April 30, 2009

Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards – 2009 Winners

The Jane Addams Peace Association has announced the winners of its Children’s Book Awards for this year. This award tends to get lost in the shuffle, I think.

From the site:

The Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards are given annually to the children’s books published the preceding year that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence.

The Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards have been presented annually since 1953 by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Jane Addams Peace Association. Beginning in 1993, a Picture Book category was created. Honor books may be chosen in each category.

Authors and artists of award-winning and honor books each receive a certificate and a cash award. Seals designating each recognition are available for purchase by publishers, libraries, schools and others wanting them from the Jane Addams Peace Association.

Between 1963 and 2002, announcement of the awards was made each fall on the September anniversary of Jane Addams’ birth date. Beginning in 2003, the award winners are announced on April 28, the anniversary of the founding of WILPF. An awards presentation, open to all, is held each year on the third Friday of October.

April 28, 2009

Ideas for changing higher ed

Mark C. Taylor has an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times titled “End the University as We Know It,” which has been circulating rapidly on Facebook. I’m sharing it here because I think people ought to see it. I think Taylor’s insights about higher ed are on the money, for the most part.

April 27, 2009

Media in Transition 6… Reactions…

I attended Media in Transition 6: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission in Cambridge, MA, April 24-26. (Follow that link for a summary of what the conference was about.) Here are my thoughts about the conference after returning home.

Of primary interest to me, coming from Duluth, MN, where it was below freezing yesterday, was the beautiful weather and quaint, New Englandy setting of Cambridge. It was warm, approaching the 70s. Second after the weather and the architecture the most noticeable thing about Cambridge, coming from the Midwest and California before that, are the sharply drawn, heavily defining class lines. You can feel that it matters what your background is to people in that part of the country. While it is refreshing to be in a place where intellectualism is generally respected, it is annoying how that appreciation always seems to come with a measurement of rank (what university you’re associated with, etc.).

Walking into the Sloane building at the kickoff of the conference, what was most noticeable was the way that people looked. Black clothing, trendy eyewear, and hip messenger bags created an impression of with-it-ness and sexiness that matched the paper abstracts on the website. Beginning to speak with people personally, though, I quickly realized that, more than hip and sexy, this was a crowd of extremely interesting and dynamic individuals.

Listening to papers over a couple of days, I did notice a certain degree of academic vanity and ego that is an underlying issue in academia, perhaps more at MIT6 than in some other places, because of the sexiness of the subject matter. You could hear the effort that many of the young scholars put into stringing together impressive and artful sentences, and I felt a little embarrassed to recognize my own writing priorities in theirs (since those artful sentences could have been written just as clearly without the showiness). I think it is a rare person who pursues a profession as an intellectual who can remain uncorrupted by the issues of ego and vanity that run through academia.

The conference, since it was so much about what is new and changing, had the feel of young intellectuals staking their claims, but not everyone there was young. The inter-generational dynamic was important. There were a number of well established senior faculty who held forth and got respect, but sometimes seemed to be struggling to keep up with the pace of change that younger academics at the conference were aggressively pushing forward with papers on Youtube and how it has reshaped things, etc. To get a sense of the energy of the young scholars at the conference, take a look at the action on Twitter over the past few days.

While there were a lot of women at the conference, there were few minorities, and some women noted how male-dominated the large-scale discussions tended to be. This is despite gender and multiculturalism frequently appearing as aspects of presented papers.

As a librarian, and not a professor or a grad student, and not immersed in media studies, I felt somewhat outside of the intellectual currents that flowed through the conference. Thankfully, it was an interdisciplinary-enough event that most people were less than totally familiar with the discourse that underlay most others’ papers, which put everyone in more or less the same boat, at least part of the time. That said, I definitely felt aware of my own non-specialist, perhaps dilettante-ish approach to scholarly discourse. I like having the freedom to engage in an idea briefly, communicate an original thought to someone who might make use of it, and move on. My interests are too wide-ranging to focus on a topic for years on end the way a professor is required to do. I can only admire the work that many of the academics at this conference put into developing their ideas about new media into solid works that might have an influence on the way society solves problems or navigates the way forward, but I am also glad that that is not a part of my job description. I don’t have quite the attention span or temperament for it.

