Thursday, August 30, 2007

Keeping a Diary --A Librarian's Experience

Many years ago a librarian told me that she'd gone to a farm auction and among the items she'd bought was a big box of old books. Upon getting home, she was delighted to find a diary written by the farm wife. She sat down to read it.

"Did chores." was the first day's entry. She turned the page. "Did chores." she read. She looked through out the entire diary. "Did chores." "Did chores." "Did chores." That was the extent of it.

She said she'd wished the farm wife had written more. What chores had she done? Did she hang the clothes up on the line and when she did, did she take a few minutes to watch the clouds or listen to the birds sing? Did she go out on the porch in the evening for a few minutes and look at the stars before going to bed? What did she
think about as she did her chores? Did she have any dreams? Did she make quilts or pies or a doll for a child? No one will ever know because all the farm wife wrote was the simple "Did chores."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Miniature Books

I have been distracted from my class readings and assignments the past few days looking at a book I came across in the library last week, Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures . The title is a bit misleading. The oldest "books" are cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia dating from about 2,000 B.C.and then there's a huge blank area until we get to illuminated manuscripts from the the 1400's. Still, the large-sized book is lavishly illustrated with many color plates and delightful to peruse.
It was published in conjunction with a May 16–July 28 exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York. An online exhibition can be viewed here .

The Miniature Book Society will be holding a conclave in Seattle this October. If I weren't going to be in Kansas that week, I'd probably go! Their website offers links to more articles .

More links for those interested in this topic can be found here and here .

Friday, August 24, 2007

Unusual Bookmarks

There's a letter in today's Dear Abby column from someone who works in a library and is concerned about people using their mail as bookmarks. The writer points out that doing this may result in the person checking the book out next having access to a stranger's name and address and perhaps quite a bit more if the piece of mail is something like a bill or a bank statement.

I've never found a piece of mail in a library book but I've found grocery lists, doctor appointment reminders, a dried flower, photographs, candy wrappers, unused postcards, playing cards, a lottery scratch off ticket (scratched off, not a winner),parking tickets, facial tissue (unused), business cards, a feather, greeting cards, a shoelace, bobby pins, a toothpick, used concert tickets, and, once, a holy card.

This reminds me of a bulletin board in a library from my childhood. There was a list of ten things not to do with library books. I only remember two. The first one was to never read a library book in the bath tub. I remember this one because I'd never thought of doing this but it sounded so tempting! The second one was stranger. It was an admonition to never, never use a piece of bacon as a bookmark. The first thought that came into my head was "cooked or raw" but I suppose it doesn't matter. This led me to two other questions: had this been included on the list because someone had actually done this and under what circumstances would a person use a piece of bacon as a bookmark?

NOTE And after doing a search I found this: The Legend of the Bacon Bookmark .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Those who don't read have no advantage over those who can't.
~ Mark Twain

And apparently there are many who don't.

According to a recent Associated Press poll , 27% of Americans don't read even one book a year. Not one! Women and seniors were the groups who read the most; religious works and popular fiction were the top choices. The typical number of books read last year was four; half the respondents read more and half read fewer. After excluding the quarter of the population who hadn't read even one book, the usual number of books read a year was seven. Seven! I can't imagine. it. Thomas Jefferson couldn't live without books. I couldn't either.

One common excuse used is a lack of time and this reminded me of that Twilight Zone episode entitled "Time Enough At Last". A man who works in a bank and loves to read but can't find enough time to read as much as he'd like, is reading while eating his lunch in the bank vault. Nuclear war breaks out and he discovers that he is the last man on earth. There is plenty of food but the loneliness of being alone takes a toll on his sanity. He begins contemplating suicide until he comes across the public library and realizes that now, finally, he has all the time to read all he wants without interruption. He picks out stacks of books to read each month and, as he's leaving the library with the first stack, he stumbles and falls and shatters his reading glasses. Now...imagine if all the books in the world were available only in digital form and there was a power outage, a natural disaster, a nuclear war. Just as the character in this story is at the mercy of his glasses, we are at the mercy of our technology.

On the plus side was this New York Times article The Long Ride Home about long-distance commuters reading on the train to and from work and this blog post on the same topic from the UK Guardian Unlimited. I notice, however, that while the text is about reading books, the photographs show most commuters reading newspapers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Photography Theory

Comments made by Richard Cox in his review of James Elkins, ed., Photography Theory (New York: Routledge, 2007) tie in very well with a post I wrote recently about Stories and Pictures .

