Category Archives: Librarians

Seriously?

Librarians for Palin? Are you high? She threatened to fire one of us for not doing her bidding and you think this is the sort of person who deserves to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? When that heartbeat is farting around in the 72 year old chest of john Effing McCain?

At least the Librarians Against Palin have the good sense to use WordPress.

Links via Jessamyn West (who is also on Twitter)

Update: Pam Spalding at Pandagon finds ABC doing some actual journalism on Sarah Palin and her taste in literature.

To Librarian or Not To Librarian

Reader Anon writes:

I was hoping I could pick your brain a bit. I’ve been thinking about getting a grad degree in library/information science.

It would be a second career after nine years as a journalist. Would you mind if I asked a few questions? Talking to someone in the profession would really help with my decision. This is what I’m curious to find out.

1. What drew you to the profession?
2. Was it a mid-career change or did you go right into it?
3. How hard was it to make ends meet while going to grad school?
4. How difficult is the course work?
5. How was the job search once you graduated? I keep hearing the job outlook is bleak for recent grads and there’s a lot of competition.
6. What do you love most about your job?
Any help you can give with this would be great.

Thanks a bunch!
Best, [name withheld]

I’ll take these one at a time:

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Not-So-Balanced Libraries

Previously on The Invisible Library: After discovering that a two year old blog post of mine had been citied in a book on how to make libraries work better in the web 2.0 world, I wondered aloud about the context of such citations and the weird gray area inhabited by blogs in the academic world.

Like any good librarian, I did a little more research. Naturally, I found Walt Crawford’s website and a link to his book, Balanced Libraries, which is self published on lulu.com. This in no way invalidates his book, or thesis, but neither does it really inspire much confidence. Let’s be honest–and this is coming from a fellow Lulu author–self published academic work tends to have a certain… charm, shall we say. It’s good to know others are getting their work out there independently and for all I know, Walt Crawford is the unsung, Tom Paine of the library world. But seriously, Walt, $29.50 for a paperback is bad enough but $20 for the download? Downloads are free. I could understand maybe asking for donations. Charging a buck or two is acceptable, if you want to be a dick. But $20 for a PDF is madness. Like, RIAA suing tween music downloaders for their parent’s retirement fund level of madness. Cory Doctorow explains why. Bad form, Walt.

The only thing worse than not making an ebook available (especially when self publishing the book on Lulu, where that option is free and as easy as clicking a single button) is charging such a ridiculous price for it. This is one of those really easy web 2.0 ideas that often get ignored by library administrators because they either can’t or won’t change their minds about access and distribution models. If charging people for ebooks is part of your idea of creating a balanced library, I’m not impressed. And neither am I willing to spend $30 bucks for some out-to-lunch academic’s pet project.

Where Are Blogs Bred? In the Heart Or In the Head?

Last night, I was searching Amazon for something completely unrelated* and happened upon this book, Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, by Walt Crawford. The author is trying to find the middle ground between the old school library way and the new fangled Web 2.0 way of doing things, which is commendable. What really knocked my virtual socks off though, is that he cites me as a source. Specifically, this post from Friday, December 8, 2006, in which I talk about the use of Netflix in libraries.

The book is available for search on Amazon and so I was able to read pages 114-115, where I’m quoted. Since I haven’t yet read the book or even the whole chapter, I can’t really speak about the context in which I’m cited. Once I get my hands on a copy, I’ll have a more informed opinion.

But one thing I am, is uncertain about how I feel about being cited in this or any other book. At first go, it’s a little flattering to have my opinions taken into consideration, even if, as I gather from the few pages I’ve read online, that Walt Crawford is criticizing me. That’s fine. Healthy debate is great and I’m a big boy and can handle it. But what remains uncertain at this point (because again, I haven’t read the whole book yet) is the context.

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Robbing The Cradle Of Civilization

Like everyone and everything else in Iraq, the National Library and Archives have had a rough go of it since the Occupation:

The sacking of the library that began April 11, 2003, was a bad one. The current Director of Iraq’s National Library and Archive, Dr. Saad Eskander, estimates that over three days, as many as “60 percent of the Ottoman and Royal Hashemite era documents were lost as well as the bulk of the Ba’ath era documents…. [and] approximately 25 percent of the book collections were looted or burned.” Other Iraqi manuscript collections and university libraries suffered similar fates.

Since then, Iraqis have once again tried to rebuild their library. The occupying powers have played along, but like so much about the Iraq War, their effort has been marked by ineptitude, hypocrisy and a cruel disregard for Iraqi people and culture.