One of the MIT Communications Forum members who kicked off the conference on Friday said that there were over 300 papers being presented. The abstracts and many of the actual papers are online on the MIT6 site – I encourage you to peruse them. Over the course of the weekend I found the energy and sheer volume of discussion and ideas to be overwhelming, so that Sunday morning my head was spinning, and I sat out that day’s sessions. The conference was larger than expected, and attracted so many bright, original young thinkers who want to push ahead with social research about new media and the web that I am left with the impression that this may have been a landmark conference – if not delineating then at least marking a point of fruition and maturity in studies of new, social media, Web 2.0 and the like. The conference was at MIT, and the book table showing MIT Press’ new publications in the area of new media and related topics was a further indication of the what a state of fruition this area of study is in. Take a look at the MIT Press website to see what I mean.

I mentioned that I felt somewhat an outsider at the conference because of my reading interests and work role. Making me feel further outside, or against, the current, was the fact that this conference was very much about the future – speculating about what it will be as well as creating it – while I am often more interested in what we can learn from the past. The sheer volume and energy of the ideas about the future and the rapidly transforming present made me feel my age, and I’m not that old yet.

When I go to conferences, I like to think about what questions are set to emerge but are only suggested in the papers and discussions. One set of questions that I think we will begin to face in librarianship concerns the death of the public sphere and the emergence of disparate publics, and how these relate to social media and digital archives. Many presenters worked from the assumption of a public sphere (whether their ideas concerned journalism, archives, youtube, or communities that would form around electronic books). The question of “publics” versus “the public” did come up explicitly in the question/ answer period following a session about the “new civic journalism,” where Patricia Aufdferheide and Mary Bryson debated Afderheide’s deliberate use of the term “publics” in a way that referred to an ultimate appeal to a broader public sphere were social problems can be communicated and refereed. The sheer volume of communication, and the sharp differences between potential audiences, made me wonder if such a public sphere is possible any longer (I’m very late in doubting it), and how access to discussion about texts will end up being negotiated – how social media groups will form or be formed and access to their discussions regulated.

The ideas that circulated at this conference will, I believe, eventually find their way into our smaller pond of library studies, and I believe we will have many uses for them. I recommend the MIT6 archive of presented papers as a store of ideas.

I did find myself wishing, on a number of occasions, that more LIS people were present. For example, there was a lot of interest and discussion of digital archives and the role of the archive in society, but no academics who could speak to the issues in archival theory and archival appraisal that were glossed over by speakers, who seemed almost unaware that such a discipline exists. In the first plenary discussion, for example, there was an unquestioned assumption that archivists want to keep everything, with no reference made to archival appraisal, which was very much at issue.

This conference really wore me out. I think I will pass on the next one, but I hope it is attended by more librarians and archivists than this one was.

April 22, 2009

The constraining effects of information privatization: Google’s purchase and shutdown of Paper of Record

From today’s Inside Higher Ed, “Digital Archives That Disappear,” a brief article about Google’s shutdown of the historical newspaper archive Paper of Record, which it secretly purchased in 2006.

This is a good example of what many people have feared about Google’s success – that turning over information resources from shared, public control in library-related settings to the private, for-profit sector we would begin to see public access constrained.

Google has restored access to Paper of Record temporarily, but, being who they are it would be foolish not to assume that they will be spending the time figuring out how to effectively monetize the resource to make back their investment. Historians will have to pay for access to the resources that they need, in a case where the resources in question had already been paid for and were publicly accessible.

April 21, 2009

Exploring the Ethical Implications of Media Technology Through the Thought of Walter Ong

“Exploring the Ethical Implications of Technological Change through the Thought of Walter Ong and Other Media Theorists”

That’s the title of my paper for the conference coming up this weekend in Boston, Media in Transition 6: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission.

The paper is not the greatest thing I’ve ever written, but it is a succinct statement of an idea that I think is relevant here.

If you find it useful for something, let me know.