I am considering whether or not to add this book to my stack of to-read books, not because it doesn't sound interesting and useful, but because I have such a large stack of books now and so little time.

Endangered Native American Languages

The Cultural Survival Quarterly of Cambridge, Massachusetts has dedicated their summer 2007 issue, Volume 31, to Endangered Native American languages. You can find it here .


Note: I began my Archives Practicum at the Oregon State University Library Archives last week and did some preliminary examination of the James A. Sewell Photographic Album . I am keeping a journal listing my activities and an annotated bibliography. I am also writing down reflections about what I've learned.
Two of the most important things I learned this week was how easily it is to become distracted by details and to spend time unwisely searching for what may not exist. There is a tendency to want everything perfect and exact and it can be taken to an extreme. Do I measure the size of the photographs and describe them each in words in exquisite detail? How long and how far do I search to find out who the subjects are? How important is it to determine the provenance? I am curious and so I want to know everything possible there is to know about who James Sewell was, where he came from, and what happened to him, what he looked like, who the people are in the photographs, why he kept such an album (and why did he include a lone photograph of what I determined was a chrysanthemum?) Questions lead to more questions and to still more questions and time passes.

As a student I might have the time to delve into all these questions and search for the answers, but I wouldn’t have that time as a working archivist. Elizabeth showed me a box of documents which were in folders with sturdy, typed labels but there not non-acidic. Will they be re-foldered? No. There is nothing to show that they are being damaged where they are now. It would take a fair amount of labor to re-folder them all. When she said that my hands being to itch. I wanted to reach in there and start re-foldering, boring as that task might be. I wanted everything perfect.

In the introduction to Understanding Archives and Manuscripts, O’Toole and Cox state that the primary goals are preservation, organization, and access. The goals are not beauty and perfection. I will need to remember that.

As Greene and Meissner pointed out, if researchers do not know that a collection even exists because no one has yet had time to do a perfect job of processing it and making it available, then what’s the point? It may as well not exist at all.

My goal, then, is to provide enough information about the Sewell photographic album so that researchers know it exists and can access it. It may well be that they will have the answers to some of the questions I seek but have no way to discover. It may also be that there are no answers.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What is Worthy?

Preserving the Outpouring of Grief: Virginia Tech Archives 60,000 Items Sent as Condolences
was published in today's Washington Post. The questions it raises are how is grief archived and how will the decisions to decide what is worthy of being kept be made. Items were sent by mail and left at memorial sites. Some are digitally-born--blogs, songs, and online chats, Facebook sympathy cards, My-Space postings, even a memorial in the virtual world, Second Life. These will also need to be archived in some way.(See this website .)

The university's librarian, Eileen Hichingham, clearly sees it in terms of what will the potential researcher will someday want to see.

The importance is not only what came in, but you have to picture 10 years out. What is it? It's a research project. How do people mourn, how do they come together?

People felt an emotional response after this tragedy and it was compared to comfort food after a funeral.

You take the casserole over to the family, and I think people couldn't do that, but they looked to do something as close, as equivalent as they could.

The items included 32 cakes (one for each student killed), a kite from South Korea, thousands of tiny origami cranes, banners, cards, letters, drawings,posters, and stuffed animals.

Over 60,000 items have been received. The space to house it all is only 800 cubic feet. Tamara Kennelly, the university's archivist must decide what stays and what goes by November. The Library of Congress recommended to the university that 5 percent of the physical objects that were received be saved. It is indeed a daunting task.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dream Archive

I found this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education a few months ago and then forgot about it until I stumbled across it again recently.

The author's list for a perfect archive included long hours, grants of any size, silence, incadescent (not fluorescent) lighting, good security, photocopying (and allowing one to use a credit card to do so), plugs for prolonged laptop use (and Wi-Fi would be even better), along with complete finding aids for all holdings available online, comfortable seating, ambiance and form (including windows letting in natural light), and creative programming such as film screenings, talks, workshops, and seminars in its after-hours.

The only thing I would add is a policy allowing the use of digital cameras (taking copyright issues into consideration, of course).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All the Good Stuff

I remember, when I was eight or nine, running so fast I felt I was flying. When I told my mother this, she sighed and told me to enjoy it while it lasted. Surprised, I asked her what she meant and she explained that kids could do some things adults couldn't. She, as an adult, could not run out in the street. If she did people would think there was a problem; she was being chased or was running away from someone. This was a new concept to me as up until then I'd believed it was the adults who had all the good stuff, not the kids.

