March 31, 2008

Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia

The March 20th issue of The New York Review of Books has a review of John Broughton‘s book, Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, by Nicholson Baker: The Charms of Wikipedia. Nicholson Baker delights in writing about technology, as you may know, but if you’ve read Baker’s writings on card catalogs and microfilmed newspapers you might be surprised to find how lovingly he writes about Wikipedia. This is absolutely the most fun article I’ve read about Wikipedia, and has much in it that rings true to me as someone who wrote and edited Wikipedia articles for a few months. Funnest fact? Nicholson Baker’s Wikipedia username is Wageless. Hee hee!!

Alterman on Journalism in the New Yorker

Eric Alterman, who writes on the news media regularly in The Nation magazine, has an interesting article in the current issue of The New Yorker on the decline of the newspaper: Out of Print: the Death and Life of the American Newspaper. I thought I knew a bit about what was happening to American newspapers, but this article taught me a bit more and also gave me a little more historical perspective than I had.

In library school, I had some professors (one in particular) who took it for granted, as I did, that journalism was a central concern for librarians, and I also knew students who didn’t quite see a connection and wondered why we had to discuss it as much as we did. I think it’s important enough to what we do that we should have a required course in it (possibly a combined course on journalism and publishing). If our métier is information, we should know about how it’s generated and care about the state of the institutions that generate that information…

March 28, 2008

Responses to Mann on LC report

Candy Schwartz, a LIS professor at Simmons, is maintaining coverage of the discussion that has ensued in response to the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control (and Tom Mann’s response). If you want to follow that, go here.

March 25, 2008

How library research is really done

David Bade pointed me to this very interesting talk (in transcript form) by Andrew Abbott of the University of Chicago, given as the Windsor Lecture at the University of Illinois this month: Library Research and Its Infrastructure in the Twentieth Century. This paper is the author’s own ethnography of library research by scholars in the humanities and social sciences. I think it has a lot of value for academic librarians at research libraries. Here is a brief excerpt from pages 3 and 4:

…We do use librarians’ bibliographies and indexes as temporary starting points when we’re desperate, as I did in this case. But almost none of us ever does exhaustive bibliography and certainly none of us starts a project with a broad pass through the general bibliographical tools produced by librarians and their house publishers. The question – my third research opportunity – is why and how this happened.

Now like everything else about real library research, this question is not what it seems. It seems like a great starting question for a library research project. But of course it wasn’t my starting question. That this was the right focal question for a paper loosely aimed at understanding American library research practice in the twentieth century became clear only after I had done much of the research. More broadly, that library researchers have projects with clear designs is a myth. A few library researchers may actually have such clear designs. And the rest of us pretend to have had them after the fact. And we all force dissertation students to pretend to have them before the fact. But it’s all a myth. We don’t have clear questions ahead of time. The logical sequence of our articles is unrelated to the chronological sequence of our investigations. Our graduate students’ pretended questions in their proposals are not the ones their dissertations will end up answering. Not only is known item searching a relatively minor part of expert library research, precisely structured research questions are also a relatively minor part of expert library research. They are its result, not its beginning.

March 22, 2008

LC Working Group final report, Thomas Mann’s response

Just for the record at this point; perhaps commentary later…

Final Report of the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control

‚ÄúOn the Record‚Äù but Off the Track: A Review of the Report of The Library of Congress Working Group on The Future of Bibliographic Control, With a Further Examination of Library of Congress Cataloging Tendencies, Thomas Mann’s response.

Thomas Mann’s response, which I think represents the views of many of his colleagues at LoC in the Library of Congress Professional Guild, is inspiring a lot of support right now among progressive librarians. There is talk about responding via ALA or by petition. I’m sure it’s being discussed on other blogs, but I’ll maintain a record here as well.

March 17, 2008

Review of David Bade’s Responsible Librarianship

Book review sent to the RadCat discussion list.

RESPONSIBLE LIBRARIANSHIP: LIBRARY POLICIES FOR UNRELIABLE SYSTEMS, by David Bade. Duluth, Minn.: Library Juice Press, 2008. xv, 172 p. $22.00. ISBN 978-0-9778617-6-7.