April 17, 2009

Help needed – used pocket cards

This is a call for people to send me used pocket cards, you know, that your library may at one time have used to keep records of what books are checked out. I’m helping my designer design a cover for an upcoming book. If you send a card or cards to me, you’ll be acknowledged in the book.

You can send them to:

Library Juice Press
PO Box 3320
Duluth, MN 55803

I would really appreciate the help.

The cards I’m talking about are the things that look like these:

Many thanks – I appreciate your help.

April 15, 2009

Franklin Rosemont has passed on

The following obituary for Franklin Rosemont was written by Séamas Cain, a writer I know here in the Duluth, Minnesota area.

Franklin Rosemont, surrealist poet, artist, historian, street speaker, & labor activist, died of an aneurysm on Sunday, April 12th in Chicago, Illinois. He was 65 years old. With his partner & comrade, Penelope Rosemont, & lifelong friend Paul Garon, he co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group, a remarkable presence in the art & activism landscape of Chicago for forty years.

Rosemont did not separate scholarship from art, or art from political & social revolt. His books of poetry include “The morning of a machine gun” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions, 1968); “The apple of the automatic zebra’s eye” (Cambridge, Massachusetts : Radical America, 1971); “Lamps hurled at the stunning algebra of ants” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions & Black Swan Press, 1990); & “Penelope” (Chicago : Surrealist Editions, 1997).

Rosemont was a leading figure in the reorganization of America’s oldest labor press, the Charles H. Kerr Company. Under the mantle of the Kerr Company, Franklin edited & printed the work of some of the most interesting & important figures in the development of the political left: C.L.R. James, Martin Glaberman, Staughton Lynd, David Dellinger, Cornelius Castoriadis, Sam Dolgoff, Paul Goodman, Grace Lee Boggs, Paul Avrich, Augustin Souchy, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Benjamin Péret, Utah Phillips, Paul Buhle, T-Bone Slim, George Woodcock, and, in a new book released just days before Franklin’s death, Carl Sandburg. In later years, Franklin Rosemont created & edited the Surrealist Histories series at the University of Texas Press, in addition to continuing his work with the Kerr Company & Black Swan Press.

Franklin Rosemont was a friend & valued colleague of such persons as Studs Terkel, Mary Low, the poets Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dennis Brutus, the painter Leonora Carrington, & the historians David Roediger, John Bracey, & Robin D.G. Kelley.

I first encountered Franklin Rosemont face-to-face during the Chicago protests of August 1968. Then & since, I found him to be an amazing blend of contradictions, at once cordial yet cantankerous, amiable yet dismissive, spontaneous & enthusiastic yet grim, social yet unmistakably self-absorbed, creative yet singularly overpowering. Indeed, he was a unique personality.

My condolences & solidarity to Penelope Rosemont, the Chicago group & its affiliates.

Séamas Cain

Elaine Harger, co-founder of the Progressive Librarians Guild, had this to add on the PLG listserv:

Franklin and Penelope Rosemont are tied to PLG’s story in that they organized PLG’s first outing at an ALA conference. They gave us a tour of the Waldheim Cemetary in Chicago, burial place of many leftists. We have a photo of PLGers with the Rosemonts standing in front of the monument erected to the Haymarket Martyrs. Here is a picture of the monument:

The Alternative Press Center is organizing a presentation by Paul Buhle, a friend of Franklins, for this summer’s ALA conference. Perhaps PLG can do something to remember Franklin. He and Kerr publishers have “kept the flame alive” for many years.

Library 2.0 talk enters backwardation

This is going to be my obnoxious post for the year, the kind of post I write periodically that leads to ugly Google results on my name. There are things that I sometimes need to say that I know a lot of people won’t like. Helps me maintain a sense of integrity, I guess.

Like a lot of people, the financial crisis has given me an interest in learning about finance and economics, and I have been learning some of the concepts of capitalism. One of the things I’ve learned about is the concept of a commodity – not in the Marxian sense but in the mainstream economic sense. Basically, a commodity is stuff that is bought and sold as stuff, regardless of where it came from. One barrel of light sweet crude oil is the same as another. It’s stored in tanks and mixed together with other barrels regardless of the source, and it trades based on its quantity. There are some standards that apply to a given commodity to ensure that the quality is within an acceptable range, and different grades of a commodity can be traded separately. But a barrel of light sweet crude is a barrel of light sweet crude, regardless of where it came from.

