Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Libricide

Libricide: The Regime Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century [I can't believe I forgot to name the author when I first posted this. The author is Rebecca Knuth]

I begin my book review by giving away my conclusion, Libricide is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s clearly written, it’s smart, it tells stories, and it challenges the reader (at least this reader) to look at things in new ways.

I admit, however, when I initially saw that this book is written by an LIS faculty (at the University of Hawaii) I was skeptical of the author’s ability to rigorously understand, analyze, and communicate these complex situations she was writing about. Nothing in my library training taught me how to analyze the cause and expressions of genocide and ethnic cleansing, so I had some doubts over the author’s ability to do so.  I was wrong. (I was probably projecting my own ignorance of the book’s topic.)

The book begins with three chapters of a more theoretical nature discussing the function of libraries, ethnocide, and her argument to place libricide within the framework of ethnocide. The next five chapters provide well documented case studies of twentieth century examples of systematic library destruction including Nazi Germany, Greater Serbia, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, China’s cultural revolution, and China and Tibet. (Despite the subject matter, while it is not a “light” book, it is very engaging.)

“My project began with these two questions. What really distinguishes those who mourn the destruction of books and libraries from those who willingly, even joyfully, throw books into the fire? And how can these ideals of human progress be reconciled with the mass violence and destruction of culture that characterized the twentieth century.” (p. viii)

This is a bit of a glib aside, but her line about those who “joyfully thrown books into the fire” reminded me that one of my tasks at a public library I used to work at was to discard the discards. Books that had been deaccessioned by library staff and were not deemed salable for the Friends sale were unceremoniously (and often quite gleefully) tossed in the dumpster. The dumpster was behind the library but right next to one of the town’s larger streets. I was surprised that I never heard of people complaining when the saw me toss cartloads of books into the dumpster. Now, I know how some people feel about “books” like they are some kind of sacred object never to be violated. Well, they can be, but they can also be unnecessary dust-collecting wastes of space. </aside>

The primary case Knuth attempts to make – and succeeds – is that libricide belongs within the category of ethnocide – or more precisely “libricide is an identifiable secondary pattern or sub-phenomena occurring within the framework of genocide and ethnocide” (p. viii)

The following set of quotes lay out Knuth’s rationale for why libraries and the texts they hold within them matter, and then, why their destruction matters.

“Texts, especially when part of a diverse collection, are vital in sustaining a group’s uniqueness and protecting the group from the homogeneity promoted by extremists.” (p.9)

“The turn toward memory is subliminally energized by the desire to anchor ourselves in a world characterized by an increasing instability of time and the fracturing of lived space.” (p. 18)

“Something else must be at stake that produces the desire for the past in the first place and that makes us respond so favorably to the memory markets. That something, I would suggest, is a slow but palpable transformation of temporality in our lives, brought on by the complex intersections of technological change, mass media, and new patters of consumption, work and global mobility.” (p. 21)

“Regimes that commit genocide also destroy the material expressions of their victims’ culture, books and libraries.” (p. 6)

“Because books and libraries preserve memory, provide witness, store evidence of the validity of a multitude of perspectives, facilitate intellectual freedom, and support group identity, they are carefully controlled, sanitized, and even extensively purged.” (p. 81)

 “A hindrance to the politicization of scholarship, the physicality of the written records displays a stubborn quality of witness and anchors legitimate methods of historical research.” (p. 31)

She writes that the “physicality of the written displays a stubborn quality of witness” but this physicality can also be a weakness. When an archive of unique physical texts is destroyed, they are all destroyed. Digital media, however, can more easily allow for a more distributed network of ownership and preservation – ala LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.) Destroying one library means less if same material is duplicated all over the place. With singular possession there is a greater vulnerability and risk of real loss. I think the idea of distributed ownership is one of the real preservation strengths we can learn from the digital community. I still hear people, even people who work primarily in the digital world, speak of a desire for central repositories when speaking of either print or digital collections, but it seems to me that a central repository model is both managerially unnecessary, and too high a preservation risk. Distributed and redundant networks seem to me to be the best model for real preservation.

