Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Digital Information

Thought of the day:

"We all increasingly live in a world where information not available online may as well be information that does not exist."

Rachel Onuf and Thomas Hyry. "Take It Personally: The Implications of Personal Records in Electronic Form." In I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, edited by Christopher A. Lee, p. 246. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists, 2011.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Web 2.0

The strength of interactive Web 2.0 technology is the ability for the creation of unique content. It is the unique content that brings the most popular websites readers and increases their esteemed "worth." The term Web 2.0 is pretty far reaching and can encompass everything from comments on a news website or blog, photo sharing sites, the ever-expanding world of wikis, social networking platforms like Facebook, and social tagging or bookmarking technologies. In fact, it's fairly rare to find a website these days that doesn't incorporate some aspect of Web 2.0 programming.

It is inevitable that most Web 2.0 technologies are constantly in a state of beta, designers continually tweaking and adapting the program according to the feedback they receive from users. Therefore, perhaps ironically, Web 2.0 design is itself interactive. You could say that social media has "transformed the Internet into a participatory experience." And in an egalitarian sort of way, Web 2.0 sites are breaking down traditional publishing hierarchies, making the Internet "a place where individuals can enter into conversations with content creators and contribute their own ideas and knowledge to the discussion." They allow avenues of conversation where before there were no easy paths between creator and user.

And people are starting to expect that Web 2.0 features will play a role in the websites they visit and the daily activities they engage in. So like it or not, it is quickly becoming necessary for libraries and archives to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon. Discovering how to do that in a meaningful way will be crucial to the future use of library, museum, and archival institution websites, and maybe even libraries and archives themselves.

Daines, J. Gordon, III, and Cory L. Nimer. "The Interactive Archivist: Case Studies in Utilizing Web 2.0 to Improve the Archival Experience." May 18, 2009.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Google Culture

I just read an interesting article from The New York Times about the new Google Cultural Institute.

"The Google Cultural Institute plans to make artifacts like the [dead sea] scrolls — from museums, archives, universities and other collections around the world — accessible to any Internet user."

It's great that Google is willing to put some of its millions to work for the people of the world. A large scale digitization project focusing on cultural treasures sounds a little flashy, but it's a great place to start. From there hopefully the potential for education and open access can really take off. "In addition to working with individual museums and archives, the engineers intend to develop a standard set of tools that any institution could use to digitize its collection. That way, even small, private archives or collections could be placed online in formats that would make them easily accessible to broad audiences."

But not everyone loves Google. "Google has sometimes struggled to persuade cultural leaders to accept its plans. The company has been sued by authors and publishers on both sides of the Atlantic over its book-digitization project. In 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged hundreds of millions of euros toward a separate digitization program, saying he would not permit France to be 'stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.'"

I think it's definitely worth asking why are they getting involved with all this? Especially when "the activities of the Cultural Institute differ from some other Google initiatives in that there are few outward signs of the company’s involvement. While Google provided the technology to digitize the Dead Sea Scrolls and is host to the pages on its servers, for example, the only reference to the company is a small note that the site is 'powered by Google.'" Is it just good-deed doing? Making the Internet a more fulfilling and interactive space?

The author of the article in The New York Times even asks "Is it appropriate for museums and other nonprofit cultural institutions to work so closely with a money-making machine like Google?"

The ethics aside, it's undeniable that Google has the ability to bring in crowds to museum websites, cultural archives, and even libraries.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spelling Chequer

In my family, holidays are always times for the teachers (and students!) in the family to commiserate and share funny stories about school. This poem was one of the things that came up today:

Eye have a spelling checker. 
It came with my Pea Sea. 
It plane lee marks four my revue 
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it, 
Your sure reel glad two no. 
Its vary polished inn it's weigh. 
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
 It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
 It helps me right awl stiles two reed, 
And aides me when aye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
 Eye trussed too bee a joule. 
The checker pours o'er every word
 To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checkers 
Hour spelling mite decline, 
And if we're lacks oar have a laps, 
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
 Is checked with such grate flare, 
Their are know faults with in my cite, 
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
 It does knot bring a tier. 
My pay purrs awl due glad den
 With wrapped words fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
 Of witch won should bee proud, 
And wee mussed dew the best wee can, 
Sew flaws are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
 Such soft wear four pea seas, 
And why eye brake in two averse 
Buy righting want too pleas.