To say that David Bade has a passion for the topic of which he writes would be a gross understatement. In the time since the Library of Congress announced that it was no longer creating series authority records or even tracing series in bibliographic records, Bade has appeared as a man on a mission, decrying the increasing trend in libraries toward deliberately lowered quality of bibliographic control. His articles have been published in journals such as Cataloging & Classification Quarterly and Language & Communication, and his contributions appear occasionally in email discussion lists such as AUTOCAT. His latest book, Responsible Librarianship: Library Policies for Unreliable Systems, is an important work comprising three papers, all written after the LC announcement. Addressing the LC series policy specifically is a letter to AUTOCAT dated May 31, 2006 (although the shortest piece in the book, it is rather substantial and lengthy by AUTOCAT standards–a full six pages). The letter is sandwiched between “Politics and Policies for Database Qualities” (a nearly book-length work in itself at 107 pages) and “Structures, standards, and the people who make them meaningful” (a revised version of a paper read in Chicago before the second public meeting of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control). Preceding all of these is a very lively “Foreward!” by Thomas Mann (Library of Congress).

The “systems” of the title refers not only to automated integrated library systems, but also to the entire bibliographic information production and delivery chain, extending to the vendors, organizations, and networks beyond the individual library. The word “for” in the title could be read in two ways: in making his case for good library policies needed in the context of unreliable systems, Bade gives examples of library policies that result in unreliable systems. In the age of Google and tightened library staff budgets, the traditional functions of the catalog are being questioned and standards for bibliographic data are being revised (one might rather say “dumbed down”), and general keyword searching is being endorsed as sufficient for almost any catalog query.

In the first paper, Bade talks of the purposes of libraries, of the designs of systems and their subsequent uses, of successes and failures of organizations. He guides us through ergonomics, goals and standards, and into high reliability organizations (HROs). In the picture he paints, today’s research libraries are far from being HROs; instead of ensuring the accuracy of data input, they are placing emphasis on quantity and speed, opting to take on a “repair service policy” to handle only the most serious errors.

Bade provides as an in-depth example of bad policy the Classification on Receipt (COR) procedure at Cornell University Library. In that procedure the unstated assumptions include rapid processing as the only goal and keyword searching as the only search strategy needing support. Bade demonstrates that COR renders classification and shelf browsing meaningless, makes precise searching counterproductive, creates and disseminates misinformation, and propagates errors. By limiting the amount of work that can be done on an individual record, professionalism is devalued. And by adding substandard records to the OCLC database, other libraries are burdened with the task of upgrading those records, calling into question the nature of “cooperative” cataloging.

Bade makes it easy for the reader to see that under the current paradigm, the quality can only continue to decline: if every library creates brief records, and does not upgrade the brief records created by other libraries, in time all there will be is minimum level, everyone settling for less than mediocrity. It is difficult to avoid seeing a vicious circle: as libraries continue their attempts to do “more with less” by cutting staff and lowering standards, administrators are rewarded for their good work and asked to take it even further. The tragedy is that as cataloging production costs are reduced, information finding costs–for both library user and library staff–increase dramatically. If the data in the record are in error, are incomplete, do not use controlled vocabulary, or are in fields only accessed by general keyword searches, a resource might be found only with great difficulty, or perhaps not at all. The reliability of the system is suspect; a database is only as reliable as the lowest quality data it contains. Or, as the author puts it, “we have a First World information system crippled by Fourth World information lack.”

There is a point that Bade just hints at in the first paper, and one wishes for elaboration: in reading his account of the trend toward acquisition (instead of local production) of bibliographic data, the reader might notice a parallel to the development of library technical systems themselves. Many of the systems were first created by libraries, then sold off to commercial enterprises. What had started out responding specifically to the library’s needs now responds mainly to a corporate bottom line, and has slipped out of the librarians’ hands. In his book, Bade talks about librarians ceding control of the bibliographic data itself. Why is it so difficult for librarians to demand what is needed from the system vendors, and could the source of that difficulty also lie beneath part of the trends in cataloging and catalog maintenance? This is a topic that perhaps lies outside the scope of the present book (for sure such a discussion would have gone on a tangent in the area of psychology), but would be worthy of further exploration.

The second paper in the book is Bade’s letter to AUTOCAT, delivering a blistering critique of the LC series policy. For regular readers of that email list this is a repeat, but well worth rereading. Its location in the book is a bit curious, however; it would seem to have fit better at the beginning, in proper chronological context and as a prelude to the major work.

