Thursday, December 16, 2010

some topics for the coming year

Well finals are done. The Watzek Library holiday cards are almost in the mail. And the library's holiday party starts at 2pm today in the Pamplin room.

Here are a few topics that I'd like to post on in the coming months:
  • library budgets: is there a balance to be struck between acquisitions and operations/staffing? Are we drifting one way or another?
  • collections and space: are our collections still growing in a physical sense?
  • the return on investment on library sponsored events and programs (or how the hell do we justify that big food and drink expense line in our operations budget?)
  • the digital library center: what characterizes this kind of a service unit and how prevalent are they at selective liberal arts colleges?
  • does the library have a role as an interdisciplinary catalyst (I'm supposed to write a book chapter on this topic)?
  • why design is a typically underrated component of academic digital projects
  • ideas for partnering with bigger institutions to support academic digital projects
  • NSF data management plans at small liberal arts colleges (we need to start doing these this year)
  • strategies to promote change in scholarly communication at small colleges

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Edward Bellamy on the publishing industry

Given that the my boss and mentor, the late James J. Kopp, was a scholar of Edward Bellamy, not to mention a collector of his works (collection soon to be housed at U of Oregon), I was pleased to come across this blog post by Kathryn Tomasek at Wheaton, who saw some interesting parallels between Bellamy's system of author rewards portrayed in his utopian novel Looking Backward and current digital publication schemes.
Bellamy described book publishing and the making of art in his utopia as the place in which a market similar to the world of capitalist competition continued to operate. Authors, for example, had to furnish the funds for publication out of their own credit. “He must pay for the privilege of the public ear,” Bellamy wrote, “and if he has any message worth hearing we consider that he will be glad to do it…. The cost of an edition of an average book can be saved out of a year’s credit by the practice of economy and some sacrifices. The book, on being published, is placed on sale by the nation.” In Bellamy’s imagined future authors set their own royalties, which were added to the cost of publication to yield the price of the book. If the book was popular and sold enough copies to support the author, then the author would be excused from service in the industrial army for as long as the credit lasted. A similar process in which subscriptions substituted for the price of individual copies of books provided for the publication of newspapers and magazines (Chapter 15).

Monday, December 6, 2010

digital scholarship: explaining the concept

With our sponsored research officer, I'm putting together a short workshop in January to explain to humanities and social sciences faculty the concept of digital scholarship and how it might intersect with their work. Recent articles in the New York Times on "Humanities 2.0" may provoke some interest in this. We've seen some pretty big initiatives on this front at peer institutions like Occidental and Hamilton and are thinking about possibilities on our own campus.

I'm thinking through a good way to explain digital scholarship. It's such an amorphous concept. On the one hand, its tempting to think of our common forms of print scholarship online as digital scholarship: electronic journals and now increasingly, electronic books. Projects that involve the digitization of primary print sources also come to mind. Then there is the whole movement towards open access journals and open repositories of scholarly work.

I would say that digital scholarship happens when digital technology can enhance research methodologies and provide new, useful ways of presenting evidence as well as intellectual or artistic output. These new practices often engage students in the research process and promote collaborative research.

Here are some projects that fall along these lines.

Oren Kosansky's NEH funded Genizah project supports digital capture, encoding and analysis of a cache of documents from Jewish Communities in Morroco with help from the library and at least one student on the Morroco program; while digital technologies will enable the collaborative analysis by a global group of scholars interested in the archive, they will also stimulate some challenging ethical and legal questions.

At Wheaton College, a historian has her students doing similar types of transcription and encoding of historical documents related to the founders of that College.

Students from Furman University have contributed to the Center for Hellenic Studies Homer Multitext project by transcribing medieval manuscripts of the Illiad and Odyssey, some of which had never previously found their way into print.

Our own Environmental Studies Situated Research initiative utilizes social bookmarking technologies and concept maps to allow students to collectively build archives of research resources around geographic sites.

The History Engine, a project out of the University of Richmond is a platform on which undergraduate students perform primary research a topic in 19th century American history and compose a brief "episode" about that topic in a globally accessible database, thereby allowing students to publish their work in a widely accessible forum.

Bob Goldman and Bryan Seboks Adea project challenges students to convey some of the "big ideas" in the liberal arts via the 21st century "short form."

The New York Neighborhoods project out of Columbia University has students taking to the streets of various NYC neighborhoods to produce histories from interviews, walking tours and photographs, all organized and curated on a wiki platform that incorporates web mapping and geolocation. There are many variations on this concept of location based research projects, with Hypercities being an emerging platform.

Our own Ted Vogel's accessCeramics project curates and exposes recent work in the field of contemporary ceramics. The collection allows artists and their students visual access to the latest and best work in this global, quickly evolving area of art.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


This piece from Inside Higher Education on weeding (otherwise known as deselection, remaindering, deaccessioning, etc.) library collections provides a good librarian's perspective on the topic. One point it misses is how much electronic access as resource sharing has made it possible to get by with potentially fewer copies of the same books.

spider lab


Last spring I visited with multiple faculty across the College of Arts and Sciences about ways that the library could help them organize data better for teaching and research. One of our most receptive folks was Greta Binford of Biology. Yesterday I stopped by and visited a Biology 100 lab filled with students busily photographing spiders with microscopes, uploading them to Flickr, and then tagging them using flickr machine tags. Digital Services Coordinator Jeremy McWilliams has worked with Greta to come up with a system for classifying and geotagging these spiders, which have all been retrieved from the Lewis & Clark campus. The result will be a website that will map the "spiders of lewis & clark."