The original version was written by Jerrold H. Zar, a former professor of Ecology at Northern Illinois University, in 1992.

These days when I'm writing in a program that doesn't have a built in spell check, I'm constantly second guessing whether or not I've spelled something correctly. So maybe spell check misses some pretty obvious mistakes, but I think it saves me time in the end, and I'm mostly quite glad for it. What really bothers me about the current word processing programs is the "replace" function which automatically substitutes a new word when it thinks you've spelled something incorrectly. For example, in OpenOffice Writer if you're trying to write about IHS Global Insight, every time you type "IHS," OpenOffice changes it to "his." This is extremely frustrating.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving reflections

I'm officially on Thanksgiving break and feeling great about it. Never mind the two presentations, one paper, access database, and powerpoint projects I have left to finish by the end of the semester, I'm just happy to be spending a couple of days away from school and ironically, especially away from the library! When I get back to school I'm sure I will be just as happy as usual to find a secluded spot up in the stacks, which is where I always seem to get the most work done, but after spending practically a week straight there, I'm enjoying a change of scenery. After an extended time in the library, I started to notice how crisp the fresh air outside was, and how nice it was to feel sunlight on your skin, and how alive and three dimensional the whole world is (I know, sad, right?). The weather has been surprisingly warm for November, but aside from the walk between my apartment and the bus stop and the bus stop to the library, I haven't been able to experience much of it. Hopefully it will hold out for the next couple of days!

It's hard to believe the semester is nearly over. When we get back from break there will only be a few short weeks left. For one of my classes we just turned in our final papers yesterday and aside from some readings and showing up to class, it's essentially all over. For another class a short presentation is all that's left. I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that my grad school experience is (most likely) a quarter of the way over.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I've been a fan of Terry Pratchett ever since I picked up my first Discworld book and fell headfirst into his zany cast of wizards, night watchmen, criminals, reformed criminal postmaster generals, vampire cameramen, and an anthropomorphic personification of DEATH, who all dwell on the Discworld, a frisbee-shaped planet carried through space on the back of four elephants balancing on the shell of a giant turtle.

DEATH appears in most of the books in small, aptly timed, cameo roles, but there are a couple books that focus more specifically on him as a central character. Mort is one of those stories. In this novel DEATH takes on an apprentice, an awkward teenage boy who's not very good at anything and reads far more books than his father believes is good for him. The plot resembles Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice in many ways, but with a slightly dark, wild, unhinged perspective you don't typically associate with Disney. One of the best parts of this book is the chance to get a closer look at the character of DEATH. He is fascinated by humans, has a great affection for cats, and makes an extremely efficient fry-cook.

I'm always on the lookout for library-related quotes in books, and of course Terry Pratchett doesn't disappoint. The wizards in his world study and work at the great Unseen University, which naturally houses a tremendous (if often terrifying) library of magical books and artifacts. The librarian is a giant orangutang for reasons I won't go into here, but even with this rather unique caretaker in place, Pratchett warns us that "things can happen to browsers in magical libraries that make having your face pulled off by tentacled monstrosities from the Dungeon Dimensions seem a mere light massage by comparison." I do say it makes our libraries on campus seem rather dull (and safe) in comparison.

If you ever need a break from the real world, just pick up a Terry Pratchett book, it will do the trick every time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Paper Topics

The Sea Hawk (1924)

I really love classic movie stills. Each shot is so carefully set up, the lighting just so, characters looking either a little too human or like an exaggeration, a caricature of an actor. Connection to libraries? Well I found these two stills over at the Silent Film Still Archive, a pretty fun website to browse and one that I used in an annotated bibliography project for a library resources course. I tried to make the case that it could be used as a reference source; I don't know how convincing I was on that front, but at least I know I gave the instructors a fun website to look up!

