Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ze Show Called Hackfest

I'm late jumping on this bandwagon, but I would like to sing the praises of Ze Frank's The Show videoblog (additional background info).

He's got computer and music skillz. He's humane. He's funny. He has given the best answer to "I'm going to school... what major should I choose?" that I've ever heard [transcript].

Earlier today I was going through some of the more popular shows but I stopped after hearing the brain crack show because, well, it put me in place.

For those of you who won't take my word that its worth watching a videoblog, I'll try to summarize the jist of this show: a reader asks if Ze is running out of ideas. Ze says, yes, he runs out of ideas every day. "If you don't want to run out of ideas the best thing to do is not to execute them.... then they stay in your head forever like brain crack." He then warns us that many folks are addicted to this brain crack . These folks keep their ideas in their brains, forever imagining how great and perfectly executed these ideas will one day become. He tells us that the bummer is that most ideas suck when you do them. When Ze gets and idea - even a bad one - he tries to get it out in the world as soon as possible. And then he breaks into song. Really.

Okay, so I realized then and there that I had an addiction to brain crack. I was hoarding my Hackfest ideas. So, inspired by Ze Frank, here they are. Um, for other people to execute them.

  1. Create two-player game that is not unlike Hotbooks except that its played online only. Or create a one-player game in which certain books in a library are considered horcruxes that need to be identified and neutralized.

  2. Inspired by ASU's Index to Physical, Chemical and Other Property Data, I think we - the libraries of the world - should create a collective index to the best print resources (without online equivalents) in our reference collections. It could be a wiki but it could also be something else.

Now I realize that the fine folks running Hackfest may not need an overabundance of half-baked ideas but dammit, I can't lose the award named after me for another year!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A collection of thoughts on curating and libraries

My wee little mind was blown this morning as I learned about two particular libraries from the if:book blog: The Prelinger Library and The Reanimation Library. Both are new libraries dedicated to preserving visually rich material for the purposes of repurposing by artists, historians, scholars, writers and other cultural workers.

From the overview and philosophy section of the Reanimation Library:

Of particular interest to the Reanimation Library is the loss of visual information that occurs during the aforementioned process of weeding. Even though text is often accompanied by images, collection development policies generally assign little weight to the graphic dimension of a work, unless that work happens to be graphically driven (i.e. a book on a visual artist, graphic design, or an atlas). Most library collection development policies place priority on acquiring items with current textual information and replacing items where that information is lacking or outdated. This priority, coupled with the continual production of new editions as fields of knowledge evolve, create the growing fossil record of outdated books—a veritable feast for image archaeologists. The Reanimation Library is committed to building a collection of materials that are rich in visual information, regardless of the currency of their textual information. The Library serves as a repository and, more pertinently, an access point for such materials.

This is beautiful, mad genius.

Libraries, like the academic library where I am employed, must weed their Reference collections in order to give these collections meaning as a Reference Collection is defined as useful works that one refers to frequently. But if one saves the visually rich detritus of the Reference Collection and then turns this material into a collection unto itself, then these useless works become a unique collection that gains value through a new community.

I was so captivated by the idea of these libraries that over the course of the day I kept thinking about libraries and collections. When does a collection of books become more valuable than when its part of a larger library or works? Are libraries just troves of unprocessed ore? Should we think of libraries in terms of collections of items instead of concentrating on the individual items themselves?

Library exhibitions blur the line between the library and the museum. When you select items from a large collection and display them to demonstrate an idea that brings them all together, it begins sounds to me like you are curating an museum.

What's the difference between a library and a museum anyway? Well coincidently, also today Richard Akerman posted this succinct comparison:
library = community access to reusable stuff
museum = community access to unique stuff
archive = nobody/privileged access to important stuff
He also makes this important point: "'Reusable stuff' is practically the definition of online content".

The Tate Museum offers a very limited means to "curate" your own museum. Perhaps libraries should allow users to create their own online "collections" from our holdings. We could even hold contests for the best collections. To me, this would be more egalitarian than the book collecting contests that are held annually at three dozen libraries, including Cornell and Michigan State University, that culminate in the Collegiate Book-Collecting Championship.

Both The Prelinger Library and The Reanimation Library chose to be libraries of physical books as opposed to dedicating efforts to digitize their collected works. They still have faith in browsing and papery goodness. Libraries don't have to be completely re-purposed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Special Librarian theme song

I didn't go to any conferences when I was attending library school but some of my classmates did. Over the summer, one such classmate went to a Special Library Association conference (this was in 1995 I think) and she showed off the swag she acquired on her adventure to some of us. My eyes fell on a cassette that was in the pile and I, being curious and brazen, asked if I could have it. Jealous of her hoard, she would only let me borrow the cassette. So I dutifully took it home and gave it a listen. On the cassette was a song.

I dubbed a copy of its contents, and returned the casette to her the next day. If I had bothered to write down the song's title or who peformed the piece, I must have misplaced it (this was before I was granted my degree, mind you). Ten years later, I digitized some of my mixed tapes.

And so, for your listening pleasure: The Special Librarian Theme Song !
[link expires in 7 days or 100 downloads.. which ever comes first]

Monday, September 04, 2006

The library as hand gestures

Have you ever stumbled upon something that is so obvious and yet strikes you as a deeply profound secret truth? That's what I felt when I read this passage from Worlds of Reference some days ago:

Human beings have presumably, since time immemorial, used their fingers for pointing and listing, two primary modes of referring and organizing... Although the languages we have used in the last two or three millennia do not date back directly to Cro-Magnon times, it is still worthwhile noting that we use the term 'index' for both the pointing finger and a list of a certain kind that also figuratively points...

It got me thinking.

The library can broken down into two activities: organizing (technical services) and referring (reader services).

I visit a website and its homepage is called index.html. As I move my mouse, the pointer on the screen turns from an arrow to a hand with an outstretched index finger.

You can use your index finger to point out something to someone. Or you can bring it to your lips and make a shushing noise.