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.