One thing I've learned this semester is that working on projects or long papers is so much more enjoyable when you are working with a topic that you are truly interested in--but it might not always be your first inclination. So choose your subjects wisely! I've made some good choices in that regard this semester (like classic cinema), though some of them weren't topics I instinctively went towards at first. Probably my two favorite papers from this semester were the ones I wrote on budgets and medical records. Definitely not subjects I know much about or would think to find myself interested in. The key was that each contained some unusual or compelling aspect that made me genuinely excited to investigate, research, and ultimately write.

The Freshman (1925)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taste Level

After more than seven years as a Microsoft user (five of those on the same laptop), last May it was time for me to get a new computer. I got a Mac, and haven't given Microsoft another glance since. I could write a lot about my devout love for my MacBook Pro or the wasted years I clung to my Dell, but I'll save that for another time.

This week PBS producer, Robert Cringely, planned to show a film of a previously unaired interview with Steve Jobs from 1995--a tumultuous time in Jobs' life and his relationship with Apple. The session was originally filmed for a PBS miniseries titled "Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires. In a clip of the interview posted on CNET, Jobs says, "the only problem with microsoft is they just have no taste," as he criticizes the lack of culture and originality in microsoft products. Based on the clip, this was a pretty lively interview session and I'd love to hear what else Jobs has to say about the early development of the computer technology industry.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ninja Librarians in the News

That's what I said.

"After an AP exclusive report on how the CIA is using "ninja librarians" to comb through internet postings and social media, NPR's Robert Siegel interviewed reporter Kimberly Dozier about her research for the article. This prompted enough listener response that All Things Considered had to revisit the phrase in their Letters segment today, with clarification about what kind of degree a ninja librarian may have earned."
Via MetaFilter.

From NPR:

GUY RAZ, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
ROBERT SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel. It's time now for your letters. And we're going to re-visit perhaps the most ear-catching phrase heard on this week's program.
KIMBERLY DOZIER: Ninja Librarians.  
SIEGEL: Ninja Librarians. That's Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier, talking about the people the CIA has brought in to comb through as many as five million Facebook messages and tweets a day.
DOZIER: You're talking about several hundred staffers. You've got people who are experts at finding information. A lot of them have Masters of Librarian Science. They know how to track things down on the Internet that you and I simply wouldn't know existed.
RAZ: Well, listener Sasun Baylik(ph) of Bellevue, Washington, has been trying to get a job as a librarian and writes: The degree is called a Master's of Library Science, not Librarian Science.
SIEGEL: Well, we ran this by our own ninja librarian, Mary Glendinning.
RAZ: It was hard to find her because she was wearing all-black.
SIEGEL: And Mary said this, Masters of Librarian Science is wrong. However, there are many names for this type of degree: Master of Library Science, Master of Arts, Master of Librarianship, Master of Library and Information Studies, and Master of Science.
RAZ: And then, Mary shimmied up the newsroom wall like a spider.
SIEGEL: Never mess with a ninja librarian. They'll correct you within an inch of your life.

 I always knew librarians were more like ninjas than nonjas. =)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Net Gen Users

It seems like a lot of information professionals are preoccupied with answering the question: what do Net Generation students expect from libraries? I appreciate the literature that encourages libraries to adapt their services to the Google-loving, multimedia environment-dwelling, smartphone-owning student users of today, but it's important not to lose the purpose and function of the library in the rush to make a million and one changes. The concept of the information commons design: a comfortable, relaxed, available space where community is encouraged and technology celebrated, is a great idea. But I don't know that libraries need to develop video game-like tutorials to teach library resources or fill their libraries with flat screen TVs to display a rotating series of information resources factsheets. Video game appeal may draw some users in, but it's going to be difficult to convince them that watching a library tutorial is just as much fun as playing Portal 2 or Call of Duty. And as for those display screens, does anyone (other than the people who put them up) actually pay enough attention to them to absorb any of their content? Libraries have always played a critical role in learning: providing resources for class assignments, but more than that serving as places where individuals can pursue their education outside the classroom. I hope libraries won't forget the heights of their ancient design and calling as they initiate the evolution they seem to feel modern users expect.

