Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Bookmark cafe 6:45pm Monday 1/29/07

I was going to present to a Communications class last night and noticed how busy the Cafe was. The new hours seem to be popular.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Living in a Hybrid World

If you have spoken to me for more than 2 minutes about librarianship, then you have probably heard me say that we live in a hybrid world of both print and digital resources, and that we will continue to do so for quite some time (if not for ever.) The challenge for the early 21st century librarian is to manage the processes necessary to maintain both a print and a digital library and to help our users work in this hybrid world.

Having said that, I do not think that we live in a stable hybrid world. The general direction is of course from print to digital, but there are plenty of retreats along the way (the Rocket e-books being a good example from the 1990's.) If we consider the various formats (for want of a better word) that we deal with -- catalogs, indexes, journals, reference, and books -- and Bill Clinton's "bridge to the 21st century" then we have crossed the bridge from print to digital in terms of catalogs and indexes. Any print indexes or card catalogs left now are just remnants. We are rapidly crossing the bridge in terms of journals. More quickly than I expected in fact and this is true of music as well. We are only just getting on to the bridge with reference books (we still need to solve the problems of OpenURL compliance and federated searching across reference collections) and books in general? Well, I am not sure. I think the printed codex will be with us for a long time. I will be reading one on my death bed and my 14 year old son is a voracious reader of books.

However, I think the traffic on that bridge (to stretch the metaphor way too far) is going in both directions. Books are being created, edited, produced and distributed digitally, but also the technology is impacting the nature of the "book". Our society produced 2-300 page documents because it made economic sense. Creators then tailored their works to that format. In the digital environment (particularly if the reading device of choice is the cell phone) documents -- the packets of information -- may be distributed in much smaller forms. We may buy or access chapter length works, or even paragraphs. You can see this already as what were reference books are now reference databases; like the two most recent additions at the Olin Library: Gale's Literature Research Center and Springer Verlag's Prokaryotes. Both of which also illustrate the amount of work still to be done to truly cross the digital bridge.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Team of Rivals

I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln. (E457.45 .G66 2005 in the Olin Library, but it is checked out at the moment, not by me, I got mine from the Orange County Public Library with my shiny new library card.)

Before this semester started, I spent six days buried in the Association of Research Libraries archive in the Manuscript Reading Room at the Library of Congress doing research for my dissertation. I had a wonderful and, I think, productive time. Now I just have to process it all.

When I am doing historical research I like to read history. It somehow gets me thinking along the right lines. I like to notice how the historian marshals her evidence and writes history. I particularly enjoy reading about Lincoln, the United State's greatest President (in this foreigner's humble opinion). The book was also meaningful since every night I ran on the Mall and would stop at the Lincoln Memorial in the dark, look up at the looming seated figure of Lincoln and read one of my favorite political speeches, the Gettysburg Address.

On a more personal level I was struck as I read the book by how much time so many of the married couples in that period spend apart. As the United States exploded westward in the decades before the civil war couples would often be separated for long periods. The curse of modern academe is not so new.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Avatars of the Word: from papyrus to cyberspace

Elise Friedland recommended this book to me (although once I started reading it I realized I had read at least parts of it before. Does that ever happen to you?) James J. O'Donnell published it in 1998 and his ideas about the impact of the digital revolution (if that is what it is) have stood up remarkably well.
Find it in the Olin Library at PROSHELF P96.T42 O36 1998. O'Donnell is an scholar of late antiquity, St. Augustine in particular. He is also interested in Cassiodorus. The book relates what we are living through now to the move from orality to literacy and from the scroll to the codex. Along the way O'Donnell discusses libraries, the liberal arts, the future of higher education, amongst other things. He intersperses these chapters with short pieces he calls "hyperlinks" on issues like the "How does Teaching Work" and "The Instability of the Text." It is one of those books that sparks lots of ideas. I particularly like how he ends the book because I think it speaks to what we as librarians need to do.

"Cassiodorus chose a course that succeeded in placing some new wine in old bottles. He used the instruments, the habits, and the cultural expectations of the old Roman culture in which he had been brought up to do new things, create a new kind of library. He is not a savior of western civilization, nor should any of us expect to be. He is rather a single responsible individual helping shape to the limits of his ability the institutions and the cultural tools that his world needed. That he accepted and thrived on the disruption of his life and expectations, and that he succeeded in using his past and his expectations so resourcefully to help him shape a future , are lessons we can all take away with us."