Monday, July 25, 2011

Lazy summer

I've realized that when summer began my interest in reading deep conservation books and writing seemingly deep conservation posts on this blog - well all that just melted away in the heat. It's not that I'm not interested, I just need a summer vacation.

In lieu of any meaty posts on my blog this summer, feel free to follow my work Facebook page - its more practical, pithy, and picture-filled than anything on this blog.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Feds and Funding and a PhD


I pondered pursuing a PhD recently. I enjoy research, teaching, writing and I feel I bring a different perspective to the conversation. I did some research and talked with a couple mentor/colleagues. I eventually decided not to pursue the the degree primarily for two economic reasons: 1) trying to sell a home in this market, and 2) the limited employment opportunities for library PhDs with a preservation concentration.

In my thinking about this PhD idea I had narrowed down where I wanted to do my studies. (The school’s initials are S.C.) I also had an area of research that I would have liked to pursue. (I’m well aware that had I actually gone ahead with this PhD idea my research interest may well have changed multiple times during the course of my studies.)

The area that I was (and still am) interested in is looking at 20th century U.S. federal funding for preservation – I’m thinking particularly of NEH and IMLS (and predecessors) – and looking at the kind of programs they developed and the kind of funding they provided and exploring what this funding reveals of their “theory of preservation.” How do these federal funding programs understand preservation? What do they see is preservation’s function? What are these programs ultimately trying to preserve? And then, how has federal funding for preservation, and the underlying “theory” behind it, how has that influenced or created a national theory of preservation?

I think these are interesting and important questions. We all, individually and corporately make decisions based on ideas, theories, and worldviews of which we very likely are not aware. I think it is important to look back at past decisions - such as what kind of  preservation funding did the federal government provide - to decipher and decode what, if any, underlying beliefs and understandings for those decisions reveal.

I'm guessing my interest in federal funding for preservation is in part a product of the fact that in the course of my work I’ve had the good fortune of working both with the National Endowment for Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. I’ve worked for an NEH funded project, done grant reviewing for both NEH and IMLS, have attended NEH and IMLS sponsored events, and have been a partner in writing NEH and IMLS grants. (I’m still a little bitter about losing the IMLS grant.)

Speaking of IMLS, I’ve been quite impressed with these folks and their openness and interest in exploring different ways of engaging the larger community. They have been great at getting video of their Connecting to Collections and WebWise conferences posted online. They make available library related datasets on Data.gov  (it would be great to see grant recipient data on this site.) And now, they are using the social media tool, Ideascale to solicit the public’s opinions and ideas as they create their next 5-year plan. This tool allows the participant to vote and comment on ideas, or submit their own ideas for others to vote/comment on.

Although I ended up deciding not to pursue PhD (for now?) my research and writing interests have not subsided. This blog is intended to help me meet some of those research and writing interests, but the problem with completely independent research/writing with no deadlines or people looking for results is it can so easily take a back seat to things like summer, yesterday’s Colbert Report, washing dishes, sitting on the porch swing, or taking a nap. Oh well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Enthusiasm and Attention

One thing I miss from my days of teaching workshops, and for the Wayne State LIS program is the enthusiasm of the student. I would witness genuine thrill and fascination with handling a 200 year old book, handling and learning about different kinds of leather, and learning even the most basic of book repair techniques. It sometimes felt like they had been sitting on the other side of a closed gate waiting eagerly to get in to this fascinating and mysterious new garden. And I was the grounds keeper who opened the gate, let them in, and showed them around.

I was reminded of that enthusiasm this morning as I discovered a new-to-me blog Binding Obsession created by a student a Simmons College. (She initially followed my twitter feed, and I then followed her feed and saw the link to her blog, which I added to my blog reader - isn't social media grand!) Her detailed descriptions and images of learning paper and book repair techniques are excellent and reveal a deep enthusiasm for the topic. Keep up the good work Jackie.

While I'm not teaching in a classroom/workshop setting, I am privileged to be working with an intern again this year, and once again I can witness the enthusiasm. Yet, it is not just her enthusiasm which affects me, but as she is learning book repair she must pay very conscious attention to details that I may not even think about any more. It is a wonderful experience to teach a technique and do a step that causes me to step back and consciously understand and explain why I do that step and what it achieves. Looking at book repair through they eyes of an enthusiastic novice helps me step out of my routines and pay greater attention to what I do, and sometimes a little enthusiasm rubs off on me as well.