It's not that I just want to criticize the current efforts being made by librarians, I only want to express my concern that despite their good intentions, many library "transformation" projects, are focusing on the wrong things. Joan Lippincott wrote in 2005 that "most libraries have not yet learned how to effectively integrate physical spaces with virtual spaces and services." I think her words describe quite well the root of the problem behind successfully reaching younger generations of library users. The world today is an endless double helix of reality and the virtual world, spiraling around each other, connected in a million places: omnipresent iPhones, Facebook groups that exist simultaneously online and in "real life," and even virtual reference shelves offering information to anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection. Today's students have grown up in these co-existing worlds, and to them the line distinguishing one from the other is definitely more grey than black and white. It's part of the way we think, work, read, and dream. And it doesn't just apply to "for fun" or leisure activities; to succeed in higher academic education (and most job fields, for that matter) students have to acquire literacy in not only the written word but also what George Luca called "a 'language of screens,' in order to be effective communicators."

Lippincott describes today's Net Generation as computer and technology savvy, but points out that "while Net Gen students generally can multitask, learn systems without consulting manuals, and surf the Web, they lack technology and information skills appropriate for academic work." To help students apply the vast knowledge they possess to academic problems and learning, libraries need to meet them in both worlds, physical and virtual. This means finding ways to connect the shelves of thick reference books and the librarian behind the desk and the massive online databases of e-journals and research tools (and Google, of course), or the quiet nooks where everyone loves to curl up with a good book and the daily blog post or webcomic we read on a religious basis. In some cases, this connection can be easy to achieve: wireless routers and well-placed electrical outlets go a long way. And sometimes we haven't figured out quite yet how to unite the different aspects of these two spaces.

Reconciling the problem of two environments: virtual and physical, will do more than simply bring students back to the library, it has the potential to deeply enrich the academic experiences of millions of students who have no idea just how much the library has to offer them.

Lippincott, J.K. (2005). Net generation students and libraries. In D.G. Oblinger & J.L. Oblinger (Eds.) Educating the Net Generation. Educause.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


PostSecret is a project that I have followed weekly for years. There is something very moving about seeing the darkest nightmares and sweetest aspirations of faceless individuals shared with the Internet and humanity at large. People all over the world create postcards, usually a mixture of text and images, and send them to the founder and maintainer of the PostSecret website, Frank Warren, who selects postcards to post online every week. Postcards are usually intensely personal as people make use of the anonymity provided to shed tears, express guilt, or celebrate an unspoken triumph. For readers of the project, these unveiled secrets are often either tremendously inspirational or deeply convicting.

Recently I have found myself thinking about PostSecret slightly differently. The site is kind of an epitome of the universal appeal of the Internet's anonymity. Contributors, commenters, and consumers (i.e. viewers) are all completely anonymous participants in the act of information sharing. On PostSecret the information shared may be different from what you find on other websites or what you think about from the strictest sense of a library science perspective on information sharing, but I think the concept still applies. What is it about a state of anonymity that makes us communicate differently--some might even say better? The literature talks about the Internet as a "low risk environment" and a third zone outside of home and work where people can seek community and discover information they wouldn't be exposed to in other places. A lot of research has been done and is being done about the role of the Internet in our daily lives, but it's a pretty difficult topic to nail down. I just think it's kind of odd that the Internet simultaneously functions as a method of connection, to keep ourselves linked to others, and a shield we hold between ourselves and the outside world.

PostSecret is updated every Sunday. If you read the site regularly, it won't be long until you start to see postcards that you could have written yourself.

Friday, November 11, 2011



Today is the last day we will have a binary six digit date for 89 years! So for most of us here on earth, probably the last binary day we will ever see. If that's too depressing for you, then I guess I'll see you in 2100 on 01/01.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dogs on the Internet

A classic cartoon from a 1993 edition of the New Yorker.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Graphing a Story

Kurt Vonnegut's take on the shape of stories. An "exercise in relativity." Awesome.

As a hopeful author I like to think there's a little bit more to writing than that, but as you look at today's summer blockbusters and even a good number of New York Times bestsellers, it's undeniable that there's an alarming lack of originality. I'm a firm believer in the school of thought that there are new stories, unknown characters, and unexplored adventures to be discovered if only we can probe deeply enough into our own imaginations. Not everything has to be recycled from what came before (though most creations are at least influenced by earlier works). To Vonnegut nothing is too sacred to be ridiculed, and it's a lot of fun to watch him gently mock his own profession.

