Another Take on the Digital Library

The Chronicle has reported that, like Google, Yahoo is in a project to digitize libraries – with a difference. Yahoo is partnering with a number of players in something called the Open Content Alliance, inspired by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive. Libraries will pay a minimal cost per page to add their volumes to the collection, but they must be either not under copyright or have permission of the copyright holder. The New York Times calls it a “challenge to Google” – for a number of reasons. Results won’t be available only through one search engine, entire texts rather than snippets will be visible, and – gasp! – books will be chosen specifically for the project, rather than entire libraries being scanned wholesale.

First we had Amazon’s Search Inside, then the Google project, now this alliance. All of them are interestingly different takes on making the full text of books searchable online, all of them with a different commercial bent and each with different strengths and weaknesses. One thing that they do reveal, though, is these publicly traded corporations all seem to believe there is a future in making books searchable. And each offers varous challenges to traditional notions of copyright in a digital world.

How Will An Endowed Chair In Information Literacy Help?

Purdue University announced that it will create the first endowed chair in information literacy in the nation, as a result of a generous $2.5 million gift. While I applaud this pioneering development, as it will certainly promote information literacy at Purdue and perhaps raise the profile of information literacy beyond their campus, I have to question it as well. In part, the holder of the chair will lead research projects into information literacy. Nice, but in the last 20 years perhaps 5,000 articles or more have been written about information literacy, not to mention loads of presentations, so why create a research position of this sort. I’d be far more impressed if Purdue announced that it was funding programs to allow faculty members to commit to collaborating with their librarians to take full responsibility for teaching students to become information literate. That’s what we need in higher education – real action to establish faculty-led and librarian supported information literacy – not more research by and for librarians. Perhaps they’ll use some of the funds for programs directed at faculty, which I would encourage and welcome. Who knows, it might result in some resources and techniques that could be replicated elsewhere.

“Opinionated, Humorous, and Scathing”

Library Journal has a piece on blogging in libraries. One interesting comment: “unlike a transaction at the reference desk, blogs needn’t be neutral. In fact, many librarian-authored blogs are personal, opinionated, humorous, and scathing.”

The notion of neutrality came up in one of the Chronicle pieces on tenure that we’ve been talking about here. In arguing that tenure hampers our work, Deborah A. Carver says “librarians are also expected to maintain neutrality with respect to political, moral, or aesthetic views.” So where does that leave our bloggers?

Actually, I think what librarians must do is welcome a wide range of perspectives onto their shelves and through their doors. We shouldn’t provide services or instruction that push a singular perspective. We should be disinterestedly avid in the pursuit of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean we should have nothing to say for ourselves (and therefore no need for academic freedom or tenure).

Nevertheless, this issue is a rich one when it comes to blogging because this truly is a new genre and the authorial voice, whatever its source, is rarely neutral.

Take A Look At The Online Discussions

Since we have a few posts about the Chronicle’s special report on academic libraries, I’ll just add that I’d encourage readers to go to the Chronicle site to take a look at the comments being added to the online discussions for the tenure debate articles and the one on left-wing echo chamber. I added my comments to both of the discussions if you want to see what I had to say about these issues. But I will say that Barbara and I don’t exactly disagree on the tenure for librarians issue, but she certainly feels more strongly that it is necessary than do I.

New Academic Libraries

TCNJ Library

Originally uploaded by Marc Meola.

Scott Carlson has a good article (subscription required) in the Chronicle’s special section on libraries in which he touches on the major issues and trends in the design and building of new academic libraries. Here at TCNJ, our library followed the alluded to formula of natural light + cherry wood + comfy chairs + internet connections = 200% gate increase. Why not just build a big study hall? Why not just build a big computer lab? It turns out the library is a complex place that cannot be reduced to any one of its amenties or services. When we first moved into our new building, some of our materials, archives in particular, took a little longer to get out of the moving boxes. What are the chances someone would ask for an item from archives in the first weeks? But ask they did. And they asked for books. And bound periodicals. And microfilm even. (Microfilm!) As well as for computers with word, for printers, and for librarians they knew by name. Could it be that the romantic notion of the library as the heart of campus is not all sentiment and symbolism, and that there really is something to this idea of library as place?