 “Libraries support official beliefs and ideologies, while at the same time bringing about social change by nurturing and transmitting new understanding.” (p. 35)

“Because libraries express the humanist and democratic values that have come to characterize modern society and internationalism, violence directed at them is also an attack on these ideals, serving instead a worldview in which the individual being exists solely to serve the collective vision of the state.” (p. 49)
To me, this statement of violence directed at libraries is an attack on the ideals of humanism bring up hints of “They attacked us because they hate our freedoms.” Cf G. Bush. To generally say that an attack on a library means “X” seems a too broadly stated.

As I said at the beginning of this post I’m a cautious reader when reading a library science professor explaining the rise of Nazism. I can’t very well argue that she’s wrong, as I don’t know much about the rise of Nazism, but I’m only willing to grant her limited authority on the topic – especially when she uses phrases like “cultural predisposition towards romanticism.” (p. 76)

 “The violence and public nature of destruction often observed the fact that the ruin was a practical means of destroying information that contradicted the myths of the regime or substantiated the claims of other ethnic or political groups to resource or territory.” (p. 236)

Anyone who has seen video of the Texas Board of Education reviewing and editing potential school textbooks has seen examples of destroying or deleting information that contradicts the myths of the regime.

In this book the author wrote very much about political and ideological forces behind the destruction of libraries and books. One of my challenges or questions in response to this book is about other forces that might motivate destruction. I’m wondering if and how commercial forces might play into this discussion. By and large, corporations don’t go in and destroy libraries, but they do exercise a great deal of control over what texts get produced and increasingly how libraries interact with these texts through licensing agreements. The book discusses very large scale overt destructions. How might this relate to much smaller and more subtle efforts of censorship and the like?

 “It is unclear whether humanists and internationalists alone perceive the destruction of books and libraries to be in violation of the social contract or whether there is a level of consensus across value systems. In other words, is the preservation of culture a universal objective or is it specific to Western sensibilities.” (p. 249)

Knuth goes through the entire book with this idea that destroying books and libraries is wrong, but in the end, ponders whether the idea that this is wrong is solely a Western idea. This then is the seemingly never-ending challenge of living in a pluralistic world with conflicting worldviews.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Transitioning to a Digital Future - afternoon session

Okay - here's my notes dump for the afternoon speakers. Once again, these notes are completely unedited and unprocessed. I will say I found the last speaker - Charles Henry of CLIR - fascinating, especially the bit about the relationship between preservation and scholarly interpretation.
(Also, I had some nice online chatting with Peter Verheyen during the session!)

Grant Funders Panel Discussion
Eryl Wentworth, Executive Director, Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation
Howard Wactlar, Director for Information and Intelligent Systems, Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), National Science Foundation
Charles Thomas, Acting Associate Deputy Director for Library Services, Institute of Museum and Library Services

Eryl – FAIC – excels at professional development –
We need to develop/harness volunteer passion and energy
Excited about Emerging Leaders in Conservation group. Have skills and energy to do more advocacy work
There is an interest in AIC to create a preventive conservation/Collection Care division.
Howard of NSF – two pieces to preservation world – preserving information, but biggest opportunity/challenge is preserving experience
Eg. Ways of recreating walk through national park.

Charles of IMLS
More important than ever when thinking about the numbers of items and digital materials – need to think about selection. Focus on crowd-source to help with selection/curation.
New type of planning grant – national forum grants – discuss across institution types and make recommendations.
Re: selection for digital preservation – storage is cheap, but preservation/management/retrieval isn’t.
Importance of local and national perspectives.
Big question with IMLS preservation grants is whether preservation policies developed by large institutions work well when applied to a smaller organization. Need to develop/test different models and how they work in different contexts.
IMLS funds grants for preservation research – like energy efficient storage environments.

NSF guy thinks we should record/preserve everything – not yet able to decide. Disk storage at 3.5 cents/gigabyte.
Defer decisions about what it is okay to forget. Hold off on that decision as long as we can.
Don’t worry about reformatting – the cloud and the market will figure that out for us?!?!
(He seems quite fond of the commercial marketplace as driving how preservation changes.)