Lots of things are sold on commodities exchanges: orange juice, coffee, the famous pork bellies, palladium, copper, etc. Regarding something like coffee, where quality can definitely come into play, you have commodity coffee, specialty coffee, and boutique coffee. With boutique stuff it matters where it comes from, and one pound of it can be very different from another pound of it, depending on where it’s from, how it’s produced, etc. Boutique coffee is sold on the basis of information about its particular qualities, unlike commodities, which are expected to be “all the same.”

Commodities can be sold on the “spot market,” meaning, based on taking delivery of it right now for a certain price, or on the “futures market,” where what’s sold is a contract to take delivery of the commodity at some time in the future (three months, six months, etc.). Prices in futures markets are shaped by people’s estimates of future supply and demand, along with the cost of storage. When the price of futures contracts is higher than the spot price, you have “contango.” Where the price of futures contracts is lower than the spot price, the commodity is said to be “in backwardation.” I enjoy those words; I don’t know why.

If this is obnoxious to you already, just hang on.

What I’m getting at is that there is a kind of library talk that you can read on blogs and hear at conference presentations that seems to have the quality of a commodity. Library 2.0 talk has a commodity-like quality to it, as does a lot of other talk about technological change in libraries. You see the title of the presentation and you pretty much know what to expect, and people attend the presentation with a desire for some of that refreshing, predictable stuff (predictable and refreshing are not mutually exclusive qualities – think of orange juice). Occasionally you will hear or read something that stands on its own and has to be considered separately from other stuff – the boutique speaker or writer. But most of what you get is commodity-grade talk – ideas that you’re familiar with and have heard a dozen times.

It seems to me that demand for a lot of this stuff, the Library 2.0 talk, is beginning to decline, at the same time that supply seems to have surged, with everybody and her cousin a supplier. People are getting a little tired of it, and it has become so abundant that it is everywhere. It tends to stay around for a while, too, in the web environment. It might even be accurate to say that there was a commodity bubble in Library 2.0 talk.

This metaphor might be a little unfortunate, because it extends the word “boutique” to the kind of original, challenging, unexpected thought that I want to promote, and boutiques are still about shopping, still places to buy what are commodities in the Marxian sense. As a metaphor, it also has the problem of suggesting that that good ideas are expensive (because the advantage of commodities over boutique stuff is that it’s cheaper). The cost of original ideas is that they require a person to think new thoughts rather than rehash the old ones, and thinking is more like love than money, in that you’re richer the more you give.

I think what this idea is getting at though is the difference between information as a commodity, which in some circumstances it has become – undifferentiated stuff that sells in megabytes – and information as an umbrella category for ideas and expressions that have to be looked into for their uniqueness to be understood and valued for what they are. The key here is that “information” can be seen in its connection to the people who create it, who are subjects as well as objects, or it can be taken in an alienated sense, with the connection to individual speakers and writers severed. (That distinction is, I believe, the Marxian perspective.)

I think that our society makes it easy for us to regard ourselves and our own ideas as commodities, and this contributes to the commodity-quality of a lot of library 2.0 tech talk, by making it easy for people to say what they’ve heard others say and to go ahead and supply talk as a commodity rather than attempting to come to new insights.

I’m for new insights. An insight can’t be a commodity, can it? It’s too singular.

April 13, 2009

Judith Krug has passed on

Judith Krug, head of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom since 1967, has died of stomach cancer at age 69. Library Journal has published an obituary rapidly; I am sure we will see something more extensive soon.

From what I have been told by people who have been a part of librarianship and active in ALA for a very long time, Judith Krug is the person to whom we owe thanks for having Intellectual Freedom as such a major part of the vocabulary of the profession. She leaves behind great achievements and a major gap….