This is our first digital initiative in the sciences, and we look forward to more down the line.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

library as a "creative organization"

Libraries are often known as places that are all about following the rules, whether it be keeping quiet, returning books within a certain amount of time, or cataloging things using a certain system. This makes sense: to organize, preserve, and provide access to numerous physical objects rules are essential.

But, increasingly, I think that there is a case for the creative library that breaks the rules. As our resources shift to big aggregations on the network (JSTOR, LexisNexis, Ebscohost), less of our work will be about locally replicating what thousands of other libraries are doing, and more of it will have to do with strategically advancing the missions of our institutions in creative ways.

This creativity should flow through research and information management techniques that we teach students as they navigate a complex information landscape. It should surface in publications that explain how our resources and services can support local research and teaching. It should emerge in complex digital projects that we manage to support faculty and student research. It should show through in events that we put on that better connect our communities. It is also needed as we continue to manage an increasingly complex array of analog and digital media that we must access and preserve, often most effectively with consortial partners.

I don't want to throw out the rules. Rules and standards are still essential for much of what we do, and if we don't have folks who can put the right systems in place and utilize them with attention to detail, we'll certainly fail at our most basic functions. Furthermore, rules often give our creative projects a framework in which to flourish. For instance, the standards EAD and TEI are often the backbone of our digital projects.

But how do we bring creativity into our organizations while retaining our rule-bound needs? A topic for another post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

counter trends in a digital world

I enjoy the continuous churn of the digital world. I like change and evolution in the information landscape and exploring new digital media. I am a huge advocate for the library's role as a guide in that changing landscape.

However, I wonder, as the world goes more digital, is there a counter-trend role for the library? With the world around it changing in favor of digital media, could it be that our printed collections and our expertise in printed media become that much more important?

I'm often intrigued by niche industries that defy a bigger trend by going back and doing something retro, generally in a high quality way. Economies of scale say that goods like beer and coffee can be mass produced cheaply, yet I see hundreds of examples of small scale producers of these products using artisan methods thriving, especially here in the Northwest. There has been a resurgence of vinyl recordings sold recently. You could argue that liberal arts colleges fit this model also.

I do think there are a few print-centric roles that libraries will continue to play as the world shifts more digital. First, the transition to digital is and will be messy and fragmented. We'll continue to maintain materials in print that you can't get digitally anywhere and we may be especially appreciated for doing so. At times when media change fast, we maintain the ability to access and preserve those out-of-favor formats.

In a liberal arts curriculum, print culture will continue to be an important aspect of the humanities. Faculty will want their students to encounter texts in their original form and many will ask their students to study media in their native form from earlier times. Library print collections, especially special collections will be a laboratory for doing so. For example, one of our English professors is working closely with our Special Collections to expose her students to the kind of letterpress printing done by Virgina Woolf's Hogarth Press in the 1920s.

We're fortunate enough to host the Berberis Press out of our special collections, a small press that does poetry broadsides and occasional publications. The Berberis press has done collaborations between poetry and graphic design courses, in which the design students create broadsides for the student poets. We've also begun tapping into EM-space, a Portland based book arts center. This will enable the Berberis press to do some cool letter press printing projects. The book arts is a great way that the library can creatively support arts and literature. It's also a great creative outlet for staff.

Strong connections to the culture of books is key. The University of Puget Sound Library put on a book collecting contest for students to: "encourage undergraduate students at Puget Sound to read for enjoyment and to develop personal libraries throughout their lives, to appreciate the special qualities of printed or illustrated works, and to read, research and preserve the collected works for pleasure and scholarship." I'm reminded of the thriving world of book collecting almost everyday as I receive a beautiful catalog from a rare book dealer intended for my predecessor, Jim Kopp.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Watzek Annual Report: The Short Form Version

Every year, the library puts out an annual report. For this year, we decided to try something a little different and create an easily digestible "short form" version of it. The idea was to brag about a few different areas of our work: building collections, engaging in teaching and research, exploring unique source material, and sponsoring exhibits and events.

Thanks to Anneliese Dehner, who designed the report. It's a trifold design with four doublesided pages. Look for it in your mailbox.

Watzek Library 2009-10 Short Form Annual Report


Today, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2010, I begin this blog. With the campus largely empty this morning due to icy roads and the library lightly staffed due to the holiday week, there is a strange quietness that has prompted me to write.

Three months into an interim directorship at Watzek Library, Lewis & Clark College, I've decided to put together a blog to record some of my thoughts and experiences about the liberal arts college library. The college library is a beloved institution and at the same time a problematic beast with an uncertain future. Its changing nature and the competing visions of what it is and ultimate can be make this job an interesting one.

The theses behind this blog is that a liberal arts college library can be a strategic asset for its parent institution. Small colleges need to distinguish themselves from one another to thrive. I believe that the library can help a college do this in a variety of ways. If you're interested in how this can happen, read on.