LIS 450 Reading Reactions

Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

A library science student with a bit too much time on her hands.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Group 5 Readings

I have to admit, I like the way bookstores have evolved over the last twenty years or so, and I wouldn't change them. I also think that it's a good idea to have some parts of libraries reflect the bookstore feel. While I wouldn't want a large, academic library (or even a small elementary school library) to make changes to reflect what bookstores do, I do think that the public library -- or perhaps sections thereof -- can do so to make people feel more comfortable about using them. I'd imagine a young adult section could do fairly well with making comfortable sitting spaces, displaying books facing out, and providing a place where users can buy food and hook up to wireless internet. Obviously, there are good and bad components to every plan, and one should not do this to libraries where entertainment isn't a large component of use. I think the librarians involved have to make the judgment call -- approachability with compromised authority, or respectibility with intimidation?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Readings for 4 December 2006

Group One's Readings

The history of Boston's books is interesting; who would have thought that there was such an organized movement to prevent people from reading some material? The most interesting read, though, I thought, was the article about the parents and their requests to reconsider material. Not only was it clearly written, but it gave the librarian clear guidelines for interacting with upset parents. I can imagine that it gets tiresome to deal with people who might be a bit angry, and the guidelines seemed very fair. The article on filters I just found a bit amusing; everyone knows that they don't work the way they should! It's because they don't have brains and can't evaluate search requests the way a human would. Perhaps in a bit they'll be better, but they aren't now, and I think it's probably better for parents and teachers to take an active role in becoming aware of what their children (or students) are viewing. And librarians shouldn't have any say in what people are viewing on library computers, even if that means they're viewing pornography. Now, if they're attempting to harass or assault other people with the material, then, yeah, they should be kicked out. But not if they're merely viewing it for their own personal use.

Group Two's Readings

I find it interesting that there is so much variation on the quality of the Wikipedia articles that experts find it difficult to rate the website on accuracy. In one of my other classes, we have discussed that Wikipedia has not been unfavorably compared to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica for quality. I wonder, though, whether the mistakes made in Wikipedia are more egregious when they occur than those in print sources that have been vetted. This is a question for the group, I guess, if they don't mention it in their presentation.

Group Three's Readings

I thought the idea that, by opposing the Patriot Act, the ALA is putting our freedoms at risk rather spurious. Really, the stand that the ALA takes is something that I find rather pointless, seeing as policies about recordkeeping vary from state to state and, often, from library to library. I know it's illegal in Michigan for me, as a library employee, to tell anyone anything about a book other than the call number and other bibliographic information and whether it's checked out or not. I can't even tell an interested patron when it is due back at the library. That's different than the policy here at UW-Madison, where the due date of an item is right on its record page. If the government really wanted to have access to all our records, they'd have to standardize how they're kept and who has access to what. I honestly don't think that this is going to happen, and don't think the Patriot Act is a big deal.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Readings for 27 November 2006

"Redefining the Library" by Richard E. Rubin

I find it interesting that Rubin sees technology as increasing in changes and innovations the closer we get to the present. I'm assuming that he has left out all of those technological changes that libraries invested in but did not end up to be winners. I realize that this article was not about technologies that have failed, but it would be nice to see more about what hasn't worked in the context of libraries. We don't learn from mistakes unless we know that they've been made; without having read Double Fold, I would have no idea that microfilming resulted in the loss of paper copies that are, in some instances, priceless. This article by Rubin seems to be an instance of blind acceptance of technology that works and ignoring the mistakes and missteps along the way.

"Libraries, Technology and People" by William Y. Arms

I think it's interesting that Arms chooses to focus on the benefits of the digital library. Some of the points that he makes out to be positive are definitely things that have dark sides, too. For instance, the point that information is easier to keep current is true. You can update stuff online at the drop of a hat. But what if I wanted information about what happened two years ago? Unless the administrators are keeping archives of all the changes (like Wikipedia), that information may be gone forever. For some uses, that's okay, but what if a researcher wants to look at the historical changes in attitudes toward a certain technology, like cloning? If you constantly get rid of the old information to replace it with new, that researcher will have nowhere to turn for the information he seeks. Thus, the issue of updating is more gray than Arms portrays it. Also, a lot of the talk about cost seems to mirror what was said about microfilming, which, as we all know, didn't exactly turn out to be eventually cheaper or more beneficial to users or libraries.