When asked what Vonnegut's advice to young writers was, he once said: "Don't use semicolons. They stand for absolutely nothing. They are transvestite hermaphrodites. They are just a way of showing off. To show that you have been to college." He also said he would rather be a giraffe or a seagull than an awful creature like a human being, but he also described himself as a Humanist. Apparently Vonnegut used to tour the country giving a lecture entitled "How to Get a Job Like Mine," in which he would stand up in front of a group of students and proceed to talk about whatever the hell he wanted. He also told his listeners that "Practicing an art is a way to make your soul grow." I wish I could have heard him speak.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dynamic Browsing in PicsLikeThat

A new image search came to my attention today; it's called PicsLikeThat. At first glance I thought it would be essentially a Google Images clone, but it's actually a stock photo archive, similar to Shutterstock. What sets PicsLikeThat apart is its unique search engine that displays pictures grouped by image similarity in a "drag and zoom" layout. You still initiate your search by entering a keyword, but after that point the search process becomes much more dynamic as you navigate through the results and narrow or redirect your search by double clicking on images that are similar to the one you're looking for.

This seems like a great idea, but the reality of PicsLikeThat is that it still needs some fine tuning. The image quality on the search screen is not great, making it difficult to really pick out a likely image, and the wait time both on the beginning search and the preview option to bring up a bigger version of an individual image is much too long. It's a proven fact that today's Internet users have an increasingly short attention span, especially when it comes to load times. If a page is taking longer than a couple short seconds to load, chances are most viewers will not stick around to wait for the sluggish content. The biggest problem, though, is that for laptop owners using a trackpad, the drag and zoom process is still a little awkward.

Stock photos aren't something I use (I prefer to shoot my own pictures), but I think this style of browsing is quite neat and has definite possibilities for a wide variety of search engines in the future. The bottom line, however, is that the technical method used for PicsLikeThat just isn't quite there yet. But it probably should be.

This type of image search reminded me of a program called Seadragon demoed by Blaise Agüera y Arcas on a TED talk several years ago. PicsLikeThat's browsing environment is reminiscent of a similar but simplified version of Seadragon. And clearly it's a long way off from the potential of the superb software envisioned by Agüera y Arcas. Check out the demo video below, or visit the website: to see Seadragon aka in action. (Since it was acquired by Microsoft the software has been rebranded.) This technology is awesome and has already been around for a while; so I wonder why we aren't seeing more of it on the web?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book sale

I love library used book sales. They are a great place to pick up unread titles by authors you've enjoyed in the past, find childhood favorites, and collect copies of classics you've always meant to read or think you might want to reread someday. You can find real jewels at used book sales, and sorting through the semi-organized shelves (or boxes) can be half the fun. Helping the library and getting inexpensive books at the same time; I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

I went to a library book sale today when they were having a $5 bag special. Essentially, you could fill a bag up with just about any book at the sale for the small fee of $5 (they did have a separate section of higher priced books, but believe me there were plenty to choose from in the general section). This sort of special is also known as the "it's the last day of the sale and the volunteers really don't want to have to repackage and transport all these books again!" phenomenon. I honestly felt a little guilty, to walk away with a whole bag of books for just $5, but I took comfort in the fact that I was giving lots of old books a new home. At this sale, the majority of the books were donated, but a good number were novels that had been culled from the public library's collection. It's downright depressing to see "discarded" stamped in the front of a perfectly good book. I hope the books feel more appreciated on my bookshelf!

