Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Zero-Sum Game or Net Loss?

I'm pondering the following email that I just received from the Cataloging Distribution Service at the Library of Congress:

Beginning January 1, 2008, the Cataloging Distribution Service of the Library of Congress will reduce prices on all MARC Distribution Services (MDS) and for new subscriptions or renewals to Cataloger's Desktop and Classification Web ordered after January 1, 2008. Prices remain the same for all other products for 2008. After its annual review of product prices, CDS was able to reduce product prices because of operational cost savings. These cost savings were realized in part because of lower staffing levels during the previous year.

The email is not clear whether the cost savings are from lower staffing levels just within CDS, or from lower staffing levels at LOC overall. When we're suffering the effects of an erosion of descriptive cataloging services and authority control from LOC, saving money on ClassWeb or the Cataloger's Desktop still seems like a net loss to me.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wyoming & Theological Libraries Month

I'm just a bit too late for the October 2007 celebration of Theological Libraries Month, but as a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming, I can't resist the following suggestion for next year:

I think that wyominglibraries.org's use of the mud flap girl could be a model for a new TLM logo.

Or perhaps a bit of Western color with the Pry it from my cold dead fingers campaign?

Just a suggestive . . . er, suggestion.

Theological Publishing & Scholarly Publishing

A new report from ACRL, Establishing a Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication: A Call for Community Engagement, is calling for further research on eight different aspects of the current system of scholarly communication. I was intrigued by the following paragraph from section 4, Authorship and Scholarly Publishing:

"When faculty employ and create new forms and techniques, evaluating their work against traditional measures is a particular challenge. Although studies document the conservatism and constraining influence of scholarly promotion and tenure review processes and reward systems, we do not yet have deep insight into how they can evolve to recognize and embrace new forms of scholarship. The problem is acute for the creators of digital scholarship, which rarely enters the formal publishing stream, yet is a creative, scholarly act that can influence and underpin both present and future research. But authorship of these programs is not yet rewarded as a form of scholarly communication of the first order in most disciplines."

My suspicion is that theological publishing is not at the bleeding edge of this process of "creating new forms and techniques", but it certainly is getting there. In faculty committees at our seminary we have already been discussing how to evaluate such contributions as faculty blogging. As a librarian, I am particularly interested in the issue of preserving such new forms of faculty publication. Does anyone out there have a system yet for preserving faculty blogs? Can theological librarians have a voice in influencing the nature of copyright contracts for theological publications? I am glad to see ACRL calling for comment and research in areas such as these, and I hope that theological librarians can be part of the library community that responds to this call.

Friday, October 19, 2007

How to Make a Conference

I've finished my second day here in Ottawa, Ontario with the ATLA Education Committee working on planning the next annual conference scheduled in June, 2008. Breakfast was at 7:30am, and we finished our working supper at 8:30pm. Tomorrow morning we will review what could be called the first draft of the conference program. There is a lot of work yet to be done, and there will be many changes between now and the final version of the program, but tonight we were able to see for the first time all the many pieces start to come together in the recognizable shape of an ATLA conference.

Compared to the annual ALA conference which can draw over 25,000 delegates, the annual ATLA conference is not very big. It is not tiny, though, either -- attendance can be between 300 - 400 depending on the year and the locale. Planning has to begin three to four years ahead of time in order to identify sites and sign the necessary contracts to ensure adequate space for the conference. Members of the local host committee start attending planning meetings two years prior to the conference to learn how the conferences are planned and to begin preparing for their turn to be hosts. The content of our conferences is member-driven, and the program we have to offer is whatever ATLA members are interested in and willing to share with others. Proposals for papers, panels, interest group meetings, and roundtables are collected every summer and fall. (And starting last year, we have also begun to add poster sessions.) In October, the Annual Conference Committee and the Education Committee meet at the site for the conference to select the program content from out of the many proposals and to preview the conference facilities.

I have found it to be difficult work to select the best proposals that will create the most balanced program. We try to arrange all the sessions so that there will be a minimum of conflict between simultaneous sessions, but it is impossible to avoid all possible conflicts. Attenders will always have to choose between breakout sessions that are scheduled at the same time; a full schedule with a maximum number of choices makes for the best conference. And we always have to keep in mind the logistics of moving 350+ librarians between rooms and buildings while making sure that everyone has time to go to the bathroom. Be it trains, planes, boats, buses, or elevators, most of the conference stories that members like to retell year after year have to do with locomotion or the lack thereof at some point during the conference.

Barbara Kemmis, the Director of Member Services for ATLA, compares our conferences to a big family gathering. This is the one time of the year when we all get to see each other, share food and stories, and spend time as theological librarians thinking about how to do our jobs a little bit better. The program for ATLA 2008 is not perfect now, and it probably never will be. I am amazed by the vast creativity and resourcefulness of the proposals that we have received and humbled by the willingness of ATLA members to share what they have with others. I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of the making of ATLA 2008.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blogging from Ottawa

This posting is a shameless promotion of next June's annual ATLA conference in Ottawa, Ontario.

This post comes from my hotel room at the Ottawa Westin where the Annual Conference Committee and the Education Committee are meeting to put together the program for the conference. This is my first visit to Canada's beautiful capital. (I believe "Capital Region" is the technically correct designation; my Canadian friends will have to correct me if I am flaunting my American parochialism.)

I am enjoying my brief views of the city as much as I am enjoying the growing shape of the conference that is emerging from all the roundtable, paper, and presentation suggestions that have been submitted by ATLA members this fall. As a theological librarian, I benefit daily from my network of colleagues in ATLA, and I greatly enjoy our annual conferences when we can all get together for a few days. I look forward to seeing our conference program reach its final form, and, even though I'm still in Ottawa, I'm already looking forward to coming back here in June when everyone else will be here, too.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Reply From Google

In response to my query about the availability of statistics for Google Book Search, Dan from the Google Book Search Team wrote:

Thank you for your email. As you may know, we've been able to include over 2 million books in Google Book Search so far. We hope to be able to release further information about the scale of Google Book Search in the future.

I hope that the Google Book Search Team can follow through on that promise. Having more data about the scope and content of the collection would be very useful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reminiscence -- Google Street View & Charge Cards

Here in the Chicago area, there is a lot of reaction to Google turning on their street view service in the Windy City. In-between web sessions spent Googling their own streets in an effort to catch their neighbors doing something naughty, Chicagoans are lamenting the loss of privacy that comes with the ubiquitous images of daily life broadcast on the Internet. Google, of course, keeps pointing out that all these images are taken from public streets where anyone could walk by and see the same things or even snap a phone cam image of all the silly things we do in broad daylight.

I understand Google's point, but I also understand the privacy concerns. There is something different between public indiscretion and the permanent preservation and global distribution of public indiscretion. I like to think that my temporary lapse of good judgment can somehow be winked at and quickly fade into the past. Google is aggressively bursting that delusion by catering to my own basest instincts--the same kind of narcissistic appetite that drives reality TV and twittering (and blogging) also drives our horrified fascination with seeing ourselves caught in the daily foibles of the public sphere. Google street view is voyeurism redoubled on itself.

This modern phenomenon, though, puts me in mind of an older one -- does anybody remember charge cards? No, not the credit card kind, but the index cards kept in the back of books where people used to sign their names when checking the books out of their libraries. Here, too, was a public preservation of a private activity--research and leisure--that was freely available to anyone who wanted to look at the card in the back of the book. There was no Patriot Act and no concern over privacy. That little card kept a record of the people who had borrowed that book. I remember working as a student at the Wheaton College library and finding a charge card with Billy Graham's signature. What shivers ran down my young evangelical spine back then, handling a card that had once been handled by Billy Graham himself!

