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.