April 11, 2009

New from Litwin Books: Library of Walls

Library of Walls: The Library of Congress and the Contradictions of Information Society

Author: Samuel Gerald Collins
Price: $32.00
Published: April 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9802004-2-3
Printed on acid-free paper

“The experience [of reading this book] was something akin to watching a reality show featuring Jorge Luis Borges, Marshall McLuhan, Michel Foucault, Lewis Mumford, and Paul Virilio in the Library of Congress—surreal twists of perspective, profound insights into mass media, piercing critiques of power, solid sociocultural observations, and dire warnings about the future—twisting through a maze of stacks and fiber optic cables at the heart of the American political establishment. This is no mere book about libraries (though it is that, too), it is an ambitious investigation of the Information Society itself—its mythology, economics, and politics….

“Ultimately, the strength of Library of Walls rests in the utter appropriateness of its topic. The temporal situation of the archive, both as an attempt to account for a history of the present as required by a future that does not exist yet and as a fragmented account of the past, offers a compelling account of the process of culture as both historically rooted and up for grabs. It is culture in the ‘future perfect,’ determined but not overly so, free but not without limit. And the Library of Congress is the archive par excellence. It tells a valuable story of American history, but, more importantly, it maps traces of the new world order, the neoliberal priorities of an emerging global marketplace, and the practices of the new economy. Fortunately, Collins is able to connect these dots with creativity, skill, and originality.”

— From the Foreword by Davin Heckman

In Library of Walls, Samuel Collins engages the heterogeneities of information society at the Library of Congress through ethnographic fieldwork, suggesting that “information society” is best understood at the locus of conflicting modalities imbricating text, space, work and life. During the 1990’s, the Library of Congress was beset with challenges to its traditional roles in cataloging and scholarship while at the same time re-inventing itself as a library “without walls.” The “order of books” was threatened on several fronts: in the explosive growth of accessions, in the challenges of online materials and different container types, and in fundamental disagreements about the role of the Library vis-à-vis the nation. But rather than analyze these as separate etiologies, Collins sees them as the expression of an inherently Janus-faced information society that limits information and forecloses debate even as it multiplies avenues of access. Collins considers multiple sites at the Library-its spaces, its artifacts and organization-as contested sites where varied actors negotiate information, knowledge and nation amidst an institution whose own shifting priorities synecdochally mirror the ambiguities and unease of contemporary society. What Collins’ research suggests is that the technologies of reading (books, catalogs, web pages) must be understood in the context of their contradictory production, an ultimately salutary intervention in an era where, surrounded by our variously networked techno-fetishes, it is difficult to see information society for what it is-a chimera of shifting configurations of technology, social life and cultural meaning. However many books are digitized and however accessible information becomes in the digital age, Collins urges us to examine the powerful exclusions concealed in the umbra of these technological revolutions.

April 9, 2009

POD vs. author services publishing

In the most recent issue of ALA’s email newsletter, AL Direct, there is an item (“More authors turn to web publishing”) about the growing popularity of author services companies like Lulu.com and Author Solutions as mainstream publishers cut back on the numbers of titles that they take on during the economic downturn. That’s true as far as it goes, but AL Direct explained the distinction between these author services companies and traditional publishers inaccurately. They wrote,

Unlike traditional publishing companies, these publishers only produce hard copies of the books when a customer buys one, a process known as print on demand…

In fact, traditional publishers are using print on demand technology rather heavily. The distinction to be drawn is that traditional publishers select what they publish based on their view of the market (often initiating book projects based on editors’ ideas), work with authors on the development of the books, edit the books and market them, while author services companies make much of their money from set-up fees paid by authors, initiate no book projects, do no selecting or rejecting, do no developmental editing and no copy editing. Author services companies operate on a modified vanity press model. This business model is not new, but has become a stronger business model because of the invention of print-on-demand technology.

Print on demand, for its part, is of greater importance in traditional publishing than in author services publishing. Traditional publishers are increasingly turning to print on demand to print books with expected sales of fewer than 1000 copies. (For an academic book to be profitable it generally needs to sell 500 copies at most scholarly publishing houses.) Print on demand has become the norm for academic publishers who print paperbacks or who keep a backlist of titles, as well as for small, independent publishers. Academic and independent publishers are using the same companies for POD printing that the author services companies are using, and make up a larger part of those printers’ overall business. Chances are, if you have a paperback from McFarland or any of a large number of academic publishers sitting on your desk, it was probably printed using print on demand technology. Some hardcover books from well-known publishers that you may own are also printed using POD.