My generation changed all that. Adults can and do run in the streets now; they just call it jogging. Adults can do other things that they couldn't do in public in previous generations either. They can roller skate and bike, for example. Okay, some do obnoxious things they shouldn't do in public like chew gum (one of my personal pet peeves). However, it's true that we do have much more freedom and can do things now that only children were allowed to do before.

Libraries have been slow to catch on to this. Yes, libraries! Those bastions of change and freedom! I love the reading to dogs program, for example. I don't have a dog and the idea of sitting next to and reading to one while he or she listens to me in rapt attention delights me, but the program has the serious purpose of increasing children's reading skills and confidence, you see. It isn't just for fun. And it's not available to adults.

Then there are the summer reading programs. Oh, they had some of these for children when I was growing up but they weren't nearly as well organized as they are now. Libraries should have them for adults too. But, but...maybe some libraries are finally getting the idea. I saw that the Seattle Public Library is in its fourth year of having a summer reading program for adults ! Good for them! I wish more libraries had them!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Outsider Art

I've looked for and read many definitions of what "outsider art" is. Some call it naive art, others call it folk or primitive art. It can be tramp art or prison art. Others say it is simply art made by those are self-taught and outside the traditional art world.

No where have I seen what I think defines it. Outsider art is art made by those who have to create and will create out of any materials at hand. There is a need to create in each of us and for outsider artists, this need is profound and cannot be denied. The pure human impulse to create is the essence.

The art that is made is visionary and made to fulfill a need in oneself, not the needs of others. It is personal. It is honest. It is original. It can be whimsical, strange, or disturbing. And, always, in its own way, it is very powerful.

Turning the Pages

Would you like to see full featured, fully navigable online versions of the First Atlas of Europe, Jane Austen's History of England, William Blake's notebook of sketches and poems including The Tyger, the original Alice in Wonderland and more?

Well you can here , on the British Library Webpage.

Saving Our Libraries

Three out of every four books in Europe's libraries are printed on acidic paper that isn't expected to last another century. That's the message heard by delegates at the IUPAC World Chemistry Congress in Turin, Italy, this week, who were asked: can analytical chemistry rescue our written heritage?

These, the first sentences in this report, Can Chemistry Save Our Libraries , certainly caught my attention.

It's books made between around 1860 and 1990 that are the real concern, said Strlic [Matija Strlic, from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia,] - and these are the books that make up the bulk of most library collections. Before 1850 or so, paper was made by hand from clothing rags. This gave a paper with high quality fibres and neutral pH, which is expected to last several millennia. But once paper making was industrialised, the sheets made by the new process were of pH 4 to 5. Left untreated, this paper will only survive a couple of hundred years before disintegrating, due to gradual depolymerisation of the cellulose fibres caused by the acid.

The article discusses a project called SurveNIR and the development of a near infrared (NIR) technique to assess whether or not a book needs to be mass-deacidified by checking to see, first of all, if it actually needs the process done, and secondly, whether it's strong enough to withstand it. Unlike the process used now, it leaves the paper completely unmarked.

Jan Wouters, of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, Belgium, presented a related talk,discussing how each page of a valuable 8th century illuminated manuscript, the Codex Eyckensis, was laminated by conservators in the 1950s. The lamination not only affected the look and feel of the manuscript, it also accelerated the decay of the parchment and had to be laboriously removed.

Determining how any preservation treatment will affect an artifact, said Strlic, assessing both short and long-term effects, can be done now using model paper aging.

It's particularly important not to use new techniques on the most precious books before they are fully tested, he said.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Patron Saint of Archivists

This was a post on the archives list this morning.

Deacon Laurence presided over the financial records of the early church in Rome. In 258, the Emperor Valerian confiscated all Church property and summarily executed Pope Sixtus II and seven deacon who were responsible for distributing goods and funds as needed, primarily to widows and orphans. The remaining deacon, Laurence, was charged with providing records of the funds.

As any good archivist, Laurence informed the emperor that such a massive FOIA request would take three days to process. He saw that all remaining funds were spent out and distributed to the poor. When the Emperor demanded to see the wealth of the Church, Laurence presented him with the widows, orphans and other needy Church members and informed him that they were the treasures of the Church. The Emperor was not impressed. He had Laurence roasted alive over a fire on a gridiron. Laurence is reputed to have said, at one point, "You may turn me over; I am well done on this side."

