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 an Ally in the Copyright Wars?'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?