In total I took home 26 books for my $5, and the volunteers honestly seemed glad for me to lug them out of the building! Out of curiosity's sake I added up the original prices on the books afterwards. 6 of the 26 didn't have prices due to age or because they were missing their dust jackets, but the 20 that did came to a grand total of $259.89! Granted most of the books were in semi- to heavily used condition, but a couple appear surprisingly new. And I got some fantastic titles: two Daphne du Maurier novels, Dustin Long's Icelander which looks really interesting, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, the first Xanth novel, and a practically new copy of Tom Perrota's Little Children. All in all definitely an afternoon well spent!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ready Player One

There are a ton of good books out there, and even a lot of great ones, but it's rare to find a book as infectiously fun to read as Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. I put this book on hold at the local library after reading about it on a blog somewhere, but I had completely forgotten about it when I received the notice yesterday that it was ready for me to pick up. From the first few pages I could tell that this book was going to be a fantastic adventure and nearly impossible to stop reading. I immediately devoured it in two marathon sessions (with a couple brief breaks to feed the cats and make a cup of tea or two).

I'll start this off by saying bluntly, if you are a fan of video games, classic scifi movies, or futuristic novels involving virtual reality worlds and haven't read Ready Player One, then go find a copy of the book right now. Cline's novel is fast-paced, ironic, entrancing, and peppered with references to old games, films, music, and technology. The book contains a lot of backstory, but where this might slow readers down in less-captivating works, here it only throws you more intensively into the world Cline has created (or in some ways, resurrected).

Wade Watts is the unlikely hero of Ready Player One, a less than average kid in every regard but his obsession with the OASIS, the virtual reality world that the Internet has evolved into by the year the book is set, 2044. He escapes his unhappy world, living with an uncaring aunt in a futuristic trailer park horror known as "the stacks," and embraces the digital realm where he can make himself whoever he wants to be. But the OASIS isn't just a virtual playground to Wade (aka Parzival--his OASIS avatar name). Wade spends every spare moment of his existence researching, studying, and scouring the network for the elusive Easter Egg left behind by the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. Hidden beneath cryptic tests and seemingly indecipherable puzzles is Halliday's enormous fortune and the power to control the future of the OASIS. The contest first went public upon the death of the eccentric founder, but after millions around the globe have spent years searching for the treasure, no one is any closer to winning this most epic game of all time. Then Wade discovers the answer to the first riddle. Enthusiasm for the contest, which had faded in the uneventful years since Halliday's death, takes off again, Parzival is an instant celebrity in the digital world, and things really start to get interesting.

If Cline's endless facts about Atari games, John Hughes films, and 80s rock bands don't keep you entertained, his complex, often hilarious, and always addictive story will keep your eyes riveted to the text until the final page. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Google antics

Had to throw this up here:
Google entertainment feature of the day: go to and type "do a barrel roll" into the search box. =)

Google has other fun tricks up their sleeve too. For example,
  • Try searching for "ascii art" and watch what happens to the Google logo.
  • If you search "tilt" the search results page will come back slightly tilted.
  • A query for "anagram" will ask you if you meant "nag a ram."
  • Did you know you can change the default language on Google? Did you know you can change the default language on Google to "Pirate," or "Bork, bork, bork," or "Klingon," or "Hacker?"
  • Finally, one of my personal favorites, google "the answer to life, the universe, and everything" and receive the ultimate answer to the ultimate question.

Digital Loss

An interesting article came up in one of my classes today. The Economist featured a story about the enormous loss of information caused by the "daily death of countless websites" and an overall lack of archiving digital data on the web. The sheer amount of born digital material means that the task of recording everything is literally impossible. But some large entities, like Google, may not be making much effort to archive and preserve information to begin with.

"Ancient manuscripts are still readable. But much digital media from the past is readable only on a handful of fragile and antique machines, if at all." There is a huge problem in the digital world concerning the lack of everlasting file types; with programs continually updating and reinventing themselves (plus new programs and file types cropping up all the time), it becomes increasingly difficult to access older material. A large portion of the job of archiving digital documents consists of renewing files again and again to ensure that they can still be opened and read properly. From a digital archivist's perspective, each one of these "migration" points represents a risk to the original data--a chance for the data to be corrupted outright or subtly altered in ways we might not even understand at the time.

Adam Farquhar is the head of the British Library's digital projects and he makes the extreme-sounding, but probably true, point that "the world has in some ways a better record of the beginning of the 20th century than of the beginning of the 21st." If by "better" Farquhar means more complete, and you consider all the websites, posts, comments, and stray information floating around on the web that has disappeared without a trace, his radical statement suddenly seems incredibly accurate.