It is traditional to remember St. Laurence with sandwiches of cold cuts on August 10, the day of his demise.

Google Cheat Sheet

The Google Guide is a two-page quick reference which is also available as a printable pdf.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints

In preparation for my Archives Practicum, which begins next week, I requested and received Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints from The Emporia State University Library . I am being very careful with this book, published by the Kodak Company in 1986, as I've noted it is out of print and used copies are priced at $160-$300.

In a little more than 100 pages, the author, James M. Reilly, provides a history of photographic printing, describes the materials contained in prints and how they deteriorate, discusses the stability of specific print materials, informs the reader how to identify different types of print processes including providing an extensive identification guide and many examples, and spends a chapter each on preservation and collection management, storage, and handling, display, and care.

I am taking extensive notes as I believe this will also be a very useful book when I take a class in Preservation next year.

I also came across Photographs of the 19th Century: A Process Identification Guide by William A. Leyshon, which provides a useful glossary as well as an extensive biblography.

Other useful bibliographies on the topic can be found here and

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More Truth About Stories

I've just finished this book ( The Truth About Stories ). There was a bit of discussion about written and oral literature. After listing statistics about Canadians' reading habits, Thomas King writes:

What's curious is that there are no statistics for oral literature. When I raised this question at a scholarly conference once, I was told that the reason we pay attention to written literature is that books are quantifiable, whereas oral literature is not. How can you quantify something that has sound but no physical form, a colleague wanted to know, something that exists only in the imagination of the storyteller, cultural ephemera [a curious phrase]that is always at the whim of memory, something that needs to be written down to be.....whole?

I understand the assumptions: first, that stories, in order to be complete, must be written down, an easy error to make, an ethnocentric stumble that imagines all literature in the Americas to have been oral, when in fact, pictographic systems (petroglyphs, pictographs, and hieroglyphics) were used by a great many tribes to commemorate events and to record stories, while in the valley of Mexico, the Aztecs maintained a large library of written works that may well have been the rival of the Royal Library at Alexandria. Written and oral. Side by side. [Is this library, I wonder, mentioned in the classes on history of the library?]

In the end, though, neither fared any better than the other. While European diseases and conflicts with explorers and settlers led to the death and displacement of a great many Native storytellers, superstitious Spanish priests, keen on saving the Aztecs from themselves, burned the library at Tenochtitlan to the ground, an event as devastating as the destruction of the library at Alexandria.

In each case, at Tenochtitlan and at Alexandria, stories were lost. And in the end, it didn't matter whether these stories were oral or written.

So much for dependability. So much for permanence.

Though it doesn't take a disaster to destroy a literature. If we stopped telling the stories and reading the books, we would discover that neglect is as powerful an agent as war and fire.
(pages 96-97)

The comments in brackets are mine.

And a couple of personal notes about this book.

When I read this book, I can hear my grandmother. She made wry comments like this author does, points that were sharp but tempered with humor that poked fun at oneself.

There is also a reference to another book I've added to my reading list: Robert Alexie's novel Porcupines and China Dolls.
It's the story of two children who return from Aberdeen residential school

...where the girls had been scrubbed and powdered [with delousing powder] to look like china dolls and the boys had been scrubbed and sheared to look like porcupines, and where each night, when the children cried in their beds, the sound was like a million porcupines crying in the dark. (page 116)

And I found that Robert Alexie has written another book, The Pale Indian . More information, including the entire first chapter, can be found here .

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

In Dusty Archives, A Theory of Affluence

This review, In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence , published in today's New York Times, discuses Gregory Clark's belief that the Industrial Revolution occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. People began, the author contends, to develop new behaviors including non-violence, literacy, long working hours, and saving, all required to make a modern economy work. There are those who disagree and their comments are included in the review. The book, A Farewell to Alms (Princeton University Press), comes out next month.

From my reading of the review I think there are some problems with his reasoning, but I'll reserve judgment until I can get my hands on the book and read it for myself. However, if you can't wait, check out the author's page . He provides not only the table of contents, but a number of sample chapters as well.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The British National Archives Wiki

I came across this while wandering around, looking at fascinating posts about archives and archivists. This may very well be the first use and endorsement by a national government of wiki technology for its community of users. It's hosted by the British National Archives and intended for any user to inform other users and the staff of the National Archves about information that may not be captured through their descriptive tools.