Eryl – C2C as an example of a program that takes preservation issues to smaller institutions. Survived a shift of organization/leadership. – now its C2c online
Research – storage/environmental issues.
FAIC assumed responsibility for Conservation Online. The archive is a relic itself. Many conservators don’t use it. ConsDistList however is very popular/used. Now getting some proposals to think about how to use CoOL to provide current information – with interactive component.

Shared management becomes more complicated at a local level – have little spare capacity/resources to contribute.
Workforce issues – need for qualified preservation staff. Very few training opportunities to meet demand. IMLS sponsors a few fellowships.
Funded a demonstration project to build a community storage site for people to place own digital info – with option to share it or not.

NSF guy – what are the next steps. Reformulate our needs as technical or scientific problems.
Until scientific community is adequately faced with the need they are not going to address the problem.

Eryl – back to workforce issue. Training future leaders. Samuel H. Kress funded FAIC conservation fellowship.
Recurring issue with AIC – public outreach/education.

IMLS – interest in archives administration continues to grow.

A Mirror Held, The Future Reflected 
Charles Henry, President, Council of Library and Information Resources
He said "Chock-a-block"
4 programs in higher education in humanities – preservation of cultural records will involve humanists. New concepts coming out of humanistic research.
1. Relationship between  preservation and scholarly interpretation.
- in this era of amazing ability to see within artifacts – previously unseen. This will influence interpretation. Continuity of decision-making that leads and helps determine interpretation of that object. Line of thinking between preservation and scholar. Need to focus on the whole spectrum of engagement. Those interpretations can influence further preservation
2. New forms of scholarly research in humanities. E.g. Digging into data. Humanists and computer scientists collaborations. Looking at 56,000 quilts that had been digitized. 14th c. French manuscripts. 17-18th maps. All three projects looking for patterns.
With the maps – was there a way you could trace a lineage of authorship. Same with manuscripts.
With quilts – what’s a crazy quilt and what’s not. Discerning lineage of authorship.
Big question – what is authorship and how is cultural tradition passed over time.
Terabytes of data and many algorithms. Algorithms hold true for many other disciplines. Where is this data going to go? This project executed  in an environment with no preservation plan.
All these projects require new kinds of academic expression.
3. Project will be announced in a month – federated research and educational depository system. (FREDS) UVa, Mich, Emory, Stanford. Preserving academic record. 3 or 4 dark archives run on different platforms. Redundancy of archives but not of operating systems.
We are subject to a catastrophic loss of digital info.
4. Digital Public Library of America. DPLA. National roll-out tomorrow. Could become a vast federation of American cultural heritage objects.  If it’s done well, it could be one of the greatest resources we’ve ever seen. DPLA won’t own digital objects, only federate them. Preservation is not mentioned anywhere in this project. Exhilarating and indicative.

Transitioning to a Digital Future - morning notes

I'm watching the webcast of the Transitioning to a Digital Future - part of the Future Directions Symposia put on by the Preservation Dept. at the Library of Congress.

I've been taking notes as I watch and rather than take the time to edit and analyze I'll just throw them up online in their incredible ragged form. (It's just me typing things I hear that might be interesting as I hear them.)

I'm hoping to be able to stay attached to my computer this afternoon to hear those speakers as well. They will be posting this online at some point.

Morning speakers

Deanna Marcum
The Library of Congress’ Role as  Leader: Addressing Past, Present, and Future Preservation Needs.
(I hate introductions)
History of national programs – tried many efforts at preservation at a national level
LC established National Preservation Program – funded by CLIR
Note on the early stuff LC did was the result of funding LC received – funders (especially CLIR) shape preservation.
The bench conservators will get training – people not getting training are people who manage preservation. (this was said a long time ago – and its still the case)
Austin money from CLIR was aimed solely at administration.
Today – no program and no money for Pres Admin.  “It is not enough for conservators to become managers.”
“No congress can commit another congress.” 20 year LC programs are really only year by year programs.
We are losing national preservation planning.
Need to critically address current preservation technology – especially mass-deacidification.
Preservation @ LC – past LC thought of itself as library of last resort – does it need to think of itself as library of first stop – and how does that affect their approach to preservation

