Friday, September 25, 2009

Other blog/experiment

I've set up a technology blog for the two sections of the Comp3121 class in order to share interesting and relevant links/info/random bits. Please excuse this narcissistic bit of posting.
Link: http://anuncomsumableobject.tumblr.com

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A digital letter from a bookless man

James Tracy, the headmaster of the Cushing Academy who decided to go with the bookless library for his school, posted a letter dated Sept. 10 on the school's site. There's a couple of disturbing things about this particular bit of newspeak. (Here's an interview with Cushing on Here and Now)
"Moreover, many teachers continue to assign printed books in their courses, and students are encouraged to read literature in any format they find most convenient." It is interesting to note the library's transformation from a historical understanding of it into a building that is specifically designed as a meeting place. The question raised from my reading of this is wehre are the students to get these print books. (As a side note the Kindle doesn't have any pages so in citing it as a source you have to use its location numbers-according to CMOS) This may seem simply like a dusty bibliophile complaint but it is more a request for some logical arguement from Tracy.
Probably the most illuminating, albeit disturbing, aspect of Tracy's letter comes towards the end of the document. Tracyattempts to defend his choice by briefly referencing his 'incurable bibliophilia' but finishes with this statement. "... the younger generation as a rule does not share my nostalgia for the printed book, and they are discovering capabilities and aesthetics in the electronic world that my generation can scarcely fathom.The future of learning is electronic..." This is an incredibly telling statement. First because Tracy implies that learning is not a continual exercise we are constatnly engaging in as humans but that learning requires a specific medium in which to occur. Tracy's statement also highlights the continual difficulty of one generation to talk to another about the efficacy of the printed word. In this letter Tracy seems unwilling or unable to recognize that his stance on physical books is ultimately hypocritical. He states that he loves seeing students read but is filling the former library building with screens of news feeds composed of data that is constantly changing. While the school is supposedly giving out Kindles, it is a limited number so where are the students going to go and get these books?
I wonder if this approach does a severe disservice to these students by eliminating their chance to experience any interaction with books. How does this affect them going to college? Does this mean that these students will have no interaction with a university library or even a desire to? It seems, based solely on my anecdotal experience, that students exposed to databases in high school are more likely to use them in college. Is it possible that the possibility of exposure to books, which Tracy has decided is no longer necessary, being removed from these students which help to keep them from ever experiencing the breadth of a library.
In some way Tracy may be right that technology is going drive future literacy. In a recent article entitled So Maybe Not the Dumbest Generation (a play on a dubious book title of recent publication) the author deatils some of the results revealed by the Stanford Study of Writing as conducted by Andrea Lunsford with 14,672 Stanford students over a five year period. The results seem to indicate that there is an actual increase in literacy but that different tools and methods are required to do this well. In a review of the same study Clive Thompson at Wired.com appluads the results seeing the study as proof of students developing tools and skills that are necessary to communicate effecitvely and with brevity because of the interaction with social netowrking, texting and Powerpoint. It's difficult to tell whether this is a new re-hashing of the old 'texting-as-new-language' arguement or if students really are writing better.
At the very least we need to be thinking about literacy in new ways; as a combination of new and old technologies in order to provide perspective and context to the study of this world through the process which we call education. Tracy's claim that nostalgia doesn't cause student to use books is right-on however he fails to attempt to concern himself with helping his students establish perspective of understanding and encountering the past in a way that helps to manage/understand the present and map out (a) future road.
**There's also the question, as raised by librarian.net of where the library director is in all of this hoopla.**

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thanks Koha Community!

The last time I looked at the Koha documentation page was back in May of this year and I've not been back until today. A very big thank you to all those who took up the task of formatting and arranging the information on the documentation page. It look fantastic and is extremely easy to navigate! Grateful Kudos.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Good night

"XXI.

A BOOK.
He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!"

From Life-Emily Dickinson

X.

IN A LIBRARY.

A precious, mouldering pleasure 'tis
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty.
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so."