The difference, of course, between an old charge card and Google street view is that the charge card was keeping a record of an intellectual pursuit, not a public indiscretion. (Unless you were one of those bold enough to sign out Madonna's Sex from your local library.) It is a sign of the times to me that our intellectual pursuits are now shrouded in library databases guarded by fiercely activist librarians while our indiscretions are broadcast globally. Or maybe I am being too negative. Maybe Google street view is also capturing random acts of heroism and decency, and perhaps those will also be immortalized the way library charge cards once kept a record of our pursuit of knowledge.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

More on Google & Microsoft Book Searches

I have been doing some more experimenting with both Google Book Search and Microsoft Live Book Search. I continue to be amazed at the speed with which these collections are growing, though neither Google nor Microsoft are publishing any statistics on the actual size of their databases, making evaluation difficult. (I have emailed Google about this lack of statistical data -- if they send me any information back, I'll let you know.)

I have, though, added both Google Book Search and Microsoft Live Book Search to our list of available library databases, and I am adding them to my information literacy class to give students some tips on how to make use of these databases. The extent of the available resources in these two collections makes them too valuable to ignore.

As an experiment, I searched 30 titles from our collection in both Google and Microsoft that were published before 1923 and therefore are in the public domain. From this highly unscientific sample, I found the following:

Available full text in Google: 10
Available full text in Microsoft: 4
Limited access in Google:10
Not available in Google: 10
Not available in Microsoft: 26

(Of the 10 that had limited access in Google, 7 were recent reprints--therefore under copyright--but 3 were the original, pre-1923 texts and should have been available full text.)

This then got me to wondering about more recent books, so I searched another 30 titles from off our new book list, picking titles that were published at least a year ago in case brand new items would not have had time to find their way into the databases:

None were available full text (not too surprising)
None were available in any form in Microsoft
Limited access in Google: 7
Listed in Google, but no access: 15
Not in Google: 8

"Listed in Google, but no access" is what Google calls "No preview available". You can find the title by searching title or author information, but the contents of the book are not available even for key word searching, much less previewing. I had not been aware that "No preview available" meant that the book contents are not searchable, but my own efforts to search key words and phrases from some of our "No preview available" titles confirmed this. In spite of their We-have-the-right-to-scan-any-book assertions, Google for whatever reason is not providing any access (beyond a title listing) to a certain percentage of their scanned database.

[Excursus: I find searching in Microsoft Live Book Search to be frustrating. There is no advanced search to allow searches by title or author; putting phrases from the title in quotes seems to be the most efficient way to search Microsoft. The response time is also much slower than Google, especially when scrolling through the results. I also found it odd that I kept encountering listings in Microsoft that said "Book Removed -- This book is no longer available" with no information to identify what the original book had been. If it's not available, why bother to provide a "Book Removed" listing?]

One practical question comes to my mind after this experiment: There have been rumblings that Northern Seminary may sell our current campus and relocate. This has necessitated a lot of work on my part to evaluate our collection and design possible scenarios for what to hypothetically do with the library collection should it theoretically be relocated to any number of putative sites. Most of these possible scenarios involve off-site storage for a certain percentage of the collection. Identifying titles available in Google Books appears to be one way to select volumes for storage. Dare one download and archive one's own copy of the PDF file and discard the book altogether? What would you do, hypothetically?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LibQUAL+ and Library Assessment

Back in May, I had posted about library assessment. As we near our 10-year accreditation visit this November, library assessment continues to be very much on my mind.

Yesterday, at The Ubiquitous Librarian, Brian Mathews reported on some interesting work that he is doing with ARL's LibQUAL+ service quality measurement tool. At a cost of $2,250, LibQUAL+ may be out of reach for smaller libraries like mine, but the kinds of results that it is yielding look very interesting. In the ongoing quest to start measuring how well our library is doing rather than what our library is doing, this kind of tool looks promising.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Calling, Part 1

When I began this blog, I posted The Calling, Part 2 which was about the second thing that had attracted me to a career in theological librarianship. In this post, I want to write about the first thing that attracted me: The service that I can offer to students who are preparing for a vocation of Christian ministry.

As caretakers of theological collections, we gain a kinesthetic appreciation for the collocation of theological knowledge. By this, I mean that we gain an instinctive understanding of how the materials in our collections are actually used in the process of conducting research. The circulation librarian who manages course reserves year in and year out gains a good understanding of the scope of the curriculum even if he or she never attends a faculty meeting. The acquisitions librarian who sees a trend over the years from ordering a lot of church management materials to ordering more materials on spirituality and worship renewal knows something about the forces shaping course content. We walk students to sections in our reference collections where language tools or denominational dictionaries or Bible encyclopedias or New Testament bibliographies can be found, often without even thinking about the call numbers for these materials.

The end result is an ability to assist students in ways that can't be mimicked by keyword searching in a database. One of the best examples of this is the time-honored reference interview. Whether conducted in person, over the phone, or via a chat session, it is one of the ways that we bring our knowledge of our collections to bear on the questions being raised by the researcher. There is a give and take--an information exchange--between researcher and librarian that clarifies the question being asked in the process of identifying resources that can answer it. I have found that helping students to ask better questions can in itself be a rewarding profession.

In a theological setting, this can require students to lower a few barriers. Theological education often is a delicate process of getting seminarians to open their minds to a breadth and depth of theological reflection greater than that of just their home denominational backgrounds. (Here my Protestant bias shows; I wonder if this dynamic is different in Catholic or Orthodox seminaries?) As a librarian, when I participate in this process, I bring to it that kinesthetic knowledge of available resources that results from having devoted a lot of time to collecting and organizing them. I'm enthusiastic about the resources that my library has to offer in response to a research question, and sometimes that enthusiasm rubs off.

And then there are the times when we get to participate in something more formal than a reference interview. At Northern Seminary, my chance to engage in information literacy training comes as part of our Formation for Christian Ministry course, usually taken by students as one of their first classes at seminary. I have one class session to make the case to our new students that doing research well should be formational to their future careers as ministers regardless of whether or not they are planning to pursue ordination. Seminary training is not about learning all the correct answers; it is about learning to ask better questions, for oneself and for those who will bring their own questions in the future. As a theological librarian, I treasure the role that I have in assisting students with forming better questions, and then opening their eyes to the vast wisdom that is available to help them answer those questions.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Libraries and Computer Labs

The Chronicle's Wired Campus has an article about the lack of public workstations in public libraries. This article is in turn reporting on an AP story about the increasing demand for Internet access in public libraries. All of this reporting on libraries and computers has been spawned by ALA'a recently released report (227 p.; 6+ MB):

Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2006 - 2007.

(Many thanks to Jessamyn West at librarian.net for providing the location of the ALA report.)

Public libraries, of course, operate differently than academic libraries. Where public libraries are often the sole providers of free Internet access in their communities (so say 73% of the public libraries that responded to the ALA survey), academic libraries are usually not the sole source of Internet access on their campuses. Apart from technology owned by the students themselves, there is always the computer lab, or, if your campus is large enough, the computer labs.

Which raises in my mind the question of the relationship between the library and campus computer labs. At the annual ATLA conference in Philadelphia this past June, there was an interesting and somewhat hotly debated presentation by Dr. Kenneth Boyd and his staff from the Information Commons at Asbury Theological Seminary. In the evolving world of I.T. and libraries, Asbury's Information Commons represents a melding of these two worlds where library services and I.T. services all come from the same department. Librarians at Asbury may answer reference questions about theological research, or they may assist students with the correct configuration of their wireless proxy settings or the correct formatting of footnotes in their Word documents. (Something that many of us do anyway, regardless of how closely our libraries are aligned with campus I.T.)

