenary sessions:
Media in Transition 7 (MiT 7), a small conference at MIT, is starting Friday and running ’till Sunday. I will be there; if you will be there too please say hello.
Anyone wanting to follow the Twitter hash tag can look for #mit7.