On a related note, I recently looked up an old livejournal account and was both surprised and thrilled to see my old posts were still online. If I ever had copies of those entries it was on a computer now long gone, and I would have been a little sad to lose them completely. I really need to download those old high school writings and store them carefully if I want to ensure they will be around to remind and amuse me in years to come. I certainly can't count on livejournal to stand around forever. But when I do download them, what file format should I choose? .DOCX is very popular now, but I use mostly Open Office, so .ODT? That might make more sense for my computer use at the moment, but would it be the best decision for long term storage? .PDF is a highly reliable format, but will it always be? I think as we move into the future we will start to realize more and more just how essential good digital data curation is to our daily lives and activities.

See the full article on

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Graveyards, Gaiman, and the Back-Seat Book Club

I'm not planning to pursue an extensive amount of coursework in children's library services while I'm in library science school, not because I don't think it's worthwhile (I certainly do) or because I'm not interested in kiddy lit. (I read it all the time), but just because I don't think it is all that applicable to where I see myself going in libraries and information studies. However, I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and he's been involved in some very cool kids programs lately, so I'll deviate into those waters temporarily.

First of all, if you haven't read Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, you definitely should. Aside from the fact that it won the Newbery Medal, the Carnegie Medal, and the Hugo Award, it's also just a very fun, quirky read about a young boy raised in a graveyard by an entertaining collection of ghostly guardians. Neil kicked off a new kids' program on NPR this week called Back-Seat Book Club, which hopes to encourage young readers by bringing authors onto the program to answer kids' questions and talk about their novels. It will be interesting to see how kids respond to this program; NPR really couldn't have picked a better author to begin the show--Neil is fantastic at question and answer panels and great at book readings too. In fact, he has made an audio version of the entire novel of The Graveyard Book available online (read by none other than Neil Gaiman himself). I couldn't applaud this decision enough; Neil writes amazing books, but the coolest thing about him is the way he seems to care so much about his readers. Whether it's through a more traditional book tour or his regularly updated online journal, Neil makes great efforts to stay connected with his audience.

And a quick final plug for my all time favorite Neil Gaiman book (well, one of my favorites--it's so hard to choose!), check out Neverwhere, a riveting story of different Londons, a curious girl who is the last of a great family, and a seemingly ordinary young businessman who gets in way over his head.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Intellectual Freedom

Our first amendment rights are tied explicitly to the freedom to read, and libraries have the responsibility to support this right by refusing to limit or censor the materials they make available to their patrons. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom to read are inseparably intertwined, and all are essential to the ideal of democracy. The American Library Association has a division specifically designed to protect these rights, the Office of Intellectual Freedom.

In my opinion, mission statements and statements of purpose are often overtly showy but fundamentally empty expressions, but the OIF's Freedom to Read Statement is a horse of a very different color. I had highlighted practically half the document by the time I finished reading it and wanted to consolidate some of the key paragraphs here.

The OIF begins a list of propositions by asserting that "It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority. Creative thought is by definition new, and what is new is different. The bearer of every new thought is a rebel until that idea is refined and tested." 

ALA addresses the issue of censorship with the belief that "Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be "protected" against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression."

In America we're supposed to be all about Change these days, right? "Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference."

Going on to consider the effect of censorship on creativity in a quote worthy of Oscar Wilde, "To some, much of modern expression is shocking. But is not much of life itself shocking? We cut off literature at the source if we prevent writers from dealing with the stuff of life."

As a writer I heartily concur with the statement that "The written word is the natural medium for the new idea and the untried voice from which come the original contributions to social growth."

It's important to acknowledge that everyone will not agree all the time (or any of the time) but what is civil disagreement but one of the most basic applications of freedom? "Freedom is no freedom if it is accorded only to the accepted and the inoffensive. It is inevitable in the give and take of the democratic process that the political, the moral, or the aesthetic concepts of an individual or group will occasionally collide with those of another individual or group."

At its core, the ALA is standing up for the value of books, of libraries, and of open access to information of every kind. "We believe that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours."

Excerpts from the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom's Freedom to Read Statement