In theological libraries in particular, there is a noticeable generational gap between the computer skills of our younger and our older students. Seminaries tend to have more older students than many other types of graduate institutions, with average student ages trending up toward the 40s at the turn of the century. For older students, many of whom are returning to education for the first time in over 20 years, there is a profound technology shock. The last time they did academic research, they were using card catalogs and paper periodical indexes.

Which brings me to my question: Should academic libraries in general or theological libraries in specific include a computer lab as part of the library? If the library does not include a computer lab, where do students, particularly those without computer skills, learn to use computers for academic research and writing?

Space concerns often dictate one answer to this question. The 1960s and 1970s saw a lot of academic library expansion and building projects on a national scale; for many of our libraries, though, there has not been any significant building or expansion over the past 30+ years, leaving us with little room for books much less technologies that did not exist when our buildings were built. Any public library building project that I have seen over the past decade has devoted significantly more space to computers than previous designs; I believe academic library building projects have been more mixed as to how much priority is given to computer space.

If your library space allows room for a computer lab, you are still left with the question of whether libraries are well-suited to provide computer services. If 73% of our public libraries are the only available community spaces for Internet access, does that set a standard for academic libraries as well? The answer to this question is evolving; how fast it evolves is up to us.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Primary Resources in Missions

This week's News Update email from ATLA caused me to take a closer look at a valuable resource: the Center for Research Libraries.

The CRL summer issue of Focus is entitled, Religion in the Modern World. The table of contents includes:If you have never visited the CRL home page, you may want to take their online catalog for a test spin. With close to 200 participating members and a collection of around 4 million items, CRL provides a vast array of primary and secondary resources. Best of all, they are committed to making this collection available to researchers everywhere both through their extensive digital collections and a broad interlibrary loan policy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Personal Bibliographic Management Software

I regularly get requests for recommendations from students who are interested in a Personal Bibliographic Management (PBM) program to help them format notes and bibliography pages in Turabian format.

I admit that I sometimes have trouble seeing the attraction of these products. I find many of the full-featured versions rather complex to use, much more complex than simply learning the rules for the style in the first place. I am enough of a geek, though, to appreciate the joy of inputting a lot of tedious data and then letting the computer miraculously format it according to style. And if you are working on a large project like a dissertation, you can benefit from the note-taking and organizing aspects of most full-featured PBMs.

Beware, however: PBM software is no substitute for knowing the appropriate style guide. If you do not know the citation style, you will not be able to evaluate how well the software is performing. A PBM is only as good as its programming, and like most things, you generally get what you pay for.

All that being said, I have put together a web page with a list of available PBM programs. I have included a list of four recommended free programs that will be adequate for the average student term paper. If fussing with a PBM is more fun for you than fussing with a bibliography page, you may enjoy experimenting with some of these programs. Bon Bibliographie!

Theological Librarianship & Transhumanism

Today's Chicago Tribune has an article on the 9th annual TransVision conference hosted by the World Transhumanist Association here in Chicago. This from the WTA's web site:

"The World Transhumanist Association is an international nonprofit membership organization which advocates the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities."

Please understand that I am all for the ethical use of technology, and I think that there is a great need for people from other disciplines than just science to weigh in on the technoethical issues of the day.

As a theological librarian, though, I find myself distinctly out of step with the postmodernist, posthuman drum-beat of the WTA. One reason I am a theological librarian is that I think some of the best guides to ethical human behavior have already been written, and preserving that heritage is one of my jobs. It is a heritage that usually is not even acknowledged by those enamored of technological solutions to human problems.

I believe, though, that I can appropriately use today's technology to preserve this heritage so that it may be accessible to those who become disenchanted with technology's innate lack of morality necessary to govern itself. Technological power without morality is just another name for hell. Theological librarianship has something significant to contribute to this discussion in its commitment to the preservation of a timeless Word that expands human capacities in ways that no technology will ever match.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Debut of the Open Library

You can visit the Open Library, or, at least, the skeleton of what it may become.

In the words of Brewster Kahle, the Co-Founder and Director of the Internet Archive,

So, why an Open Library? Because we can combine the best that the library system and publishing industry offer to build towards universal access to all knowledge.

There is not a lot to see yet at the Open Library--you can search for words in individual books, but you cannot search all of their available books, and their available books appear to be limited at present to just the handful on their opening home page. Their book flipping tool works smoothly, though a certain amount of trial and error is called for. It was only by random chance that I discovered that <CTRL><HOME> and <CTRL><END> could jump me from the first page to the last page of the book. I find it very interesting that clicking on Print Details gives you downloading options (if available) and lets you request a print-on-demand copy of the book that will be printed, bound, and mailed to you. So much for the paperless library.

A more complete write-up on the Open Library and the plans for it is available from the good folks at if:book. It will be interesting to watch their plans develop for a Web 2.0 online catalog that will allow everyone to annotate book records in the online catalog. We librarians tend to be all for open access to information until it comes to letting the public touch our MARC records.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

ATLA Day 4 -- Muslim Pastoral Training

Friday morning's plenary address was delivered by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the Director of Islamic Chaplaincy and a professor at the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, CT. Her address focused on issues of spiritual formation and preparation for ministry for Muslims, particularly in the United States. While at first glance this may not seem to be directly related to Christian theological librarianship, it was still an appropriate address for our group of theological librarians. As theological librarians, we often spend a good percentage of our time on faculty committees and are directly involved in the teaching mission of our schools. As someone who has spent a good part of my life assisting seminary students with research and contributing to their spiritual formation, albeit usually in indirect ways, I was interested, and troubled, by what Ingrid had to say.

Ingrid shared with us some of Hartford Seminary's journey to develop the only accredited program for the preparation of Muslim chaplains in North America. Hartford has had a historic role of preparing missionaries to work with Muslims in the Middle East. There has been a recent vision at Hartford to develop an interfaith program that invites Muslims to teach and to be actively involved in dialogue with the Christian community. At the same time, Hartford worked to reinvent their model for seminary training, dropping their M.Div. program altogether. Their vision was for training Christian leaders in practical ministry, especially in the exercise of religious leadership in non-traditional settings. Where faith communities were raising up leaders, whether lay or ordained, Hartford wanted to have a role in training them to do their ministry better.

When it came to the Muslim community, Hartford found their immediate candidates for seminary training working in correctional institutions. Muslim prison ministers were largely unrecognized in any official way, often suffering from a triple stigma in the correctional system: They usually have no degree or title, they are Muslim, and they are usually Black. A forth stigma was added for those who are female.

Ingrid shared that to develop a program for these Muslim chaplains, they had to build the field as they went. There is not a formalized seminary tradition in Islam. Most support and counseling in Islamic society usually takes place in the context of family. The practice of pastoral care is taught by mentoring with a strong oral tradition passed directly from imam to apprentice. Nor is there a large body of written literature to answer questions like, "Why am I sick? Why am I in pain?" In forming the Muslim chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary, Ingrid indicated that she and her colleagues were working to regularize and institutionalize this variable and loosely defined oral curriculum.

Ingrid emphasized that Hartford was not creating a program to train imams. In light of the seminary's decision to drop their M.Div. program, it did not make sense to then establish a formalized degree and credentialing program for Muslims. Nor would their program be likely to be recognized by the Islamic community, especially since they are admitting women.

