Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bye-Bye Microsoft Book Search

The Chronicle recently posted an online article announcing the end of Microsoft's Live Book Search project.

Initial evidence indicates that Microsoft could not keep up with Google Book Search. I reported that Google had already topped the 2 million title mark in their book scanning project back in October; Microsoft is ending its project at 750,000 titles (plus 80 million journal articles). Given Google's commanding lead in the numbers race, it is difficult to imagine anyone else rivalling the Google Books collection for sheer quantity. The Open Content Alliance and others, though, may still be able to trump Google in terms of quality.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The most recent In Trust online newsletter includes a One-Minute Commentary on local church ambivalence towards seminary learning. The One-Minute Commentary is responding to a May 6, 2008 Christian Century article by Stephanie Paulsell from Harvard Divinity School who notes that, in America, ecclesial suspicion of seminaries dates back to the very beginnings when Increase Mather questioned the value of a Harvard education in 1723. Either seminaries are suspected of impracticality -- Paulsell evokes the image "of a bearded Victorian poring over his books while the needs of the world collect unmet outside his closed door" -- or they are suspected of subverting right doctrine with cleverly devised tales.

All of which can leave a theological librarian wondering what to do. Our stacks are full (if not overfull) of that dangerous fruit of theological learning apt to be so unsettling to the casual reader. Indeed, I'm unsettled by some of it myself. Quite apart from all the human ignorance that is distilled in a library, there are also resources that teach that humility is the end-product of true learning, that self-control is essential to service, that God's glory inhabits my neighbor whether I recognize it or not. Who in their right mind would want to read some of this stuff?

Part of my conviction as a theological librarian is that I am not in my right mind, and that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before me and that exists around the world in very different places from me has something to say about that. So I do what I can to preserve their witness and make it accessible, especially for those who are in training to be church leaders.

Our recent accreditation review involved much discussion of the mission of the seminary and how to assess our success in carrying out that mission. It would be interesting to track library usage with future success in ministry. (For the sake of argument, let's define success as not quitting in five years.) Maybe the bookish student haunting the lower level study carrels is a poor fit for the daily realities of pastoral life. Or maybe such a student is beginning to learn how much there is to learn, something that I consider to also be part of spiritual formation.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. After that, I would argue that theological education is a good next step. Exposure to a theological library is a significant part of that next step.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

There's a brief but interesting interview in The Chronicle's May 6 "The Wired Campus". The interview is with Kelly Sutton, the co-founder of a student technology blog called Hack College. I thought the following was particularly interesting:

Q. What is the most important way technology has changed student life in recent years?

A. It’s no longer weird to spend a lot of time on the Internet. Students will jokingly admit to spending hours on Facebook. The habits that they’re forming right now will eventually lead to different collaborations that weren’t possible in the past.

Q. What’s the biggest downside of all this student technology?

A. It’s adding a lot of overhead to a student’s life — the time it takes to check all the social networks and online platforms.

I thought this was a pretty good parallel to the changes that we have all been muddling through in librarianship. It's no longer weird to spend a lot of time on the Internet. We're forming habits that are leading to different collaborations that were not possible in the past. It is adding a lot of overhead to keeping up with the rest of our responsibilities in the analog world. (Or is even the digital world an analog experience? Hmm.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Facebook & Facebook Applications

The following chart comes from FlowingData, run by Nathan Yau at the University of California at Los Angeles:

FlowingData Chart of the DayAs one of the commenters on the FlowingData posting points out, many Facebook applications are labeled "Just for Fun" for lack of a better category available in Facebook. Still, when 9,609 applications are labeled "Just for Fun" out of a total of 23,160, you get a pretty good indication of what Facebook is for.

For my own experiments in Facebook, I do find it encouraging that "Education" still ranks above "Dating" on the chart. Maybe there really are more library applications out there in Facebook. Maybe people have instinctively labeled them "Just for Fun" because that is what they think of when they think of libraries? Or not.