The publishing industry as a whole is changing because of a range of factors, and technology is one. Rather than focusing on author services companies, though their rapid growth is a new development, I would like to see AL Direct or American Libraries focus on another, perhaps more important new trend, which is the rise of small, niche-based publishers (like Library Juice Press and Litwin Books) who publish books for specific audiences and in specific subject areas, and are able to operate with low overheads. New technologies and economic pressures facing the larger publishers are cooperating to breathe life into this trend. It’s something that librarians ought to be cognizant of, because it is quietly reshaping the world of publishing…

The economic crisis and the preservation function of libraries

If you’re like me, you work in a library that is facing tough decisions (no irony intended by that cliché phrase) as a result of budget cuts during the economic crisis. The choice between cutting staff and cutting the budget for materials is the easy one – protect the people who work in the library and do with less than an adequate budget for books and videos until things turn around.

Beyond that the decisions begin to get more difficult, because acquisitions budgets were already tight before the economy entered into a recession.

I would like to emphasize what I believe is an important consideration as we think this problem through, one based on the long view and the preservation function of libraries. I can see us looking back on this period 20 years from now, and being saddened by a tragic hole that exists in the written record because of a lack of funds for collecting certain materials for some number of years. What kinds of materials might we end up wishing we had collected but now find it tempting to cut out of the budget? In terms of preservation, it is most likely going to be materials that aren’t collected and preserved by a major research library, which probably means materials published in your own region or locality, or in a specialty that is unique to your institution. For example, if you are paying to have a local or regional newspaper microfilmed or digitized, there may be no one else doing it if you discontinue that activity now. If you’re considering discontinuing a print subscription to something obscure that has an important role in the activities of your own faculty because it’s been picked up by an aggregator, you should consider that the written record may ultimately depend on your maintaining that print subscription. And to make matters more difficult, institutions aren’t sharing much information with each other at present about what they are considering cutting.

What I want to point out is that our preservation role is at its most important during those times when it’s hardest to maintain, because others, under the same pressures, may not be doing the job.

April 8, 2009

Goodman & Greenwald win Izzy indy media award

From the Izzy Award site:

The first annual Izzy Award for “special achievement in independent media” was presented March 31, 2009, to blogger Glenn Greenwald and Democracy Now! host and executive producer Amy Goodman. Roughly 800 people attended the award ceremony at Ithaca’s State Theatre – including Izzy Stone’s son Jeremy, who spoke briefly.

The Izzy Award is named after legendary maverick journalist I. F. Stone, who launched I. F. Stone Weekly in 1953 and exposed government deception, McCarthyism, and racial bigotry. Presented annually for “special achievement in independent media,” the Izzy Award will go to an independent outlet, journalist, or producer for contributions to our culture, politics, or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures.

This year’s judges are communications professor and author Robert W. McChesney; Linda Jue, director and executive editor of the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism; and Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.

CFP – Semiotics and LIS… A whole issue of LIBREAS on it…

LIBREAS – Library Ideas is a LIS journal out of Germany that publishes articles in German and English. The Call for Papers for the next issue is out. Issue #15 of LIBREAS is going to be all about semiotics. If you’ll look at the CFP you’ll see that the issue has a rather narrow focus to it. I think it will be interesting to see if they can gather articles that are so closely related. I’m not sure how many people are working with ideas from semiotics in LIS. If you know someone who is, alert them to the CFP.

April 5, 2009

LJP LibraryThing group

I’ve started a LibraryThing group for Library Juice Press. I decided to start it as “a group for readers and authors of books from Library Juice Press and Litwin Books. Discuss books, ask questions of the authors, suggest ideas…”

I hope a whole buncha people join and discuss books. I like Library Thing. I hope you’ll at least join it if you’re a LibraryThinger.

See you there…