It was at this point that I had concerns over some of what Ingrid was sharing. Hartford's decision to abandon M.Div. training altogether troubles me. I know that many of our institutions are wrestling with declining enrollment and are raising similar questions to those asked at Hartford as how to best train Christian leaders in the 21st century. But I remain committed to the principle of seminary education and feel that it has something significant to contribute to the church of the 21st century. Rather than abandon the M.Div., I would still look for ways to make it effective in spiritual formation and pastoral training. (Something that I think we do well at Northern Seminary, if I can be allowed an immodest comment.)

Also, where there has been such a well-established tradition for training for functional leadership in Islam, I wonder at Hartford's decision to some extent place themselves outside that tradition. Within Protestant Christian seminaries, we know too well the delicacies of marketing ourselves to the kinds of students who will do well at our seminaries. In a time of political and theological polarization in American society, we know that our degrees can be a respected step toward credentials in some churches while at the same time they can be the kiss of death to a pastoral career in other churches, often of the same denominational tradition. While the decision at Hartford to not offer formal imam training to some extent side-steps this dilemma, it still runs the risk of leaving their graduates standing in a suspect place to traditional Islam. As they work to formalize and standardize what has naturally been happening in the Islamic community, will they also end up separating themselves from the vitality of that community?

One final note from Ingrid's presentation deserves to be emphasized as it touches on librarians everywhere and especially on theological librarians: A U.S. Senate task force has investigated what they believe to be an increasing radicalization of Islamic teaching in U.S. prisons. Ingrid shared with us that she has been given the difficult task by that taskforce of developing a "safe" bibliography of Islamic books that can be kept in U.S. prisons that will neither be extremist nor be capable of being used to justify extremist actions. In an era where some are arguing that all religious convictions are at the root of global strife, this was a troubling note. What percentage of our library collections offer "safe" teachings on Christianity that are neither extremist nor can be used to justify extremist actions? (Is "whoever loses his life for me will save it" a safe teaching?) What responsibility do we as theological librarians have to defend the access of others to the resources of their tradition, even faith traditions that are not our own?

Ingrid also recommended that people interested in learning more about the particular struggles of American Muslim leaders should read the Pulitzer Prize winning articles from the New York Times written by Andrea Elliott.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

ATLA Day 3 -- A Librarian's Calling

The Thursday morning plenary address was delivered by Joey Rodger, a long time Quaker who has been a director of both the Public Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council, and who has recently retired from the position of Executive Director of the Pendle Hill Peace Center in Wallingford Pennsylvania.

Joey's address was titled Keeping the Word: Reflections on Sacred and Secular Aspects of Librarianship. In her speech, she reflected on the experience of being called to a vocation of librarianship. "Calling" was defined as parallel to "invitation", and great invitations in our lives are manifest in a stream of small, daily invitations. Joey reminded us that when you do something that you are not called to, you usually get in the way of someone who is. Our sense of calling should come from an understanding of our gifts and dispositions -- there is a "sweet spot" where the world's needs intersect our gifts and calling. Joey twice emphasized that people are sacred, texts are not. Or if there is a sacredness in a text like the Bible, it is latent until a person reads it and is injected with that sacredness. Librarians work to join peoples' hearts and minds with the texts that they need. Joey quoted George Fox, "Walk cheerfully over the face of the earth answering that of God in every man."

She left the audience with several questions:

  • What was your most whole-hearted hope when you began your work as a librarian? Is that hope still alive?
  • How do you feel about the people you serve? That includes authors as well as patrons, staff, and administrators.
  • Do you love them enough to serve them?
  • What are you listening for? Where are you being led?
I was moved by Joey's words. A sense of vocation is important to my work as a theological librarian, and I thought she did a good job of fleshing out how that call is experienced by many librarians. I particularly liked her use of "skillful" as a criteria for how good or valuable something is. I have long loved the poem, The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by W.B. Yeats which talks about the "wrong of unshapely things". Part of my calling as a librarian is to do what I can to address the unshapely or unskillful things that I find around me.

At its best, librarianship is an anti-entropic endeavor that seeks to bring order out of chaos. Like washing dishes or dusting the house, it is an endeavor that must often be renewed as things do not stay in order unless we expend energy to keep them that way. I have found this struggle for order to be a rewarding part of being a theological librarian.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ATLA Day 2 -- Learning to Love RDA

This morning's preconference workshop was Changes in RDA, presented by Judy Knop from ATLA. The following is a summary of what was presented. You can read my complete notes here.

While RDA (Resource Description and Access) was supposed to be completed by now, the development process has been slowed down with a goal of completing the new cataloging rules sometime in 2009.

In her presentation, Judy emphasized that the Joint Steering Committee has four objectives for RDA:

  • Responsiveness to user needs
  • Cost efficiency
  • Flexibility
  • Continuity with existing cataloging practices
During the presentation, I was interested to note, however, how many times cost efficiency is winning out over the other considerations.

Consider a title page like:


RDA requires one to transcribe this title as: 245 $a Christ rucified. There is only one "C" so it only gets transcribed once. In our discussion it was pointed out that, while less likely, it would also be correct under RDA to transcribe the title as: 245 $a hrist Crucified, or, 245 $a Crucified hrist.

This kind of literal presentation of title page text is an example of how RDA is paving the way for automated transcription of bibliographic data by scanning processes. But it seems unlikely to me that any automated scanning process could actually convert the above title into any one of the three examples above. A human cataloger, however, is required to perform this transcription process in a literal-minded way that a machine would be incapable of duplicating.

RDA is also designed to bridge cataloging practices from the text-based to the non-text-based world. Thus the introduction of bibliographic elements such as media type and carrier type to allow for the cataloging of materials in a wide variety of formats. A corollary of this new emphasis on variety is that text-based monographic materials are no longer assumed to be the default. So now the term "unmediated" is going to be introduced as cataloger-speak for books and other print materials. "245 $a Gone with the wind $h [unmediated]" will be the correct way to differentiate Gone With the Wind, the book, from Gone With the Wind, the film [projected], or Gone With the Wind the DVD [video]. In a similar way, carrier types will allow differentiation between such types as audiocassette, online resource, microfiche, videodisc, and -- the new default for monographs -- volume. A 300 field for a typical book will look like:

300 $a 1 $f volume (24 pages, 12 pages of plates) : $b coloured illustrations ; $c 21 cm

The great debate over how to handle uniform titles for Bible books has been resolved: "O.T." and "N.T." are being dropped altogether in favor of directly subdividing by Bible book: Bible. Genesis; Bible. John. Where one is working with the entire old or new testament, it will always be spelled out in full: Bible. Old Testament; Bible. New Testament. And Jewish catalogers have decided not to fight for any distinction between the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. Jewish and Christian canons will be different, but both will use the simple term "Bible" subdivided by Bible book.

We are still at least two years away from the completion of RDA. How soon it will be implemented will depend on how soon ILS vendors are willing/able to accommodate its changes. Judy commented that she was not aware of any ILS vendors who are currently participating signficantly in the development of RDA. Learning to love RDA is going to be a process, and for many of us, it may be a very long process indeed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ATLA Day 1 -- Discussion With Tom Yee

My next several posts are all going to be coming from the American Theological Library Association's annual conference in Philadelphia. As a member of the Education Committee, I arrived in Philadelphia a day before the pre-conference workshops in order to participate in the final planning meeting before the conference starts. This evening I was also able to participate in a Technical Services Interest Group discussion with Tom Yee from Library of Congress. What follows is a summary of some of the items that we discussed with Tom. You can read my complete notes on the discussion here.

