(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Library

“The mainstream narrative that we are living through an era of exponential, near-infinite knowledge accumulation no longer fits a society in which we lose our collective record of ourselves day in and day out”*…

Political and government bans and censorship, publishers attacking digital access/ lending— there’s a growing struggle underway (in the U.S. and abroad) that will define how humanity’s collective digital memory is owned, shared, and preserved — or lost forever. Nanna Bonde Thylstrup on why we must care…

… The fact that crucial decisions about whether to keep or destroy data are kept in the hands of actors with profit motives, autocratic aspirations or other self-serving ends has a huge implication not only for individuals but also for the culture at large.

Many instances of data loss have ramifications for cultural production, the writing of history and, ultimately, the practice of democracy…

Alongside the need to maintain public trust in democratic institutions, we must consider how we ought to preserve our collective cultural memory. Institutions like museums, libraries and archives must play a more proactive role while creating stronger institutional safeguards — including rules mandating secure transport of public sector data and professional management of archives, in addition to requirements for public accessibility — on their own conduct. These organizations, whether they are upstart archival initiatives or established public institutions, require stable financial and institutional support to flourish…

The history of knowledge is not one of simple progress or accumulation. Knowledge production in the digital era, like the creation and storage of knowledge across the centuries, is unfolding as a continual oscillation between gains and losses.

Data loss on a small scale — missing phone contacts, digital files lost to a glitch — is the occupational hazard of existing in a digitally reliant world. But data erasure at scale is always political. Responses to erasure and loss must exceed technical fixes and knee-jerk reactions; instead, governments and organizations must constantly reassess the ethical and regulatory frameworks that govern our relationship with data. The mainstream narrative that we are living through an era of exponential, near-infinite knowledge accumulation no longer fits a society in which we lose our collective record of ourselves day in and day out…

Eminently worth reading in full: “The World’s Digital Memory Is at Risk” (gift link)

Pair with the Internet Archive‘s Brewster Kahle‘s “Our Digital History Is at Risk” and Richard Ovenden‘s important (and engrossing) Burning the Books.

* Nanna Bonde Thylstrup

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As we prioritize preservation and open access, we might recall that it was on this date in 1978 that the Rainbow Flag was flown for the first time during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Created by Gilbert Baker, it has become a sign of LGBTQ pride worldwide.

source

“I think of reading a book as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love”*…

Via Why Is This Interesting, a reading list from the man who created The Library of Babel

Jorge Luis Borges, the consummate reader & librarian of the infinite, left behind an unfinished gift in the form of his Biblioteca Personal, meant to be 100 selections of personally-prized literature. Each was to have a written prologue and the entries were a kaleidoscopic collection of remembrances, lyrical passages, and warm regards…  

In 1985, Argentine publisher Hyspamerica asked Borges to create A Personal Library — which involved curating 100 great works of literature and writing introductions for each volume. Though he only got through 74 books [64 individual titles, 6 to be issued in two volumes] before he died of liver cancer in 1988, Borges’s selections are fascinating and deeply idiosyncratic. He listed adventure tales by Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells alongside exotic holy books, 8th century Japanese poetry and the musing of Kierkegaard…

[Borges said] “I want this library to be as diverse as the unsatisfied curiosity that has led me, and continues to lead me, to explore so many languages and so many literatures”…

Borges’ personal book picks– remembrances and warm regards: “The Biblioteca Personal Edition,” from @WhyInteresting.

Download a PDF of Borges’ list here.

* Jorge Luis Borges

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As we browse, we might recall that today is Juneteenth.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 (effective January 1, 1863), word was slow to spread.  Indeed, in Texas (which had been largely on the sidelines of hostilities in the Civil War, had continued its own state constitution-sanctioned practice of slavery, and so had become a refuge for slavers from more besieged Southern states) it took years… and federal enforcement.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, who’d arrived  in Galveston, Texas, with 2,000 federal troops  to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves, read “General Order No. 3” from a local balcony:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Former slaves in Galveston celebrated in the streets; Juneteenth observances began across Texas the following year, and are now recognized as state holidays by 41 states– and as of 2021, as a federal holiday.