The third paper contrasts the goal of bibliographic data, communication (i.e., the bibliographic record having something to say, and the catalog user comprehending it), with the LC Working Group’s apparent theory of librarianship, data transport (i.e., in Bade’s words, “data are not created for people but for processing by applications”). In Bade’s analysis, an emphasis on data transport results in structures and standards that impede the goal of communication. There needs to be a better understanding of what the users and uses of the catalog are, and a better understanding of what technology can and cannot do. We are relying on increasingly sophisticated computer programs to mine the catalog data, yet we are at the same time ever more reluctant to supply the actual data. It is as if everyone has forgotten the old axiom “garbage in, garbage out”.

Bade’s research is quite extensive–the bibliography in the first paper lists 175 items over 17 pages!–and his arguments are supported by discussions in areas such as philosophy, ergonomics, and TQM. His highly academic writing style may not be the usual for readers whose main professional reading diet is along the lines of American Libraries; but those who might find it challenging at first are advised to stay with it, for they will find their effort repaid in full. As one who is always compelled to follow a reference, this reviewer was quite pleased to see the use of actual footnotes, eliminating the need to keep a finger stuck in the back of the book. (In the first paper, the footnotes are copious and substantial, and should not be missed.) The third paper is accompanied by reproductions of the handouts from the LC Working Group meeting; it is unfortunate, however, that the screen prints which originally appeared on 8.5 x 11 in. sheets have been shrunk to fit pages half that size, so the print is tiny and slightly fuzzy (readers with excellent eyesight will not have too much trouble). Attendees at the Working Group meeting were expected to have read the background papers, and readers of this book may want to do the same. The URLs for the papers are given in the bibliography, under “Fallgren”.

Responsible Librarianship is very highly recommended for anyone interested in bibliographic control and the role of the catalog in libraries and scholarship. It is especially recommended for cataloging managers, technical services administrators, and library school faculty, but is of interest to anyone who cares deeply about the future of science and scholarship.

Reviewed by Kevin M. Randall, Principal Serials Cataloger, Northwestern University Library, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois 60208-2300

March 16, 2008

Library trendspotting if you happen to like Susan Jacoby

Let’s start from the common premise that an important part of being a librarian in this time of rapid change is to keep a close eye on trends. How are things changing? We need to know so that we can keep up, so that we can modify our services to meet society’s changing needs, to have in mind new types of users instead of assuming that users are like ourselves. You might be one who says that libraries have been slow to adapt to the nature of the Millennial generation of users and their 2.0 lifestyles.

Okay, fine so far. That’s what we’re awash in right now.

I’m interested in looking at the way library services have been pressured to change as a result of changes that social trendspotter Susan Jacoby has been noticing. Susan Jacoby has written books about anti-intellectualism and unreason in American sociey, “picking up where Richard Hofstadter left off,” according to one writer. In her new book, The Age of American Unreason, she notes the rising anti-intellectualism and hostility toward reason in our society and posits three major sources for it: The decline of print culture in the television age, the decline of our educational system, and the rise of religious fundamentalism. A month ago she had a good editorial in the Washington Post that encapsulates her views on this nicely. In short, over the last few decades, Americans have become steadily less well educated, less interested in intellectual life, and more irrational in their approach to society’s questions.

I think many of us have observed that libraries, following management directives primarily, have adapted their services to the new anti-intellectual user with consistency and careful planning for several decades, and have justified the dumbing-down of libraries in terms of happier-sounding, euphemized trends (“putting the user in charge,” “customer-orientation,” “making tough decisions in an environment of declining resources”).

I think that if you take a hard look at the way libraries are being dumbed down – from our collections to our cataloging – the question about what we are here for necessarily arises. Are we here to support reason and intellectual life in society? To aid people’s thought? To preserve culture? Or are we here to provide more grease for the skids in our society’s downward slide into an entertainment culture of ignorance and fascism?

Is a trend necessarily something to follow? Or might it sometimes be the thing that we exist in order to counter?

March 15, 2008

Interview with APBNA compiler Byron Anderson

Byron Anderson is the compiler of Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, now in its sixth edition, from Library Juice Press. I asked Byron to talk a bit about this reference work for Library Juice Readers.

Byron, why don’t you describe this resource and say how it got started?