It is possible to view the overall tone of our discussion as depressing. MFC continues to be the prevalent pressure at LC: More, Faster, Cheaper. Retirements and early retirements (buyouts) have severely depleted the ranks of experienced catalogers -- much of the LC institutional memory has already been lost. The Cataloging and Acquisitions Department has lost over 50% of the total staff and cannot do any rehiring. At this point, over 50% of the call numbers and subject headings in LC records is coming from SACO participants.

LC is anticipating a significant restructuring in October 2007 or October 2008. Over 600 jobs will be affected as efforts are made to combine acquisitions and cataloging functions. Tom mentioned that one of the most hotly debated areas of the reorganization is who will end up with offices with windows.

On the positive side, though, Tom noted the continuing strong support of library organizations like ATLA for high standards of cataloging.

We also discussed trends in the future: The question was raised whether LC is going to abandon MARC 21 in favor of XML cataloging. LC is experimenting with XML, but it cannot make a large change like this until it is supported by ILS vendors. It is a bit of a chicken/egg scenario: Vendors are waiting to develop XML systems until they see more clear-cut rules for metadata/XML schemas; Librarians are waiting to develop more clear-cut rules until they see more evidence that they will be supported by ILS vendors.

Marketing and business models continue to set the agenda for changes at LC. In response to the question, "What can ATLA do to help improve the quality of religion cataloging?" Tom had several suggestions:

--Increase participation in funnel programs (NACO, SACO, etc.)
--Continue to create good local catalog records; they help everyone.
--Continue to raise consciousness about the importance of cataloging to the retrievability of data.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Invitation to a Book Burning: Disaster Recovery

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a disaster recovery workshop put on by the University of Illinois Library Preservation Committee and the Illinois Fire Service Institute. At the workshop, we spent the first half of the day learning about planning for disaster recovery, and then we spent the second half of the day working hands-on with wet and burned books, learning how to assess them and properly prepare them for further recovery efforts.

It was an excellent workshop. You can see the pictures that I took along with some of what I learned by going to my Picasa web album. Thank you to the staff of the Preservation Committee and IFSI for making this workshop available!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Disney Does Copyright

Since I have been posting about copyright, I had to include this link to a delightful Disney mashup about copyright that is its own object lesson:

Thanks to Wired's blog for alerting me to this.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Amazon.com an Ally in the Copyright Wars?

Amazon.com's blog announced yesterday that they will be offering downloadable music without programmed copyright restrictions from EMI Music and over 12,000 other labels. That means that today's iPodders will no longer have to direct their energy to subverting DRM software before listening to and sharing their tunes.

Surely, if licensed music can be made this accessible for the purpose of entertainment, that means that there will be better grounds for making information accessible for the purpose of education. Or does that label me as an optimist?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sex and Library Fundraising

Leave it to the Austrians -- the good folks at Impact Lab are reporting the story that the Vienna City Hall has launched a sex hotline to raise money for the Vienna Public Library. Callers may be a bit disappointed, as instead of more lurid offerings, they will receive a recording of an actress reading passages of Victorian erotica. So what's a theological library got to do in order to compete? Breathy readings from select portions of the Old Testament? Maybe excerpts from H. Norman Wright? Or not.

Library Assessment

This posting is thanks to the great session on library assessment at a recent CATLA Conference led by Robert Roethemeyer from Concordia Theological Seminary.

Over the past decade or so, theological schools have been adapting from an assessment process that tended to be quantitative to a process that is now more qualitative -- outcomes-based assessment that demonstrates how an institution is living up to both local institutional mission statements as well as national standards. As Mr. Roethemeyer pointed out in his presentation, most of the library statistics that we gather and report each year are focused only on quantitative measurements. Our door counts, circulation counts, and budget counts all tell what we did during the past year; they do not really tell how well we did our work.

One of the things that I learned at the CATLA conference was that in September 2006, the Association of Theological Schools published section 9 of their Handbook of Accreditation, Guidelines for Evaluating Library and Information Resources. These guidelines include a long list of questions to assist in qualitative library assessment. For example:
  • Does the institution have a written plan with criteria for information resources, information technology, and policies for information management?

  • How are software, hardware, and network resources evaluated and regularly upgraded in response to emerging technology?

  • How does the library integrate print collections, access to electronic information, and other resources to foster information literacy? Are there adequate policies to guide this integration?

  • How are librarians and information specialists directly involved in shaping the use of resources and in fostering the informational literacy of students and faculty? How are they involved in long-range curricular and institutional planning?
Questions that are easy to ask, but harder to answer. I left the CATLA conference reminded of two things that I have known but still do not always heed:

1) The library collection development policy remains a critical institutional document to assist with answering many of these questions. "Collection development policy", though, seems too limited in scope to address all the issues being raised today. I really need a "Library Service Plan" or an "Overall Informational Resources Master Plan for Getting Everybody the Information That They Need When They Need It". (Yes, I have applied for a trademark for that last one.)

2) Statistics have to be accompanied by narrative information. Library statistics alone will not demonstrate competence in providing library services. Part of my job as library director is to think about and record that narrative--no one else is tasked with the responsibility of focusing on these questions.

Like New Year's resolutions to lose weight or to refrain from frowning when singing praise choruses at church, I cannot promise that I will always heed these two items. But I thank Robert Roethemeyer and CATLA for keeping me mindful of them.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Google Books -- Pros, Cons, and ?s

I continue to be amazed at the speed of the progress of both the Google Book Search and the Microsoft Live Book Search projects. Three years ago, who could have predicted it? Or, more precisely, with decades of predictions that some day someone was going to digitize the libraries of the world, who really expected it to happen this fast?

While neither Microsoft nor Google are disclosing their costs or total progress for their scanning projects, a March 11, 2007 article in the New York Times estimated that Google had already scanned over 1 million books at a cost of over $5 million. (History, Digitized (and Abridged), by Katie Hafner.)

Of course, just scanning a book does not guarantee that anyone will ever be able to read it online -- witness the recent posting on the American Historical Association's blog, Google Books: What's Not to Like? There are many errors resulting from the high speed with which the Google Book Search project is being done, errors that render the scanned books unreadable or unretrievable -- the written word reduced to mere digital static.

Nor do we yet have a pleasurable way to read an online book. Online books are great for keyword searching or reading brief excerpts, but, as been noted in many places, you can't take them into the bathtub with you yet. Companies like E Ink may be close to breaking that barrier. Take note, E Ink: We want our electronic paper to be capable of color and moving pictures, and we want it to be tubworthy. It is also possible that online books will leapfrog text altogether and become part of the audio-drenched universe accessible through our iPod earbuds -- Project Gutenberg is quickly building a large collection of freely accessible audio books. Again, there are no statistics available, but a quick check of their list of new audio books posted or updated in the past 24 hours reveals 18 titles, not too shabby a rate, but still a slug's slow progress compared to Google's frenetic scanning.

A professor of mine from my library school days, Michael Koenig, has written about the three stage process of social transformation due to the introduction of a new technology. According to the theory, there is an initial stage of introduction of a new technology, a second stage of adoption where the technology begins to become broadly accessible, and then a final, third stage where the technology changes not only how we do things but transforms the very things we do. (See "Entering State III: The Convergence of the Stage Hypotheses," Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 43, no. 3, 1992.) For all the problems with the Google and Microsoft book scanning projects, my sense is that we are being chivvied into a state III transformation when it comes to online books. We're already cross-eyed from our efforts to track our online journals; what will happen to our library systems when our books are online, too? On the strength of JSTOR, many schools have already discarded back runs of their serials. On the strength of Google, will we discard our old books, too?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Send Button & Online Preaching

Knopf has published a new book on email and email etiquette entitled Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. You may enjoy the review of this book on Canada.com. According to the review, "'Send' may be the most dangerous four-letter word of the 21st century."

