Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 13: November 2004


The Library Stuff

Walt Crawford

Beaven, James, “Digital dissertations,” American Libraries 35:7 (August 2004): 46-47.

A growing number of universities require that theses and dissertations be submitted in electronic form, presumably to encourage students to add digital features mere print can’t replicate. That’s great, but this article goes on to the next question: How do we assure long-term access to those dissertations? Beaven offers a number of models—and for those dissertations that can be wholly or approximately replicated in paper form, suggests low-tech solutions. That is, archival paper backup combined with microfilm backup—combined with a redundant digital backup system that may be able to keep up with new technology. I’m surprised by one statement, but I’m not a preservationist: “Rag-quality paper does have a life expectancy of several hundred years under good conditions. However, microfilm is still the standard for preservation and has a longer life expectancy.” Really? Microfilm is certainly more compact, and I’ll accept that preservations experts may project that microfilm will survive longer than the half-millennium proven for rag paper—but no microfilm or film of any sort has been proven to last even two centuries so far. That’s a minor cavil; this is an interesting treatment of a difficult subject.

Bell, Steven J., “What works for me: 10 tips for getting published,” Ex Libris 225 and 226.

“Given the number of articles getting published annually in an ever-growing body of professional library journals, it seems that every librarian has contributed at least once, and some many more times, to the literature of librarianship.” Fortunately, that’s not true; unfortunately, some library people may want to publish and find it difficult to do so.

Bell writes well and publishes in a wide range of journals, some higher-profile than I’ve ever attempted. He served as a guest speaker in a library writing workshop and based this two-part article on his remarks. Briefly—and without the recommended commentary that makes sense of them—here are the ten tips: Write everyday, establish a dedicated time and place for writing, “writing that primes the pump,” generating good ideas, “listen to what librarians are grousing about,” finding a mentor, “try a co-authoring relationship,” “try a conference presentation first,” where to publish, and “as you travel the road to submission.”

Most of these tips are complementary to my longer writing-related notes, First Have Something to Say (which Bell refers to in tip four). I disagree mildly with the first tip, but only for experienced writers; until you do get a feel for it, daily writing may be essential.

Along those lines, you might also print off “Rhetorical comments” by Diane Sandford from LLRX.com, published July 26, 2004. Sandford offers “some of the rules of rhetoric that live in my brain,” such as “write honestly,” “avoid affectations and fancy words,” and “think.” To quote much more would detract from this brief piece.

Block, Marylaine, “The right hand knoweth not…,” Ex Libris 228.

Block’s concerned about the “interesting dichotomy between our profession’s theory and practice regarding recruitment.” On one hand journals and organizations are trying to recruit the next generation of librarians “before we all retire en masse in the next ten years”; on the other hand, “library administrators and coworkers are treating newly minted young librarians badly”—or at least that’s how young librarians report it.

As a pseudo-librarian, I have slightly mixed feelings about this. Were newbies somehow treated better a generation ago—welcomed into offices, treated as being as knowledgeable as the old hands, helped up the career ladder and all that? One complaint is that older staff resent having “NextGens” thrust into supervisory roles over them—and is this either a new or a surprising complaint, particularly if the older staff include capable but non-aggressive people who (perhaps correctly) feel they’ve been shafted? I also have my doubts about that promised mass retirement in the next decade being quite as massive as everyone thinks. I can tell you that the AARP Magazine and AARP’s own surveys indicate that many of today’s over-50 population have no intention of going peacefully into full-time retirement. Many can’t afford it; more, I suspect, don’t want it.

Yes, the workplace should be “open and affirming” for new entrants. Yes, many libraries don’t do as much to encourage and reward professional development as they should. Yes, we need the energy and enthusiasm of the younger generation—although it would be nice if the younger generation recognized that they’re not the only ones with good ideas and the energy to carry them out.

Maybe younger librarians do “bring a whole different knowledge base to the table,” Block’s focus for most of this column. I hope that’s true. I certainly agree that older librarians should be open to the ideas of new librarians and should offer good feedback and rewards for professionalism. “Of course [new librarians] should be respectful and willing to learn from older librarians.” It does cut both ways, and some of the “NextGen” writing I’ve seen seems to lack that bidirectionality.

Buschman, John, “Staying public: The real crisis in librarianship,” American Libraries 35:7 (August 2004): 40-42.

This excerpt from Buschman’s recent book, Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy, argues that it’s dangerous to view academic and public libraries in economic rather than democratic terms. I’m inclined to agree, one of several reasons that I won’t use “customers” to refer to library users. Viewing libraries in pure economic terms is part of an overall tendency toward seeing everything in market terms. We’re each supposed to be “our own brand”—a sad commentary on the worth of the individual. Buschman points out that business-based models for public institutions assume that performance can be measured objectively—but some activities are commonly funded because they’re hard to measure. He asserts, “We are a society out of balance—tilted too much toward business and market solutions and too far from the ideals of a true public and a democratic society.”

Do I agree with all of Buschman’s article and philosophy? I’m not sure. I am sure that his commentary is worth reading and thinking about, and that the pure marketplace view of libraries tends to cheapen and damage them.