Thursday, September 17, 2009

Close one

There' s a whole bunch of this online but just to demonstrate that I'm not completely out of the loop the Philadelphia Free Library System will not be shutting down just passed this evening-you can read about it here. Note that this was all libraries in the system. Good deal that this did not fail!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today we remember: D.F.W.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of David Foster Wallace's death. It may seem that an appropriate response would be to post a meaningful quote, but as been discussed on wallace-l it is very difficult, if not inappropriate, to 'quotify' Wallace. Thus I would like to pay short tribute with a bit of narrative.
The only thing I had read of Wallace's up until Sept. 12 was the online version of the Kenyon Commencent Speech, eventually published as This is Water. Shortly after his death I purchased a used copy of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I've read it several times. In the past year Infinite Jest, Consider the Lobster, The Broom of the System, Oblivion and This is Water have passed through my head/hands to join A Supposedly Fun Thing on my shelf cheek by jowl with Issue 55/56 of the Sonoma Review, various Harper articles, the Amherst Review and other early works that others have been kind enough to share. Many of the new books that were added to the library where I work were catalogued to the accompaniment of Wallace's voice either in conversational interview, a public reading and Q/A, selections from Consider the Lobster or the rememberance from Amherst and the Kelly's Writer House as well as the audio performance of BIWHM. I've stumped around the web trying to find other things on DFW only to be continually amazed by what I have not found as various members of wallace-l continue to post and share their thinkings, findings and writings. I had the excellent experience of participating in the group read of Oblivion and have learned much about reading/criticism and textual interaction from that read.
It's possible that this seems like simple authorial obssession-cultish, blinded and obssessed. However exploring an artist in this fashion opens up whole different worlds. I've also encountered DeLilleo, McCarthy, Ozick, Vollman and Powers. These are amazing writers that I had to this point missed/was ignorant of. The point of reading/listening is not simply to ape that writer's thinking/philosophy/style, though this is a distinct temptation, but to absorb their methods of thinking about the world, as much as is possible, in order to examine those methods and connect those methods with the reader's previous thoughts/readings/contexts. It helps in this that the writer be genuis-level, as I think DFW was. He was in no ways perfect but he wrote fiction, and essays, that continue to think and explore the world differently while maintaining well-crafted historical connections that encourage scholarship and criticism.
I never had the privelege of meeting DFW. I would have sincerely loved to have heard him read, gotten a book signed or sat in his class, even once. But the perserverance and connection of text allows me to continue to encouter DFW as often as I am wliling to open the pages.
Pax.

Today, we remember

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Interesting Book Review

Late Age of Print Reviewed
Haven't read this yet but it's on my list. Good review especially in light of the previous post.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Forget libraries without walls here's a library without any books.

On Friday (Sept. 4th, 2009) the Boston Globe submitted this story about Cushing Academy (90 minutes west of Boston) announcing that their library is going to be going the way of the buffalo, at least their books are. This article has sparked a large reaction/response from the blogs and listservs frequented by librarians and book-lovers alike. Some of these responses are measured, informed and questioning, such as librarian.net's response or LibraryJuice. Then there are responses/related articles of the type from CNN with the opening sentence that reads: "The stereotypical library is dying -- and it's taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it." The CNN article gets a little better as it does discuss the tension that exists in the between-place thatmany libraries seem to currently occupy between going compeletly digital and holding to those physical things, books, that were the reason the libraries were built in the first place.
It seems that the main tension point can be captured in PBS's recent cancellation of Reading Rainbow. Quoting from that article, the several hundred thousands of dollars that would have been used to renew Reading Rainbow are being used so "... that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read..." This however is not the reason that Reading Rainbow was put into place, rather "..."Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read... the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read." The why vs. the how. The support of how to read rather than the why of reading also seems to contribute to the driving force behind Cushing's decision to go bookless.
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy" (headmaster of the school) For Tracy, as portrayed by this article, the presence of physical books do not meet the technological standards that are, seemingly, necessary for an educational institution to survive. To arrive at book as an outdated technology is to ask them how they are competing rather than to ask
In place of the books "...the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a
“learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new
space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large
flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on
special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a
$50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine."