This got me to thinking about online education, something that we're exploring in earnest here at Northern Seminary. In a recent faculty discussion, it was noted that homiletics is an example of a topic that may not translate well to an online format. Googling "online preaching course", however, turns up classes at Canyon College, The Anointed Preaching course at Christian Leadership University, and some interesting experiments by our Hare Krishna friends in Skypecast Preaching, among many others. One begins to wonder about the possibility for text-messaged sermons, sermon blogs, or pastoral twittering. Could "send" also become a four-letter word, not only in theological education, but in the e-delivery of God's word?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Of Leaks & Library Architecture

A wise man I know once said that there are three things that one should never have in a library: a skylight, a flat roof, and a spiral staircase. We have two of the three items -- a skylight and a flat roof -- and as a result, we do get leaks in our library:

Fortunately, this latest leak is one that our maintenance crews can patch for us. Until they have a chance to work on it and then test the roof to see if it is watertight again, we are moving all of our current periodicals out of harm's way:

And that, of course, is the problem with flat roofs, especially ones with skylights in them -- no matter how well-constructed they are, water will eventually work its way under a seam or along a drainage pipe and into your building. Buckets are often a librarian's best friend. Blessed is the library whose roof is pitched: The rains come down, the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat against that library; yet it does not leak.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Women in Theological Librarianship

An article in the online edition of The Chronicle tells more of the unhappy story of Sheri Klouda, the faculty member fired from the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because she is a woman. Her story is not unique in the history of theological education, and it got me to wondering about the status of women involved in theological librarianship. Even in theologically conservative institutions, the library is often viewed as a "safe place" for a woman faculty member because the librarian often has a different status from "regular" teaching faculty. (Faculty status is a different, old thorn in theological librarianship -- take a deep breath and keep reading.)

So, as a profession, how are we doing when it comes to women serving as directors and faculty members in theological libraries? How do we compare to national statistics for librarians in general, or teaching faculty in theological institutions? The Devil is in the details, or, as Mark Twain said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." Coming up with statistics to compare proved to be more difficult than I anticipated.

My guess is that the American Theological Library Association has demographic information about its members, but I am not aware of anywhere where that information is published. Necessity being the mother of Invention (and Forebearance being the neighbor of Necessity who closes her window whenever Invention starts crying at night), I took a look through the 2006 ATLA Proceedings where, in the back, one can find an institutional member list that also identifies the CBO (Chief Bibliographic Officer) for each member library. While this is not the most scientific method for determining the sex of all you theological library directors out there, it was fairly simple and did not require any attending physicians. Here's what I found:

   ATLA institutional members = 259
   Male CBOs = 155 (60%)
   Female CBOs = 104 (40%)

By this point, Invention had finally quit crying and fallen asleep, so I gave up trying to find numbers for all theological librarians or theological librarians with faculty status -- if you know where to find those numbers, let me know.

The next hurdle was counting the number of male and female directors in the American Library Association, and I could not readily find that number either. ALA's 2006 Diversity Study gave me counts for all librarians:

   Credentialed librarians in 2000 = 109,958
   Male librarians = 19,463 (18%)
   Female librarians = 90,495 (82%)

The same diversity study also provides numbers just for the credentialed librarians involved in higher education:

   Higher education librarians in 2000 = 25,152
   Male librarians = 7,578 (30%)
   Female librarians = 17,574 (70%)

But nothing in the report provided numbers for just the directors of the libraries. There is, however, an article in v.11 of Library Administration and Management (1997) by William Fisher entitled "The Question of Gender in Library Management". He provides demographics for directors of both public and academic libraries:

   Total number of library directors = 17,954
   Male directors = 4,196 (23%)
   Female directors = 13,758 (77%)

To this horde of statistics, I can add two more sets of numbers: From the American Research Libraries' 2005-2006 Annual Salary Survey I found:

   Directors responding to the survey = 112
   Male directors = 49 (43%)
   Female directors = 63 (57%)

(Are some of you not filling out your surveys?) And from the Association of Theological School's 2006 Fact Book (Table 3.1):

   All ATS faculty = 3,696
   Male faculty = 2,862 (77%)
   Female faculty = 834 (23%)

Well, what a mess of numbers, and no neat way to correlate them all. I did find it interesting that my unscientific count of ATLA CBOs was the only category of librarians where males outnumbered females. Compared to ALA's 2000 numbers for all librarians, this looks suspect; compared to ATS's numbers for theological faculty, this might be seen as encouraging. I do think this is an area where, as a subcategory of the library profession, we would do well to provide ourselves with more available demographics. As much as I love my profession, I have to admit that Sheri Klouda probably would not be happier if she was a librarian, but she probably would not have been fired, either.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The FAIR USE Act -- More On the Copyright Wars

The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007, H.R. 1201, is being sponsored by Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Congressman John Doolittle (R-CA). The Bill states that it is being proposed "to amend title 17, United States Code, to promote innovation, to encourage the introduction of new technology, to enhance library preservation efforts, and to protect the fair use rights of consumers, and for other purposes." The Bill seeks to do this by making permanent six exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would otherwise expire and have to be re-approved every three years.

The six exemptions allow a person to circumvent technological protections on digital media works for the purpose of:
  • Compiling digital media works for educational use;
  • Editing out commercial or objectionable material in a digital media work;
  • Transmitting a work over a home or personal network (but one still can't upload it to the Internet or redistribute it);
  • Accessing a portion of a work that is in the public domain from a compilation that is primarily of works in the public domain;
  • Accessing a portion of a work for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research;
  • Allowing a library or archive to accesses a work to preserve it or replace a damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen copy.
You can read the full text of the FAIR USE Act here.

If you would like to petition a Member of Congress to support this Act, visit ALA's Legislative Action Center.

Monday, April 9, 2007

To Fine Or Not To Fine

Overdue fines are the Scarlet Letter of librarianship. To my mind, billing patrons for the late return of materials has at least a tinge of public shame to it. The patron has been Bad, therefore he or she needs to be Punished. (Note that I am here only discussing overdue fines for late items, not a bill for the replacement cost of unreturned items -- a different matter altogether.) I know there is a lot more to library fines than just punishment. Two of the valid arguments that I have heard for library fines are that they ensure the equitable sharing of library items (no one person can hang on to them forever), and the fine revenue itself often can fund small improvements to the library that benefit everybody in the long run. (Here are two questions for you: Does your library get to keep the fine money, or does it go into an institutional coffer? If you have to bill a student through their student account, does the money make its way back to the library once collected?)

Every public library that I have ever been in has charged overdue fines; academic libraries seem to be increasingly ambivalent in their attitudes towards fines. The overhead of collecting and receipting (and arguing about) fines often is not justified by the amount collected. Many academic libraries seem to feel that it is less bother to simply withhold transcripts and diplomas until all items are returned and not sweat the day-to-day overdue items.

The whole fine process does highlight how patrons generally sort out into organized and disorganized (alternatively organized?) categories. A goodly number of the organized sort never even incur fines because their materials are always returned or renewed in time. When they do (gasp) incur a fine, they come to the library immediately to pay their $0.40. Those who are alternatively organized regularly incur fines, often in staggering amounts that would show up as visible pie wedges in their Quicken charts if they were ever to make use of a product like Quicken. Please note that this is not an indictment of the alternatively organized -- I have met enough of them to recognize that something like a library fine is just not a Big Hairy Problem to them, and they return their items when they are ready and then pay any fines owed.