"Innovation and Research" by William Y. Arms

Arms does not provide a lot of information about the issue of scale. I think it's a very important issue, and wish that he had discussed it in more detail. It seems to be an insurmountable task to take a large library like Memorial Library and digitize and catalog all of its information. Forget the idea of making all of its texts searchable! It is, perhaps, a good thing that copyright covers so many items. The mere fact that so many things cannot be scanned and shared may make for a more manageable project. There still is an enormous amount of information to get into computers, but at least it seems more approachable if a lot of the material is discounted outright as being still under copyright. This ignores the fact that such a large database of information has the potential to have a lot of things go wrong. Items can be miscataloged, for sure, as well as there being an issue with overwhelming the patron. If a patron searches all the items scanned at full-text for a common word (e.g., spiders), will he be inundated with every page that happens to mention a spider? Or will we have to come up with clever searching aids that say, "I think this is what you're looking for"? We probably will; otherwise, we run the risk of alienating the patron.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chapter Thirty-Two -- A Figure We Did Not Collect

Apparently we are not all that honest, as a profession, when it comes to discarding objects. I know that the libraries I've worked in don't go around advertising when they are dumping materials. But I would think that they at least kept statistics! I guess not. I also think it appauling that a librarian would stand in front of people and crumble a page of a book; it's even worse that he thinks it's appropriate to allow other people to do the same thing. I value the object; someone might have wanted to read that! Also, I think he was possibly lying when he said he picked it up from a yard sale, which means it was likely in a collection before it was selected for such cruel treatment. Baker's turning me into a softie, yes, but I think it's highly unprofessional to be taking items we are entrusted with and treating them so shabbily.


I think Baker makes some interesting points about librarians and their truthfulness. I think he also makes some sharp observations about our lack of critical thinking on some topics. I do not, however, share his zeal for this topic. Items can be, and are, destroyed by everyday use. I have seen it in my own library experience, and I can appreciate that making some form of backup copy is a good thing -- even if it means destroying one original copy. I don't think that libraries should be dumping stuff willy-nilly because someone else has a digital copy, but I don't think that they should have to maintain a paper copy if it is too difficult for them to justify doing so.

Chapter Twenty-Two -- Six Thousand Bodies a Day

Isn't it interesting that this idea of slow burning caught on like wildfire among librarians? This huge movement to microfilm and otherwise preserve (but not conserve) items has to have had something else -- even aside from space -- behind it. Sure, there was the lure of easy money, but I think that the whole growth of the movement shows that librarians needed a reason for being. They needed a way to justify their existence to other people, and this crisis -- when properly disseminated -- gave validation in spades. It's a chant, it's a dogma, it's a way of uniting and closing ranks while showing the world that the job matters, that it's relevant.

Chapter Twenty-Five -- Absolute Nonsense

Why, if Peter Waters thought (and thinks) that this idea of slow fires is nonsense, did he willingly participate in the photography that helped spread the erroneous idea that books were falling apart at the drops of hats? Was there pressure from above to participate? Or did it take a lot of work and expertise with books to come to the conclusions he has? Is it possible that he has other motives (like keeping his job) to think that books are more sturdy than the traditional view? I wonder if books and their paper lie somewhere in between, with vocal proponents on either side and not a whole lot of truth anywhere.

Chapter Twenty-Seven -- Unparalleled Crisis

Finally, something that Baker sees as useful! The de-acidification movement, a movement that will help with the preservation of books printed on pH neutral paper. But weren't we just talking about how efforts to de-acidify papers containing acid are faulty and not proven to work, anyway? Or was it just that they're dangerous? So, according to Baker, steps taken to prevent deterioration due to acid are only okay when taken by printers and papermakers, but never when they're taken by librarians. That's useful. We're not supposed to do anything to prevent books from falling apart if we can, but we should gladly accept and just place on the shelf items that are printed any old way and not touch them ever again. I don't find some of Baker's positions all that useful for librarians in the trenches.