Entlich, Richard, “FAQ: Blog today, gone tomorrow? Preservation of weblogs,” RLG DigiNews 8:4 (August 15, 2004)

Here’s the question: “Weblogs seem to be growing in number and stature, but a lot of them seem pretty ephemeral. Are any special efforts being made to preserve their contents?” Entlich offers definitions and numbers on weblogs or blogs then goes on to address the question. As usual for these FAQs, the answer is detailed, readable, and informative.

He discusses some of the reasons that blogs tend to be ephemeral—for example, oneshot blogs, waning enthusiasm, blogger burnout, and loss or disruption in hosting services. A followup question might be, “Who cares?” Most librarians give little thought to preservation of true ephemera, the extremes of gray literature; why should blogs be preserved? Entlich offers some worthwhile answers.

“How hard are blogs to archive?” Fairly tough. Not only do typical web problems apply—copyright, dynamic content, exotic file formats, etc.—but features that appear to be integral parts of blogs may actually be on entirely different servers, making coherent archiving more difficult. (Comments, for example, aren’t always integral parts of blogs.) Link rot may affect blogs more than more formal websites.

At this point, the Internet Archive may be the only ongoing attempt to archive blogs as part of its overall web snapshots. Entlich concludes that there is a case for selective archiving of blogs, that targeted collection of blogs doesn’t seem to be getting much attention yet, and that “there is a growing need to develop a strategy to save at least a few [weblogs] for posterity.” Well worth reading. The same issue has a Cliff Lynch interview that touches on weblogs.

Hennen, Thomas J., Jr., “Restore our destiny: Full—not plural—funding,” American Libraries 35:7 (August 2004): 43-45.

Hennen takes on Coffman—well, it’s not that simple, but I’m delighted to see someone with Hennen’s credibility argue against Steve Coffman’s latest anti-public-library concept, his “plural funding” idea. Make public libraries like public radio: Sounds intriguing until you examine it a little further. Hennen doesn’t just explain why Coffman’s idea is such an awful one, he proposes some appropriate activities—focusing on the library’s mission and goals, communicating the library’s value, establishing model library district laws, establishing model impact-fee laws, and—a difficult one—establish national standards for public libraries. The overall concept, which I thoroughly agree with, is that we should lobby for public libraries as a tax-supported public good, not make them as elitist and “have-oriented” as most of NPR. (Full disclosure: I do contribute to my local PBS radio station because I listen to Marketplace and, sometimes, Car Talk.)

Pace, Andrew K., “E-books: Round two,” American Libraries 35:8 (September 2004): 74-5.

Pace was one of those who truly believed ebooks were going to take off—as he admits in this “Technically speaking” column. He says, “Many libraries are still feeling the sting of their first encounter with e-books” while others “still plod along with e-books, persuaded by download statistics and patrons lured to the library by electronic content.” The biggest difference in “round two” follows that statement: “the ‘r’ is completely gone from the front of this slow but steady ‘evolution’ of electronic books.”

Can anything save the e-book? Certainly. And help is on the way in the form of better content, better technology, and the realization that e-books will not replace the printed book but will most certianly satisfy readers in a fashion that no longer smacks of technological novelty or fad.

After a few more words on some reasons that the e-book “revolution” failed so miserably, Pace discusses the Ebook Library from Ebooks Corporation (which seems to solve some of the problems with downloadable ebooks and library contracts), Overdrive (another public library downloadable-circulation operation using self-expiring PDF), ebrary (a database that’s mostly ebook titles)—and two ebook-reader technologies that, sigh, Pace promises “will revolutionize offline reading.” One, E Ink’s “electronic ink technology,” is in Sony’s Japan-only LIBRIe e-Book reader, along with typically draconian DRM. The other is Kent Displays’ cholesteric LCD display, which still isn’t in any consumer readers. Finally, Pace talks about the BookMachine from the On Demand Machine Corporation as something that “just might be the savior of the e-book format.”

On the positive side, this is a reasonable quick overview of recent developments the kinds of downloadable e-book systems that libraries can use and that make sense for some applications. I would say it’s also a positive sign that Pace thinks of evolution and of ebooks and print books being complementary—but his “revolutionize” comment makes me wonder.

On the negative side, two points give me pause. Pace says that the LIBRIe’s resolution of 170 dots per inch is “more than twice the normal web display,” which is either wrong or mysterious. Most 17" displays operate at 1280x1024, which is roughly 96 pixels per inch; most notebook displays—the more direct competitors to dedicated readers—run anywhere from 96 to 150 pixels per inch.

The other is that last section, which is consistent with the ongoing efforts of ebook advocates to pad the sales figures for ebooks. The BookMachine can’t be the “savior of the e-book format” for a simple reason: It has nothing to do with ebooks. It’s a print-on-demand system. PoD is a great development, but it strengthens print books. A stack of paper sheets with ink or toner on them bound into a heavier cover is called a book. Not an ebook: A book.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 13, Whole Issue 55, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to wcc@notes.rlg.org. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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