There is, though, a subcategory of library patrons who resent being punished for late materials and who work very hard to get any and all fines excused or reduced. These patrons can be in either the organized or alternatively organized category -- I have heard long and complicated explanations of why someone should not be charged $0.20. When this combative personality type overlaps the alternatively organized category, though, librarians encounter some of their thorniest patron problems. Especially if the person in question is a faculty member. The legacy of unreturned items, multiple billing notices, and account blocks is further demonstration of the 80/20 rule -- 20% of your patrons will cause 80% of your billing problems.

In a theological library, I have often felt that there is also a pastoral function to charging overdue fines. It is one way to identify the combative personality type where what is at the heart of the matter is not a question of who returned what when but a question of whether someone is willing to submit to another authority, even as puny an authority as the seminary librarian. When faced with the seminary student who rails against a fine, my response is often to overlook the fine while asking the patron to reflect more closely on his or her calling. That may or may not be a good enough reason to continue the practice of charging overdue fines, but it remains a fairly effective litmus test.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Attack Geese

I confess that there is not anything theological about this post. It can be filed under the general heading of "Stuff That Happens In Libraries". Or, in this case, around many buildings in the midwest. I'm not sure what the origins of corporate ponds are, but by constructing so many of them, we have created a marvelous artificial environment for Branta canadensis, the Canadian goose:

Because of our temperate climate in the midwest and disruptions in their migratory routes due to vehicular and air traffic, these geese have become non-migratory, or, as they are often called in the environmental literature, "resident". (Can "entitlement" be far behind? Beware of activist geese forming voting blocks in your area.)

Spring is the time when a young goose's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, so midwesterners everywhere must put up with naked geese cohabiting in their front yards. Or by their front doors, which often happens at our library. Being naturally territorial and stoked on female goose pheremones, the males become quite aggressive this time of year. It is not uncommon for patrons leaving our library to have to suddenly backpedal back inside the library or make a quick dash down the hill toward the parking lot with a goose in hot pursuit. Students attempting to take a shortcut across the quad are often re-routed by the charge of the goose brigade as papa goose comes hurrying out from behind the hedge, hissing and snapping. Goose poop removal is practically a full time occupation for our maintenance crews. We have tried various goose abatement programs from destroying eggs to jumping up and down and yelling to small dogs, but so far, the geese have maintained the upper webbed foot. The best we can do is aim for a policy of segregation, making sure that everybody knows their place:

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A New Tool In the Copyright Wars

I was pleased to see in the Chronicle's Academe Today an article about a new Copyright Renewal Database at Stanford University. It appears that this database could be an invaluable tool for tracking down the copyright status of books published in the "gray years" from 1923-1963.

In spite of the much publicized efforts of Google Book Search and Microsoft Live Book Search, we are still a long ways away from having everything online. In the humanities in general and in religion and theology in particular we will still be dependent on a vast historical corpus for a long time to come. And judging by the kinds of publishing data to be found in places like YBP's annual book price update report, we are still building the modern corpus at record rates. It could be 120 years or longer before we will have online access to these materials. Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database is a laudable effort, but there are still many battles to be fought in the copyright wars.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

LCSH Incarnate

I have been enjoying the active discussions on the recently formed Future of Subject Headings list run by the American Library Association. The Library of Congress has already abandoned keeping track of series headings; now we are nervous that subject headings may be the next thing to go.

Of course, librarians by constitution tend to be a bit nervous. We enjoy predicting our own doom, and have been doing so regularly for quite some time now. Whether it was Melvil Dewey attempting to standardize library practices, the advent of the card catalog, the end of the Mansell project (somebody did finish it, right?), ordering catalog cards from OCLC instead of Library of Congress, the end of Prism, keyword searching, or predictions of a post-literate society, we have been sure that the Next Big Thing will spell the end of professional librarianship as we know it. (Click here for a delightful article about touring the Vatican library, including reminiscences about the Vatican's first card catalog.) Add to that budget cuts, spiraling serial prices, and animated librarians, and it's no wonder that some of us aren't sleeping so well these days.

Thus the discussion of subject headings on the Future of Subject Headings listserv. If most students use keyword searches to find their materials, why do we need subject headings in the first place? Subject headings may make librarians happy, but what do they do for the average library patron? The Future of Subject Headings list has already generated an impressive analysis of what is both good and bad about subject headings. Like most good/bad lists, the things that are good or bad about subject headings are heavily dependent on context. The Google-ing down of search strategies is going to force us to change--again--the way we teach students to search for resources; the role that subject headings will play in the future will to some extent depend on how well we can adapt the controlled vocabularies of LCSH to a keyword-based environment.

Which brings me back to the threatened demise of librarians. One of the luxuries of being a theological librarian, particularly in a seminary context, is that you get immersed in religion and theology in a way that makes it easier to navigate theological resources by feel. It's a deep subject, and we Protestants have done our best to make sure that areas like ecclesiology are as complicated as possible. (Have you ever imagined a world where you would only need the term "Church" and everyone would know what you were talking about?) But it is a manageable subject, and with time, there is a growing familiarity and capability with the terms and history of theology.

So, too, with any discipline that any librarian loves and spends time with over the years. Because we are librarians, we may never gain the subject expertise of a practitioner in our field, but because we are librarians, we do gain a facility with navigation--with association--that allows us to organize and locate good resources. We are LCSH incarnate. No one of us holds the entirety of the Big Red Books in his or her head, but we know our own areas, and we are very good at collaborating. We may not control the budgets and the programming that will determine whether LCSH survives another generation, but people who want to find resources in a sea of information will still be glad to have us around.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I'm indebted to the Chronicle's Daily Report for twigging me on to futureofthebook.org. A collaborative (and eclectic) group of authors, social scientists, systems engineers, programmers, bikers, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs have come together to chronicle the shift away from the printed page toward the networked screen, "and impact its development in a positive direction". They have an excellent blog -- if:book -- and support the "haystack" project -- http://www.futureofthebook.org/HASTAC/learningreport/about, a collaborative paper entitled The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.

There seems to be a glaring absence in all this collaboration of any input from theologians or clergy (or, dare I say it, librarians). Some of this, no doubt, is because many of us are still way behind the technology curve and are less than actively engaged in the digital dialogues blooming all around us. Some of this may reflect the internal bias of the collaborators themselves who, while not opposed to well-thought-out intellectual debate about religion and belief, seem to largely view that debate as passé as, well, television (witness their Without Gods project).

So where is a theological librarian to stand in the midst of this swirling change? That is one of the themes I intend to keep revisiting in this blog. I remain committed to God's Word as an enduring story that will live into the digital age and beyond. The history of that story is a written one -- a textual one -- but that does not mean that it is in opposition to networked media. Whether we want one or not, I'm sure someone will eventually put together an iPod Bible complete with video clips, "contemporary" Christian music, and links to web-based commentaries and resources. If the iPod Bible is to be truly well done and a benefit to the Church, we will need to listen carefully to the voices of people like the futureofthebook collaborators. People like me bring a passion for the biblical story; people like them bring a passion for networking information well. Hopefully, we can both learn from each other.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sports Illustrated and Library Ethics

Many thanks to the director of the G. Allen Fleece Library at Columbia International University for bringing my attention to her blog, The Book Cover at http://fleecelibrary.blogspot.com/. Her posting on the Sports Illustrated Uproar is worth a read.

If you have a moment, you will also want to take a look at her Fleece Theological Forum, to "answer questions for pastors on matters of exegetical and theological significance".

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Calling, Part 2

This post is dedicated to the other librarians that I have met in the American Theological Library Association.