Chapter Thirty -- A Swifter Conflagration

It is sad that items were just pulled wholesale by preservators. It would seem that the costs would go down if you send fewer items out for the whole guillotine and scan treatment, but evidently not. Besides, there's no sense in saving money that's not coming from your budget, but from the taxpayers. I guess that's something that really bothers me. Librarians are spending all this money on behalf of taxpayers, and they have very little say as to what gets kept, what gets scanned, what those librarians are doing. We already know that people dislike microfilm and microfiche, and they don't really like reading things in PDF format on a screen, either. We, as a field, aren't paying attention to what the patrons want, and that's dangerous.

Chapter Twelve -- Really Wicked Stuff and Chapter Thirteen -- Getting the Champagne out of the Bottle

In some ways I disagree with some of what Baker's saying here. I think he gives a lot of information on the background of diethyl zinc -- especially the information on the military uses -- because he wants to frighten the reader. My counterargument is that, hey, you have to try things. Otherwise you don't know if they'll work. I do, however, think that after the first incident with fire, the whole thing should have been called off. I understand that some people thought that their reputations were too valuable to do that, though. Also, don't get me started on the Bookkeeper bath. I HATE the texture of that grain it leaves on pages. I'd rather the pages be brittle than leave my hands feeling like I dunked them in a container of talc all day.

Chapter Fourteen -- Bursting at the Seams

It's surprising to me that Baker is in favor of off-site storage. I think it's a good idea, but you run into a whole host of other problems when you're talking real estate. Sure, it's cheap now to make or rent a large warehouse way out in the boondocks. But what happens to the costs of the building as suburban sprawl makes the land more valuable? I would imagine that the library then comes under pressure to give up the land to developers. It's hard to say what actually happens, because Baker doesn't discuss how communities feel about off-site storage, and what pressures libraries feel about existing infrastructure that is now getting surrounded by other type of land uses. I'd like to hear more on that, so I guess I'll be looking for articles on that when I get a chance.

Chapter Sixteen -- It's Not Working Out

I have to confess, I have worked with laminated materials in libraries. Laminated in the sense of "encased in plastic," but not irretrievably so. I worked with several maps that had clear, flat plastic cases that were hard, but not impossible, to open. But what would Baker have us do? If a map (or other document) is already damaged, it's not safe to put in a normal case, even in an area where there is access restriction. Actually, I digitized these maps. But they were not then, and will not be in the future, tossed out. It was seen as a way to reduce demand for the actual physical object, as well as to provide the object in a different format for different uses (for display on a website, for example). I think Baker doesn't take into account that there are other motivations for doing things like lamination and digitalization. I feel slighted and maligned, even though I don't feel that I have done anything wrong, specifically because Baker tends to group all digitization and preservation efforts together, when there are a multitude of uses for and people doing this work.

Chapter Seventeen -- Double Fold

I am completely baffled by this double fold test, and why anyone thought it would be an accurate depiction of use. The use of tugs bother me even more; who are these users who are bending corners back and forth and then pulling on the corner? This seems like an attempt to purposely declare books fragile, even when they clearly aren't. Another issue is standards; why, if we're going to use this test, are we not saying, "it's one double fold, and that's it?" At least have things organized! Is it possible that librarians were setting more Draconian rules so that their statistics would match what other libraries were coming up with? This is one of Baker's big points, I think; that librarians, for all their intellectual grandstanding, are just as capable of behaving like sheep and not exhibiting true independent thought. And I think that's true; we're people, and are fallible.

Reading for 20 November 2006

"Double Fold" by Nicholson Baker


Nicholson Baker sounds like he might be a man with an axe to grind. He has already written articles and papers critical of the way libraries maintain their collections. I am hopeful that he does not see himself as an adversary of the library -- someone who is critical and contrary just to be critical and contrary. On the other hand, he does come right out and admit that he's not impartial, which I appreciate. This is one of those "consider the source" moments, and he makes it a bit easier to do that.