Early in the occupation, L. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), demonstrated an unwillingness to provide the basic funds necessary for the reconstruction of Iraq’s educational and informational infrastructure. Dr. Rene Teijgeler, senior consultant for Culture for the Iraqi Reconstruction Management office at the American Embassy in Baghdad, left his position in February of 2005, not having “the supplies of ready cash that could be used to acquire something as simple as bookshelves.” His position was left empty.

When John Agresto, the education czar of the CPA, asked for $1.2 billion to make Iraqi universities viable centers of learning: he received $9 million. He asked USAID for 130,000 classroom desks, and received 8,000.

So the NLA staff have looked elsewhere, occasionally finding pieces of the old collection for sale there on Al Mutanabi street, home to Baghdad’s booksellers. In fact Al Mutanabi is the source of 95 percent of the books purchased to replace the looted collection of Iraq’s National Library and Archive. But Al Mutanabi was destroyed by a car bomb in March of 2007.

[...] Many dedicated people have offered important solidarity. In Florence, the city government underwrote construction of a conservation lab. The Czech government funded the training of Iraqi archivists. With the exception of invaluable training sessions organized by private educational institutions such as Harvard University, American support has been limited to a relatively small number of individual scholars, a few dedicated nonprofit agencies, nominal USAID support and the cooperation of a handful of private corporations. In 2005 the American Library Association issued a resolution on the connection between the Iraq war and libraries, calling for a full withdrawal of troops and a redistribution of funding but the conversation never extended much further than the bullet points.

The US State Department has created the Iraq Virtual Science Library, which provides access to a large number of health and science databases to institutions throughout the country. But Internet access, like electricity, is intermittent at best. Iraq is, after all, a largely collapsed society.

[...] It would be unfair and frankly absurd to blame American librarians and their shrinking budgets, rising legal costs and increasingly costly dependence on proprietary databases for the state of Iraq’s infrastructure. But the increasingly unstable position of American libraries is actually part of the same logic that produced that war. The disdain for cultural >institutions does not stop at the border–bombs there, budget cuts here.

This is a travesty, but one that was planned. New Orleans had problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, due to incompetence and terminal feet dragging on the part of the Government. But five years on, the INLA is run by a skeleton staff with next to no money or resources. And in typical US fashion, we decided to give them a big shiny Internet Database and not much else. The fact they still don’t have electricity is just one of those little oversights. We’ll get right on that, I’m sure.

As R.H. Lossin points out in the article, there’s not much help coming form US libraries and while that’s not entirely the fault of the libraries, as they are mostly underfunded and generally shit upon form a great hight by the Bush Administration as well, there are things we could do but simply aren’t. And there’s no excuse for that. The INLA, like the library of Alexandria, is part of the literary, scholastic and cultural fabric of the world, not just some low level agency in a neglected part of the world that just happens to sit adjacent to a large oil reserve. Until we readjust our perspective and start acting in a humane way, the Iraqi National Library and Archive will continue, like the rest of Iraq and increasingly, the infrastructure of the US, to slide into irrelevance and decay.

“You Keep Using This Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.”

There was an interesting discussion over at Boing Boing earlier about libraries and how they handle books on the occult.

Cecile Dubuis wrote a master’s dissertation for University College London titled “Libraries & The Occult.” I’ve only read bits of it,but the challenge she identifies is that occult books are, by their nature, anomalous and hard to categorize, much like the phenomena discussed in their pages. As a result, they are often unsearchable in the context of traditional library classification systems.

Sadly, the discussion wandered off into weird, symbolic arguments about Remote Viewing and whether or not it can be scientifically validated (short answer: it can’t. Remote Viewing has about as much science in it as Voodoo Economics has dolls and magic potions).

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Great Moments In the History of Technical Services

Greatest History Ever:

537 B.C.
The National Library of Babylon, finally switching to papyrus, ceases maintaining its clay tablet shelflist, but is unable to discard it for nostalgic reasons. Two years later, under seige by the Persians, the city finds a new use for the old tablets and manages to inflict severe losses on the beseiging army by pelting them from the ramparts with large quantities of shelflist tablets.

43 B.C.
First attested use of an ISBN (for the special collector’s edition of Caesar’s Gallic Wars with an introduction by Marc Anthony): IXIVVIIXVIIIVIIIVIVII.
81 A.D.
Second gospel of the Christian New Testament becomes the first document written in MARK format.

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light.

Checking Out a Library Ghost

Via a commenter over at Phil Plait’s blog (where he’s discussing a wing ding of a doomsday prophet) I found this story of a Spooooky Library Ghost:

MOREHEAD CITY –There are strange things happening in the stacks of the Morehead City library.