Information Wants to Be Free

I've picked up a little phrase from each of my library school classes. An aside: One day I should make a list of them and post them. In one of my first classes the phrase was "information wants to be free".

Turning the ivory tower into an open book
, from the July 21, 2007 Canada's Globe and Mail, begins

This year, the University of Toronto's library system will spend $20-million on acquisitions. But less than one-third of that money will go to books. The majority will pay for the rising subscription costs of academic journals.

"It's alarming," says Carole Moore, the university's chief librarian.

Along with colleagues across the country, she has watched the price of the latest research skyrocket, with top titles such as medical journal Brain Research now hitting $21,000 or more for annual subscriptions. This, even as an increasing number of journals are available electronically.

All of which has sparked a hot debate among academics about who should own knowledge: Echoing the music and film industries, the two camps are polarized between those who argue for open access to research - especially studies funded by the public purse - and those who insist that proper collection and editing of research come with a cost.

More and more we will be going to open access journals.
(See this .) The directory currently includes 2,789 free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals, 836 of them searchable at article levels, with a total of 142373 articles. Their goal is to cover all subjects and languages.

If vendors want to keep their markets, they're going to have to become more inventive and creative in what they offer libraries. Oh, yes. That's another phrase on my list from library school: value added.

P.S. And oh! how ironic that the newspaper allowed me to read the article free for a short time, but now wants to charge me C$4.95 plus tax to view it again with a time limit of 30 days!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Stories and Pictures

I like both stories and pictures. In that way, I've never grown up.

I've just begun reading a book by Thomas King entitled The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Of course, I also checked out all his novels that the public library has: Truth and Bright Water, Medicine River, and Green Grass and Running Water, and I'll write about those books in another of my blogs, All the Rest of My Life , but it is this, his non-fiction work, that I'm going to read first. He writes things I know, but were only wisps of thought, and tells me things I never thought of at all.

From the first chapter:

~The truth about stories is that that's all we are.

~ I am a listener to the language's stories, and when my words form I am retelling the same stories in different patterns.

~ Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous....for once a story is told, it cannot be called back. Once told, it is loose in the world. So you have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told.

~ It was Sir Isaac Newton who said, "To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction". Had he been a writer, he might have simply said, "To every action there is a story".

And that's just in the first 29 pages.

Last month I took a SOLINET class on Preserving Oral Histories . The instructor talked mostly about storage formats and digitization. The rest of it, the understanding why oral stories are so important, was left to others, others like Thomas King, to discuss.

Next month I'm taking another SOLINET class, this one on
Preservation of Photographic Materials
, another way we share what we know and think and feel, and reveal who we are.

This blogger , a photographer, wrote about photographs and prints a few weeks ago:

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time where the photograph as a physical object becomes a rarity - a print is a lot more convenient than any current display device. As display devices become more paper like, eventually we’ll have smart paper - a sheet of stuff that’s capable of displaying images that has the look and feel of a sheet of flexible paper. At that point in our science fiction future, the distinction between a ‘displayed image’ and a ‘print’ disappears, really. So in the somewhat distant future, I guess we end up back with prints, albeit a more active sort than we usually think of, and the cost per displayable image drops close to zero.

Prints now can be digitally altered just like stories, when told orally, change in the telling.

I need to think more about this.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

End of the Semester

The summer semester ends tomorrow. I still have a few assignments to finish up for my government documents class. I spent most of yesterday at the Oregon State University Valley Library and that's where I'll be most of today as well. I noticed I was lucky in my choice of days to spend at the library as it was hot yesterday and it'll be hot again today, but the library is air conditioned.

I am getting very excited about my Archives Practicum. I will be working with the James A. Sewell Photograph Album, 1903-1905 . I will be responsible for processing, describing, digitizing, and exhibiting it.

I have ordered my textbooks for this class which consists of the Archival Fundamental Series II from the Society of American Archivists. The first one on my reading list will be
Understanding Archives and Manuscripts

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Future of Library Science

The new president of the ALA, Loriene Roy recently talked about the direction of the library science field and its training programs. She discusses library school/information school, the role of technology, the difficulty of dealing with changes, core curriculum, life long learning, the importance of evaluating information, the necessity of teaching skills, the role of paraprofessionals, chat reference service, and offers her opinion about Wikipedia in this podcast.