Chapter Three -- Destroying to Preserve

I think it's deplorable that libraries dump collections without public input. It perhaps should be something that's put up for voting -- a large list of everything the library wants to discard over a year would be printed and posted on the Web, and then people could have a say as to whether their library keeps these items or dumps them. It's not a perfect solution, but then the public could at least know that precious items are being gotten rid of. And they might have the awareness of space drummed into their heads and start funding the library more if they want to keep these items available. I also think it's horrible to use deterioration as an excuse to get rid of items when what you really want is the space they take up. As mentioned, there are ways to preserve these items, and they seem to be much more durable than traditionally thought.

Chapter Four -- It Can Be Brutal

How did anyone ever think that it was a good idea to put newspapers on microfiche? More than that, how did they convince themselves that it was an excellent idea to then get rid of the paper copies? This is what I don't understand. People today actively avoid items that are on microfiche and microfilm. They don't enjoy looking at them, for many of the reasons listed in the book, plus the fact that they aren't usually cataloged in the same fashon as the rest of the library and they're kept in funny cases. A lot of the time you have to get someone's help with them. I think these are aspects to microfiche that are good to keep in mind when getting too excited about digitization. There are human as well as technological drawbacks to new techniques.

Chapter Five -- The Ace Comb Effect

And this was what was really bothering me about the pitching of so many newspapers. What about the multiple editions in one day? This is something that has affected me personally. When I was eight, my next-door neighbor was murdered in a preserve in the city I grew up in. My mother and I went and looked in the newspapers that day to read the article about his death. Now, when I go to the library to look up his death, I can't find anything because the article was only in the later edition published that day. It's extremely irritating to know that something should be there but isn't (or is there and is completely obliterated). And this was in the 1990s, when you'd think that librarians and microfichers would be sensitive to these problems and do something about it.

Chapter Seven -- Already Worthless

I can't believe this! Why is it that people who have been entrusted with conserving valuable relics from our past so intent on destroying these same items? Why is there no reverence for the fact that these items have survived and can teach us a lot more if they still physically exist?
And the idea that lost information is somehow acceptable in trade-off is irritating. The part of me that values the object (I guess it's book lust, as Nancy Pearl would put it) is truly incensed that this would be thought appropriate. Are we, as a profession, under such pressure to adapt to the new that we forget about our most important missions? Perhaps.

Chapter Nine -- Dingy, Dreary, Dog-eared, and Dead

I wonder how much of this technophilia is librarians in general and how much is just the people who ended up in control of the Library of Congress. It seems that this story of expecting technology to answer all the problems involving space was much more a matter of the people at the top being a little loony for the next shiny toy. As for the people below, it seems like they fall into some categories that don't exactly make me proud: carry it out even though you don't like it; don't even reflect on the topic; and just as nutty as their superiors. What I'm getting from these chapters is this: even if you have to do it as a part of your job, if you feel there's a moral or ethical issue involved, speak up. Talk to your supervisor. Write papers. Make presentations at professional conferences. Really make yourself a gadfly so that others will take a look and start to take the topic seriously, as opposed to accepting the status quo.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Readings for 13 November 2006

"Modeling the Information Seeking of Professionals" by Gloria J. Leckie, Karen E. Pettigrew, and Christian Sylvain

This article interested me greatly. We have been talking in one of my other classes about liaison librarians. The research on how people go about obtaining information, what the information is that they're looking for, and what they use this information for seems to be right on point. This study strikes me as important because it's exactly what's needed for library science to change and adapt. At least in academic libraries and special libraries, liaison librarians are the wave of the future -- someone who goes out and is a personal contact for certain groups to the library, and vice versa. I was impressed by the variety of groups the authors looked at. I would love to do research like this.

The Access Principle -- Chapters One and Six by John Willinsky

Chapter One -- "Opening"

I am fascinated by Willinsky's idea that technology has traditionally led to an opening of knowledge. I think he's right; people have had access to more information on more topics over the course of history. It's admirable that there are researchers who see the Internet as a way to expose others to their work -- to build on their work -- and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Unfortunately, I think there are few people who are going to jump on board, if for no other reason than it's taking a lot of resources to do and hasn't been proven to be more advantageous or beneficial than the traditional journal and e-journal paradigm.