Digitization’s relationship to microfilming.
“We have to ask – what are we going to do with all this microfilm? If people don’t use it, what good is it?”
Made an enormous investment into microfilm – need to invest in reformatting the microfilm.
We only need to make it digitally accessible once – work on this collaboratively. (Not sure I agree – diversity of efforts bring benefits.)
Print repositories – component missing – no real provisions for these collections. Needs to be more NB
Think about need for reformatting as managers and not as preservation experts.
Can’t save everything – let’s be smart about what we preserve.
“What must we save as artifacts to properly serve next generation?”
Do we need “trusted organizations” devoted to digital preservation. Currently we are all “playing around” with. Wants a national plan run by a national org to set the standard.
Education. Reason for fall by the wayside of these programs is mostly economic. Wants preservation taught in all library science programs. Make sure “our” voices are being heard.

Richard Kurin (Smithsonian) A Good Old Mission in a New World
Have 137.2 million things (not counting archives/records)
(their bird collection is used to analyze the bird-plane strikes)
Pushing social media – encyclopedia of life –
Stamp museum – 6 million stamps – 4 curators. Use a professional crowd-source site.
Leaf snap app – take a picture of a leaf  and it figures out what you’ve got.

Stephanie Toothman – National Park Service
“Preservation Plus Access to Americas Collections, Ecosystems, Buildings, and Historic Sites”
NPS use of the web to connect people to parks and programs

Digitized National Register – aid in appropriately responding to disasters.
With digital images – can now accept color digital images. (With photographic images only accepted black & white documentation)
No current good option for guaranteeable permanent digital signature.

David Ferriero,
Overwhelming Evidence: Preserving 12+ Billion Records for Permanent Access
Describes himself as a “preservation junkie”
In past, under Cunha he oiled leather bindings – laminated things
Created Duke preservation program.
Nation’s record keeper – provides courtesy storage for Congress.
10 billion pages, 40 million photographs, 7 million charts, drawings, maps
Fed records law still doesn’t recognize electronic records (print and save)

Greatest challenges – have 210 email records from Bush white house (not one of them is Bush’s)
Just received 331 terabytes of records from Census
Electronic Records Administration.
External Collaborative Opportunities – our costs are going up, need more funding
- expand preservation and access through cooperation
- share strength and work together to make voice heard
- more exchanged between institutions

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Midwest Jobs

I've intentionally not used this blog to repost job opportunities as PCAN does a fine job of covering the job postings that appear on PADG and ConsDistList - but I think the latest flurry of conservation postings deserves a little special mention - because they are all in the Midwest.

Conservator at the University of Iowa. Follow in Gary Frost's footsteps. Work with Nancy Kraft in a highly respected program. And they will pay you. What more could you ask for? (On a related aside - Gary Frost wrote a small book. I ordered it. You'll hear about it soon.)

Conservation Lab Manager at the Public Library of Cincinnati. This is an intriguing new venture with the University of Cincinnati. The Public Library was awarded an LSTA grant to establish a joint lab with the University. (I'll be curious if the public library angle will deter some applicants because I'll guess most people going into conservation don't anticipate working for a public library.)

Conservator at the University of Chicago. A city with a rich history of conservation and an all-around great city.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Libraries are the new Newspapers

I've long seen a connection between libraries and newspapers, both are collectors and distributors of locally important information. So, I was intrigued when I read on Library Journal's site that IMLS had awarded Florida's Orange County Library System a $50,000 National Leadership Grant to develop an open obituaries database.

Obituaries have long been an incredibly popular service of local newspapers but as newspapers reduce their size, or vanish altogether, some of the important information they collected and provided is no longer being gathered.

I am a bit curious, however, about their procedure for gathering obituary information. The project "envisions family and friends of the deceased submitting detailed obituaries, including videos, photographs, or other memorabilia." This kind of self-selected offering of information has the potential to create to a very off-kilter database. I'll be curious if they seek out other sources of info as well.

I hope this project succeeds in finding new ways to gather and present obituary information, and provokes new ways for libraries to enhance their role in collecting, preserving, and presenting locally important information.