Alternative Publishers of Books in North America (APBNA) profiles alternative presses in North America, including some international presses that work with a North American distributor. The profiles include contact information, the editor(s), average number of new titles published per year, number of titles in print, distributor(s), ISBN pubisher pre-fix number(s), other materials produced, if associated or affiliated with another association or institution, publication interests, and a one-paragraph description. “Alternative” eludes exact definition, but I like Herbert Schiller’s phrase from the fourth edition’s Foreword, “the non-conglomeratized defenders of independence, diversity and unorthodoxy in book publishing.” Another way to define the presses is to list some of the headings from the subject index, for example, anarchism, civil liberties, counterculture, feminist, gender studies, human rights, indigenous populations, gay/lesbian, punk, social change, sustainable development, unions/unionizing, vegetarianism, women’s issues/studies, and zine culture. The presses are small, usually less than ten titles per year, independent, and passionate about their purpose. The purpose of APBNA is to pass this information on in directory form which lists currently active alternative presses that might be of interest to individuals, especially librarians, who want to know who is pubishing alternative materials. These titles cannot be readily singled out from any reference source. Considering that the Book Study Industry Group estimated in 2005 that there were approximately 70,000 small independent presses operating in the United States, it would be a laborious task to single out this small alternative sub-group, presently numbering 163 presses.

APBNA got started as an idea proposed at a meeting of the Alternatives in Print Task Force (now Alternative Media Task Force, AMTF), one of the task force groups of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. The AMTF maintains interest in promoting the development and use of the alternative press in libraries. The idea was proposed by long-time member Jackie Eubanks in 1992. At that time, there were other notable task force members, including Sandy Berman, Chris Dodge, Noel Peattie, and Daniel Tsang, and collectively we all used our expertise to recommended presses for inclusion. I was designated the coordinator for the project and have served as editor and compiler for all six editions (1994-2006). The first five editions were published by CRISES Press and the current sixth edition by Library Juice Press.


Thanks for that description. I think the only other thing that I’d like you to talk about for readers is why this work is important and why libraries should own it.


Why is it important?

APBNA is unique. No other reference work singles out just alternative book presses. The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses include some of these presses under various subject headings, but does not notate “alternative.” Alternative publishers are individuals who are frequently dedicated to a cause or movement and are often driven by a desire to get certain titles into print regardless of the “saleability‚” or profit. These publishers take risks that mainstream publishers rarely take. They bring voice to minorities, new authors, experimental writing and controversial and radical subjects. The presses bring to print numerous translations and reprints of classic older titles. The alternative press has a long history of supporting individuals, groups and movements on the fringes of society, for example, authors such as Arundhati Roy and Winona LaDuke, groups representing vegans, environmentalists and feminists, and movements of liberation, peace and justice, and human rights.

Why librarians should use it?

The books from publishers in APBNA can diversity a library collection. The literature falls in line with a portion of ALA’s Library Bill of Rights which says, “Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation,” and “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.” Adding titles from alternative publishers to a library collection can be viewed either as an extension of intellectual freedom or because this literature is sadly underrepresented in library collections. While many users could benefit by having access to the books, it will often require more effort on the part of librarians to secure this literature. Marketing resources are minimal and mass mailings of new titles are infrequent. The literature is rarely mentioned in mainstream publications, such as, Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. The book titles will be missing from consideration of mainstream book awards and reviews. Finally, many of the presses are missing from mainstream distributors and profile plans. Librarians will have to seek out many of these presses and titles on their own. Sometimes this will require a librarian to work directly with a particular press. Still, the effort is worth it as there is a treasure trove of titles and literature out there to be discovered. APBNA is designed to help start the process of discovery.


Thanks, Byron.

March 11, 2008

Bush assassination video game art censorship

This is a great story; I just love this.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an exhibit by Wafaa Bilal, a suspected artist – I mean respected artist – was shut down by the institution amidst protests by the College Republicans. The exhibit involves a video game about assassinating President Bush. The art has a somewhat complex story to it. First there was a video game about hunting down Saddam Hussein, and then there was a response from some video game programmers supposedly associated with Al Qaeda about hunting down President Bush. Bilal’s exhibit displays a new version in which he himself is a character in the video game. Since the college shut down the exhibit it has reopened off-campus, where College Republican protests continue. I think the story in Inside Higher Ed is well done. Nanette Perez of ALA sent it to her IFACTION list.