Ashton Villa in Galveston, from whose front balcony the Emancipation Proclamation was read on June 19, 1865 (source)
Juneteenth celebration in Austin, c.1900 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 19, 2023 at 1:00 am

“In literature, as in Life, one is often astonished by what is chosen by others”*…

Why a classic is missing from the New York Public Library’s list of the 10 most-checked-out books of all time…

… the New York Public Library, celebrating its 125th anniversary, released a list of the 10 most-checked-out books in the library’s history. The list is headed by a children’s book—Ezra Jack Keats’ masterpiece The Snowy Day—and includes five other kids’ books. The list also includes a surprising addendum: One of the most beloved children’s books of all time didn’t make the list because for 25 years it was essentially banned from the New York Public Library. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, would have made the Top 10 list and might have topped it, the library notes, but for the fact that “influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore disliked the story so much when it was published in 1947 that the Library didn’t carry it … until 1972.” Who was Anne Carroll Moore, and what was her problem with the great Goodnight Moon?…

[There follows a fascinating story of self-assured curator who, even as she resisted a new wave in children’s literature, was a powerful force in making literature available to all of the kids of New York.]

… As [Betsy] Bird notes in a fascinating blog post, the legacy of Anne Carroll Moore is one that many children’s librarians struggle with. “She is the quintessential bun-in-the-hair shushing librarian,” says Bird. “She’s such an easy villain.” Her discriminating book recommendations delivered from on high represent the exact opposite of the credo pledged by most children’s librarians today: that the library’s role is to provide the widest possible array of titles and allow children to find the books they love. Yet Moore did more than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century to encourage children of all races and incomes to read. To adopt a 21st century rallying cry, Bird notes, Anne Carroll Moore “was all about diverse books waaaaaay before anyone else was.”…

How One Librarian Tried to Squash Goodnight Moon,” from Dan Kois (@dankois) in @Slate.

* André Malraux

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As we head to bed, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that a female black bear named Winnie at the London Zoo passed away at the age of 20. A favorite of A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, Winnie was the namesake of Christopher Robin’s his own stuffed bear- and the inspiration for his father’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

Christopher Robin Milne and his teddy bear (source)

“Roget’s Thesaurus is an oddball philosophy of language masquerading as a reference book”*…

Austin Kleon on Roget’s Thesaurus

I have always assumed — and maybe you have, too — that a thesaurus is just a synonym dictionary, the words arranged alphabetically with a list of synonyms and antonyms below. Somehow, every thesaurus I’d ever come across — even ones with “Roget” in the title! — had this alphabetic arrangement.

Because of this, it was easy for me to effectively ignore the thesaurus. If I needed a synonym or antonym, I’d just open an actual dictionary, or do a quick online search…

It turns out that Roget‘s Thesaurus is not at all what I thought it was. It is weirder and much more interesting…

… if you understand the man, you understand where his book came from. Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) was a Victorian polymath: a doctor by trade, but he did all sorts of stuff: he was a consultant on pandemics, he wrote Encyclopedia Brittanica entries and a book about natural theology, he helped catalog several libraries, he invented the scale on the slide rule, and he may have written a paper that contributed to the birth of cinema. Oh, and he was also obsessed with chess problems.

The thing he is now most famous for — his thesaurus — was actually a side project he took up in retirement, in his seventies. His whole life he’d made lists as a way of soothing himself. He carried a notebook around with him and jotted down lists of related words and phrases to help him with his own writing and lecturing. He made his own personal thesaurus in his twenties, but in retirement he thought maybe it might be helpful to others, and after four years of work, he published the first edition of his Thesaurus (from the Greek word thēsauros, meaning “storehouse” or “treasure”) in 1852, overseeing new editions until he died in 1869. His son, John Lewis Roget, a lawyer, painter, and art critic, then took over the project.