Chapter Six -- "Cooperative"

I really like the idea of a cooperative. I actually had been wondering if such a thing would work while reading Double Fold -- instead of letting a corporation scan your stuff and make you pay for the privilege, why not learn to do it yourself and share access with other institutions? They get access to your stuff, but you also get access to theirs. ILL could be gone forever, and that's a delightful thought. Just shift those people over to scanning work. Make sure to keep some paper copies though; otherwise Nicholson Baker will get you!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Readings for 6 November 2006

"Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public and Leadership Attitudes about Libraries in the 21st Century"

I found a lot of what was brought up in the survey results interesting, but not surprising. Most of our readings for both this class and another class I'm in talk about these topics. The one that I did find a bit new and surprising was that city leaders were critical of librarians. We are seen as idealistic, quiet, withdrawing, and impractical. These are images that we have to fight to get rid of, because they hurt us greatly. People who give us money have to feel that they are giving the money to someone who is responsible; although the public feels that we do a good job with the money we are given, the government officials feel like we need to be at a higher level of accounting for the funds given. Thus, a business head doesn't hurt. I have to agree with this. I would be reticent to give money to someone who didn't appear to have his head focused on the bottom line. Business training can't hurt librarians (and it could make us much more valuable, meaning higher salaries). Knowing how to market your place of employment is always good, especially when funding for your job and essential resources to perform your job well is in perpetual jeopardy.

"The Differences Between Real and Virtual Libraries" by Thomas Mann

I agree with a lot of what was said in this article. People who are intent on thinking that the digital will replace the print are mistaken; it will, rather, compliment it. Having done digitization work, I have to say that it's imperfect. A lot of the time the margins are small or the book was imperfectly bound, and that's a serious problem for creating an online PDF. But it doesn't cause problems for those who are reading the item. So, yeah, we have to keep our print copies! They don't necessarily have to be on-site (which creates another geographic limit), but we need to keep them. Some researchers are even interested in the physical creation and the metatext of an item, and a lot of the time that stuff is not or cannot be digitized. The argument could be made that the discarding of such documents is tantamount to destroying unique creations.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chapter Four -- "The Power of It"

This was a very thought-provoking chapter. The part that I found most salient to librarians was the part where the one mother found herself in the library of her children's school. Looking at what was available on African-Americans, she found the offerings a bit skimpy. I love that she contacted the librarian and worked with her to find and purchase books that were a considerable improvement over what was previously available to the students. What I took home from this was to be humble, to be open. I have to be secure enough in my position that I can accept that I don't know everything about everything. Patrons have much that they can teach me, and I just have to be willing to listen. Of course, I also have to have a critical eye to what they tell me, and to find validation through other sources, but it's entirely possible that beneficial change can be intiated by patrons -- the library is there for them, after all!

Chapter Five -- "The Sacred and the Profane"

One of my other classes spends a lot of time talking about this difference between reading and writing. One of our recent readings talks about how they were historically very different skills. Girls were just as likely as boys to be readers in the early days of America, but were not likely to have been taught how to write, because it was seen as a technical or vocational skill, and that sewing was the feminine counterpart to the masculine skill of writing. I think that Brandt makes a good attempt to show that these attitudes toward the two skills have been perpetuated. Writing is connected to your income. I find that fascinating, and think that so many programs could be started to target people with poor writing skills to help them. It would, perhaps, behoove them more than a reading program would -- partly because the reading has to come along with the writing. The only problem is that few people, I think, would be interested in enrolling in such classes and programs precisely because writing is seen as punitive and boring in comparison to reading. Perhaps we need to revamp writing's image.

Chapter Six -- "The Means of Production"

Brandt here is defining literacy in a very broad way. Is knowing another language, especially a computer language, another form of literacy? I don't know that it is; I think the skills of reading and writing can definitely apply to foreign languages, but I don't think they're new skills. It's a form of taking what's already known and applying it in a new context. I did think it was interesting that Brandt found two people whose applications of skill were rewarded in two very different ways -- and I would venture would be treated differently now than they were in the past. Lopez's skill would definitely be seen as more of a plus, and would probably be cultivated now, whereas Branch would have had formal classes in computer languages in high school. It's interesting to note how fast things can change in such a short amount of time.