I figure that if George Lucas can start Star Wars with Part 4, I can start this series with Part 2. In a future posting, I'll tell you about the first thing that drew me to theological librarianship as a career. In this posting, though, I want to tell you about the second thing that drew me to theological librarianship: The great company of living saints with whom I work, my colleagues in this profession.

In my first posting on this blog, I accused my colleagues of all being to some extent conservative -- ours is a profession of preservation, and we have shared interests in heritage and history that cross theological and denominational lines (more about that in a moment). In this posting, I want to accuse my colleagues of all being to some extent liberal -- there is a liberality of spirit that I believe is a shared ethos among librarians, especially among theological librarians.

This starts in our libraries--libraries are service organizations, and most librarians are able to keep that focus even in the midst of departmental reorganizations and budget cuts. It extends to our institutions--most (academic) librarians that I know serve in many different capacities within their schools, and there is a general willingness to contribute to the institutional life beyond working in the library. With theological librarians this also extends to a spirituality of service, expressed in service to others, often through the church. This can be a straightforward kind of service as when librarians volunteer time to run a local church library or contribute to the organization of denominational archives. It can be as demanding as a path of ordination--many theological librarians carry Rev. or Sr. or Dcn. in front of their names. Even when it is not as clearly defined, this spirituality of service evidences itself in open office doors even in technical services, in extra time spent tracking down a reference for another librarian, in answering yet one more reference question before heading home late for dinner (again).

Another indication of the liberality of spirit that I encounter among theological librarians is a generosity towards others of different faith backgrounds. This generosity is not because we do not value our own faith backgrounds; for many of us, our work includes a conscious association with a specific denomination and a desire to contribute to the work of that denomination. I have found, though, that in our common calling as librarians, we are quick to recognize our similarities and slower to focus on our differences. There is a pooling of resources, a sharing of expertise, and a genuine appreciation for the efforts of others that is not stifled by denominational differences or even the liberal/conservative divide. Interacting with other theological librarians, I have learned much more about the breadth of Christian experience than I have ever learned in a church setting or in a seminary class.

My early experience of these things at the start of my library career is a large part of why I am a theological librarian today. To any other theological librarians who happen to wander by this post, thank you!

Friday, March 9, 2007

A Fable In Honor of the 25th Anniversary of the PC Virus

Yesterday, I heard on the radio that it was the 25th anniversary of the computer virus. Or maybe January 19th was the 21st anniversary. Or maybe January 26th was the 25th anniversary. Or, well, just sit back and enjoy the story:

In the beginning, God created the multiverse.

And the multiverse was without graphics and was text-based, and the Spirit of God hovered over ARPANET.

And God said, "Let there be email," and there was much email.

And God said, "Let the upper layer protocols be separated from the lower layer protocols." So God separated the protocols, and there was TCP/IP, and email abounded even more.

And God said, "Let the email be gathered to one place, and let more networks appear," and USENET and BITNET came forth, and email abounded even more.

And God said, "Let the people produce personal computers, according to their various kinds." And there were PCs and Macs and Tandys, and the people were much too busy learning how to use WordStar and VisiCalc and Zork to send much email to each other.

And God said, "Let there be an expanse of bandwidth to separate the 56 Kbps users from the 1.5 Mbps users, and let the expanse of bandwidth give access to all people on earth." And there was T1 and Sendmail, and email abounded once again.

And God commanded the people saying, "Of every email in the multiverse you may freely read, but on the attachment to the email which ends in .exe, .com, .msi, .pif, or .scr thou shalt not click. For in the day that thou clickest such an attachment, thy computer shall surely die."

Now the Cracker was more subtle than any of the other avatars in the multiverse. And he sent an email to all the people that said, "Click here. Please." And there were those who clicked and those who did not click. And the eyes of those who clicked were opened, and they came to know the difference between good and evil, but it availed them not as their boot sectors were corrupted.

Then those who clicked heard the voice of God as if it was rising up out of the multiverse, and God said to those who clicked, "What is this that thou hast done?" And those who clicked answered, "The Cracker beguiled us, and we did click upon his attachment. We have also sent him our bank account numbers that he may transfer much wealth into them."

Then God said, "Oy! Didst thou not read the memo? Because thou hast clicked upon the attachment of which I commanded thee, saying, 'Clickest it not', thy computer is dead, and thou shalt have to buy another. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth thy emails, and spam and virii and forwarded jokes shall be in thy inbox all the days of thy life."

And God said to the Cracker, "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all other denizens of the multiverse. Thou shalt sleep poorly and eat much junk food. There shall be enmity between thee and those who click on thy attachments. They shall spend much money for Symantec and McAfee, and thou shalt be compelled to keep cracking even after it becomes a great weariness to thy soul."

But to those who did not click, God said, "Beware lest thou, too, in an unguarded moment shalt click upon an attachment or hit the 'Reply All' button. For the Cracker prowls the multiverse like a roaring lion, seeking someone without a firewall to devour. Shouldst thou ever grow tired of the multiverse and the evils therein, remember, there is an off button."

* * * * * *

Did I mention that my library also has books? Happy 25th! (Or 21st, or . . . whatever.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Which Would You Choose?

A book landed on my desk the other day to review for possible repair or replacement: Vestiges of the natural history of creation, by Robert Chambers, New York : Harper, [18??]. (Our spine label says 1847, but that appears to be pure conjecture.) The cover was in tatters, but the paper was in excellent condition and would easily hold up to rebinding.

I'm usually not sentimental about books as artifacts, but the fact that this particular title to some extent blazed the trail for Darwin's Origin of Species did arrest my attention. Chambers published this work anonymously because of the controversy that he expected upon its publication. A quick check of Google Book Search revealed three full-text editions available online.

The question is whether to spend the money to rebind the book and keep it in the collection or whether to withdraw the book because it is now freely available online.

This question is not unique to theologial libraries. Library literature gives ample testimony to the stresses that all libraries experience with the adoption of new technologies and formats. Resistance, synthesis, whole-hearted adoption -- this cycle of adjustment seems to be repeated now as quickly as our computers obsolesce. Theological libraries, though, may be a little behind the technological curve, and we are just starting to come to terms with some of the changes that have been more widely adopted in other fields like law or medicine. I find myself still suspicious of the gulf between the endurance of physical artifacts and that of the ubiquitous but ephemeral pixel.

This is not to say that I am a Luddite who must surround myself with the smell and feel of paper. Nor is it to say that digital technology is of the Devil (though I am sure that Hell is automated). Historians and those in the humanities often have similar sensibilities, while many people immersed in the digital world discover a new craving for printed matter. (See The Prestigious Inconvenience of Print, by Edward Tenner in the 3/9/07 Chronicle Review, v.53 no.27 p.B7.) Even in theological libraries thick with the dust of brittle paper items, most of us are well over the card catalog by now. Truth be told, we like being able to locate the books in our libraries, something that was much more difficult to do with a card catalog. Keyword searching hath its merits.

So, what to do with the book? Ownership vs. access; print vs. online; physical presence vs. digital distribution--being a theological librarian does not give me any hidden wisdom to easily know if there is a best option to choose. Which would you choose?

Monday, March 5, 2007

The History of Tech Support

For my first posting, I am choosing a humorous look at the history of tech support. Having a good sense of humor makes survival in a field undergoing volatile changes much more pleasant. The following YouTube video is a good reminder that, in some ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Click here to view Medieval Help Desk

I think most theological librarians are conservative by nature, regardless of the bent of their theology. We have a past that we treasure, that we think is worth the sweat of our brows and the years of our lives to preserve, and yet new technologies are forcing us to reconsider the fundamental definitions of what constitutes a work, to ask how to recognize God's word in a post-literate era. We fear, among all the transitions, to have some of our text disappear.