This seems to be a rather curious position for a school to take in terms of pedagogy because it seem that what they are effectively telling their students is that information absorbed/received through screens is the most important and that the only data worth discussing is that received from the Internet. (The other question raised here is who is choosing the content? Or is this generation so good at selectively ignoring information that the choice of content won't matter?) Is this approach really creating complete learners? Forgot the whole library/book issue here for a brief second this approach raises serious questions about the educational approach and furthering consequences as these students start achieving positions of power/prestige in Fortune 500 companies and government (why else do you got to a phenomenally expensive New England prep school-seriously. Not to seem needlessly cycnical or paranoid but there are surely governement leaders and policy -makers that are going to comfortable in a non-book oriented society and are most likely going to be willing to promote that as a policy and direction.)
From a librarian's perspective the school/library is going to attempt to counter the whole bookless thing with 18 (eighteen-count 'em) ebook readers for their students. The school has "...$10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature." The focus not being on why students/faculty should have access to the library books but how they should have access and that access should be immediate and, for now at least, limited. Also that the administrators are stocking the e-readers with digital material rather than the students exploring how they develop their own reading habits and styles. Granted librarians order books so there is some control inherent but also the stacks are typically propagated in such a way as to encourage the exercising of personal choice and taste.

In reading various librarian responses to the Cushing Academy's/Headmaster Tracey's decision one of the themes that seems to exist is the lack of a really concrete argument(s) we as a profession have yet to come up with for the continuing of books in a physical form. Unfortunately, in terms of a logical defense, we often shoot for either 1) nostalgia (how the books smell/feel) or 2) serendipitious searching (finding other interesting items outside of the specified books). While these two items are held with open arms and wildly-beating hearts by all bibliophiles, librarian or not, these are not good arguments for the continued use of books, especially to people who didn't think that in the first place. Even though I firmly and completely believe in these two items as reasons to use books, I am more than capable of positing a ridiculouisly strong arguement for the use of digital materials only, both in terms of books and journals. Do librarians have a good argument for the continued use of phsyical materials?
As I've been thinking about this issue, I wonder if one of the issues at stake here is our collective uncomfortability with ambiguity-both in meaning and in purpose. That is to say some/much of the reward in reading literature is dealing with the ambiguities and shades of meaning and working through them both in terms of encountering the material and afterwards (the not-knowing as Bartheleme states). Granted the book's content does not change whether reading it through a screen or through a page but the question of ownership of that content as well as sharing and commenting on that content. Using only logic perhaps it makes sense to get rid of our books. If we are only seeking to build a world in which screens and input devices deliver our content for us, in which there are no ambiguities of meaning or finding, then this is a good thing. The siren-call of technology-as-progress is a deeply pulling one but I think we need to beware that this pursuit overtake our love of learning for the why. If we are only concerned with how we only need input/content devices. But if we are concerned with the why we need to exercise our wills in choosing/encountering our own ambiguities rather than having them scripted for us.
The other aspect of this how/why question is found in limitation. In reading reviews of the Kindle one of the stated benefits is that the reader can, if desired, switch to a completely different book on a whim. This bypasses the idea of limiting oneself in order to fully explore the particular item. STravinsky's example in his book Poetics of Music states that in sitting down to compose he is lost when he examines the entire keyboard but limiting himself to seven particular notes he is able to focus his energies. "If everything is permissible to me, the best and the worst; if nothing offers me any resistance...consequently every undertaking becomes futile." (pg. 63 Poetics of Music) Our knowledge is not enhanced by overhwelming ourselves with a mass of information but our knowledge is enhanced by limiting ourselves to a particular work or study. If I can only read one book at a time there is no tempation, in theory, of switching to another book as in an e-reader.
There is not much question how to use a book but rather why to use it. When readers posit to non-readers reading is how you learn about the world or how the world can be dreamed/enchanted or explored the very consistent response, in my experience from the non-reader, is I don't like to read. This assumption that can be drawn from this is that this non-reader quote unquote is getting their exploration of the world elsewhere and, while this is extremely anecdotal, most likely they are getting it from a screen.
If there is any arguement for books above the nostalgia I think it is this. Books assist us in limiting ourselves and our information gathering processes which in turns helps us to/provides the ability to think the world more deeply. If we are unable to set boundaries for ourselves in information gathering we will not be able to create knowledge for ourselves and will be reduced to functioning as screens ourselves-only regurgitating the information we've received without any thought, critical or otherwise.