March 10, 2008

Two more LJP books available from Powell’s

I’m happy to announce that two more books from Library Juice Press are now on sale from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. The reason this is good is that Powell’s is the only all-union bookstore in the U.S., employing over 400 people, represented by ILWU Local No. 5. The physical bookstore is one of the biggest in the world, selling used and new books. I loved going to Powell’s when I was a student in Portland and I’m very happy that they seem to be stocking LJP books consistently. If you want to pick up any of them from Powell’s, here are the links:

March 9, 2008

Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870

New from Litwin Books

Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870

Author: Lara Jennifer Moore
Price: $32.00
Published: March 2008
ISBN: 978-0-9778617-9-8

Printed on acid-free paper

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Barnes and Noble

Between 1789 and 1793, the revolutionary French state nationalized thousands of libraries and archival depositories, thus becoming the proprietor of many millions of books and documents, ranging from Montesquieu’s Persian Letters to proclamations signed by Charlemagne. Unsure whether to condemn these materials as vestiges of feudalism and tyranny or to preserve them as the core of the nation’s historical patrimony, the revolutionaries initiated a series of contradictory plans to remake French archives and libraries. Few of these plans were carried out, however, and by 1800, most of the collections nationalized during the revolution sat abandoned and deteriorating in provincial warehouses. This book is about how the French governments of the nineteenth century dealt with the collections left behind by the revolution. What did they choose to preserve, or ignore? How did they distinguish between the authentic sources of national history and the irrelevant debris of a bygone age? How did they organize the materials they did deem relevant into a national network of libraries and archives? And who did they imagine would use these new collections? Who was included in the post-revolutionary “public”? According to most histories of French archives and libraries, the nineteenth century was a period of slow but steady recovery from the trauma of the revolutionary era. Confronted with the “chaos” of the nationalized collections, it is said, a few forward-thinking archivists and librarians gradually restored bibliographic and documentary order, sheltering the state’s collections from destruction and decay, preparing suitable catalogues, and improving public access. In contrast, Moore argues that the organization of archives and libraries in nineteenth-century France was neither steady nor progressive. By following the development of the Ecole des Chartes, the state school for archivists and librarians, Moore shows that conceptions of “order” changed dramatically from one decade to the next. More important, she argues that these changing notions of “order” were directly connected to contemporary shifts in state politics. Since each new political regime had its own conceptions of both national history and public knowledge, each one worked to “restore order” in a different way.

March 6, 2008

Get your medical records online, courtesy of Google and Microsoft

Google and Microsoft have both been working on new services to provide access to medical records. Pretty exciting huh? Microsoft’s thing is HealthVault and Google’s is Google Health. I’m sure it’s all very secure and only accessible to Microsoft and Google employees for serious purposes, as governed by those always-changeable privacy policies.

What I’m wondering though is whether there’s a Facebook app in the works. How neat it would be to have my medical test results show up on my mini-feed.

March 4, 2008

Treasury Dept.’s outrageous web censorship

This is from today’s New York Times. Adam Liptak reports that the Treasury Department is shutting down websites that have to do with travel to Cuba, even if the websites belong to foreign travel agencies who are not offering services to U.S. citizens, but only to people in other countries who can travel to Cuba freely under their own laws. These are businesses not operating in the U.S., with websites not hosted on servers in the U.S. The only thing about these businesses that has to do with the U.S. is that U.S. based domain registrars registered their domain names. The Treasury Department created a blacklist of websites having to do with travel to Cuba, and simply took them off the web by going directly to the domain name registrars. No due process and no jurisdiction for this censorship. The Treasury Department is not within its rights here, but this administration can get away with just about whatever it wants post 9/11…

First Monday Special Issue: Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0

Michael Zimmer is the guest editor for the just released special issue of the open access journal First Monday: Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0. Here is the table of contents:

Volume 13, Number 3 – 3 March 2008

Special issue: Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0
edited by Michael Zimmer

Preface: Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0
by Michael Zimmer

Market Ideology and the Myths of Web 2.0
by Trebor Scholz

Web 2.0: An argument against convergence
by Matthew Allen

Interactivity is Evil! A critical investigation of Web 2.0
by Kylie Jarrett

Loser Generated Content: From Participation to Exploitation
by S??ren M??rk Petersen

The Externalities of Search 2.0: The Emerging Privacy Threats when the Drive for the Perfect Search Engine meets Web 2.0
by Michael Zimmer

Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance
by Anders Albrechtslund

History, Hype, and Hope: An Afterward
by David Silver

All of those articles are available online. Occasionally I link to single articles in First Monday, but this issue is a rare one that I think deserves highlighting in its entirety.

March 3, 2008

Cereals Solutions

A good start to the day:

Cereals Solutions