Large books inexplicably leave the shelves and wind up on the floor. A light bulb fell from a fixture and landed upright, unbroken.

“It’s really interesting,” says Sandy Bell, director of the Webb Library and Civic Center. “None of the staff has felt threatened.”

Bell has no explanation for the incidents, but she says the building “does have an aura.”

According to Bell, a former library employee reported seeing spectral images of fishermen walking through as if on the way to the waterfront nearby.

She said unusual things seem to happen whenever the staff makes changes. For example, she said, she decided to move the children’s section from its longtime home upstairs to a new room downstairs. Soon after, she said, the staff left the library in perfect order and returned the next day to find large art books on the floor with the pages balled up.

“They were very expensive,” Bell said. “It was really kind of attention-getting when they started ending up on the floor with the pages all scrunched.”


Yeah, that is spooky. If by spooky you mean vandalism.

What is more probable: ghosts or some homeless guy who hangs out in the bathroom until everyone locks up and then makes himself at home in the stacks? Or better yet, absentminded librarians who just forget to put books away but swear they did, or at least meant to but maybe didn’t get around to it before quitting time?

As for the vandalized art book, having worked in an Art School Library for two years, I can’t tell you how often we find books with crumpled up or ripped out pages. It’s sad really because you’d think artists, or would-be artists would take care of expensive art books. And real artists do, because art books are expensive and most artists are poor. But the entitled twats who pass for students at our school can just get mommy and daddy to pay for it so whatever. Rrrriiiipppp. They at lea st make an effort to hide their vandalism, though.

Anyway, point is: There’s no such thing as a ghost.

Princeton is shutting down their ESP and Paranormal Reasearch program because after decades of inquiry, investigation and theorizing they’ve found… absolutely nothing. Which is good science. They gave it a fair shake, found no evidence to support the dubious claims and so are moving resources to more fruitful areas of interest. Maybe in a few years the gang at TAPS will catch up on the scientific trend and go back to being plumbers, which is at least a useful trade.

As for what these librarians are doing, well, they should be embarrassed. They’re making us sensible, skeptical librarians look bad.

The Endless Library

James Grimmelmann has written a paper outlining a coherent information policy for Borges’ Library of Babel.(PDF version here) He compares it’s vastness and multitudes, which contain not just all books in the universe but all possible books (including impossible and imaginary ones) to the Internet. It’s one of those rare confluences between Library wonk and lit nerd that is intriguing and fun to read. If you’re into that sort of thing.*

Link via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

And Take Your Flappers With You!

Not satisfied with mangling facts and figures about Google, Information Retrieval Systems or the Internet in general, in his latest rant, Michael Gorman sets his sights on the big fish: Wikipedia. It’s really always been about Wikipedia for him. Trashing Google, bloggers, and Burst Culture is just a side project. He’s really pissed off about Wikipedia and what it does to authoritative credibility in general but his in particular. As his posts have been hosted thus far by the Britannica Blog, that’s no real surprise, seeing as how they’re primary competition comes form Wikipedia:

All the central institutions of Western society have responded in a similarly reactive and alarmed manner. Many of these institutions are driven by the middle aged and old acting in a domain that is widely perceived to be the province of the young. This discontinuity is not helped by reliance on a series of urban myths about the supposed uniqueness of the young generation based on the idea that its members have no useful memory of the pre-Web life. Let us leave aside the fact that the “uniqueness of the young” has been proclaimed every 15 years or so for almost the past century—from the energetic flappers of the1920s to the lethargic slackers of the 1990s.

He’s finally become that stereotypical cranky old man, ranting about young people on his lawn. And flappers. I’m not going to parse the rest of his two part rumination on why Wikipedia, and by extension the whole entire Web, sucks. And flappers. It’s more of what we’ve already seen: over simplifications, generalizations and straw men of unusual size.

Wikipedia works. This isn’t just a fan speaking, or some dirty webified Youtubian. I did graduate work on Wikipedia and found that it works pretty well, applying the peer-review concept on a larger scale. An article published in Nature two years ago reached the same conclusion: Wikipedia is just as good as Britannica in most places, better in some but could use a little more attention paid to the more complex, technical articles, a fact that Wikipedians have mentioned and addressed frequently. And, as we say on the Web, it’s just as easy to fix Wikipedia as it is to bitch about what’s wrong with it. But of course, Wikipedia won’t cut Gorman a check for his work, so why bother? No pay, no play for our Serious Academic.