Roget, like many Victorians, was obsessed with order and classification. His hero was Carl Linnaeus, known as the father of modern taxonomy. Roget wanted to classify and organize words in the English language. This is the best way to understand Roget’s Thesaurus: it’s not just a book of words, it’s like a library of words.

When you go to the library, the books are not arranged in alphabetical order — they’re organized topically. In order to find a book in my local library, you have to look up the book in the catalog, note the Dewey Decimal Number, then find it on the shelf. The beauty of this system, and a major argument for physical browsing collections, is that when you find the book on the shelf, it will be surrounded by books on the similar subject. You may go looking for one particular book and while browsing you might find a better book or the book you didn’t even know you were looking for. This is the way a thesaurus is supposed to work.

In the very beginning of his introduction to his book, Roget emphasizes that what makes his book unique and helpful is that the words are not arranged alphabetically, like a Dictionary, but “according to the ideas which they express.”…

The fascinating story of Roget’s Thesaurus: “A Library of Words,” from @austinkleon.

Browse the 1911 edition– still in the format Roget intended– at the Internet Archive.

Ted Gioia (@tedgioia)

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As we look it up, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the literary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction– and a love of words– for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)

 source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 2, 2023 at 1:00 am

“If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday”*…

The redoubtable Brewster Kahle on the dangerous ephemerality of civil discourse in our digital times…

Many have now seen how, when someone deletes their Twitter account, their profile, their tweets, even their direct messages, disappear. According to the MIT Technology Review, around a million people have left so far, and all of this information has left the platform along with them. The mass exodus from Twitter and the accompanying loss of information, while concerning in its own right, shows something fundamental about the construction of our digital information ecosystem:  Information that was once readily available to you—that even seemed to belong to you—can disappear in a moment. 

Losing access to information of private importance is surely concerning, but the situation is more worrying when we consider the role that digital networks play in our world today. Governments make official pronouncements online. Politicians campaign online. Writers and artists find audiences for their work and a place for their voice. Protest movements find traction and fellow travelers.  And, of course, Twitter was a primary publishing platform of a certain U.S. president

If Twitter were to fail entirely, all of this information could disappear from their site in an instant. This is an important part of our history. Shouldn’t we be trying to preserve it?

I’ve been working on these kinds of questions, and building solutions to some of them, for a long time. That’s part of why, over 25 years ago, I founded the Internet Archive. You may have heard of our “Wayback Machine,” a free service anyone can use to view archived web pages from the mid-1990’s to the present. This archive of the web has been built in collaboration with over a thousand libraries around the world, and it holds hundreds of billions of archived webpages today–including those presidential tweets (and many others). In addition, we’ve been preserving all kinds of important cultural artifacts in digital form: books, television news, government records, early sound and film collections, and much more. 

The scale and scope of the Internet Archive can give it the appearance of something unique, but we are simply doing the work that libraries and archives have always done: Preserving and providing access to knowledge and cultural heritage…

While we have had many successes, it has not been easy… companies close, and change hands, and their commercial interests can cut against preservation and other important public benefits. Traditionally, libraries and archives filled this gap. But in the digital world, law and technology make their job increasingly difficult. For example, while a library could always simply buy a physical book on the open market in order to preserve it on their shelves, many publishers and platforms try to stop libraries from preserving information digitally. They may even use technical and legal measures to prevent libraries from doing so. While we strongly believe that fair use law enables libraries to perform traditional functions like preservation and lending in the digital environment, many publishers disagree, going so far as to sue libraries to stop them from doing so. 

We should not accept this state of affairs. Free societies need access to history, unaltered by changing corporate or political interests. This is the role that libraries have played and need to keep playing…

A important plea, eminently worth reading in full: “Our Digital History Is at Risk,” from @brewster_kahle @internetarchive.

* Pearl S. Buck

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As we prioritize preservation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that MGM released the first in what would be a long series of Tom and Jerry cartoons (though neither character was named in this inaugural outing, and one of the animators referred to them as Jasper and Jinx… Tom and Jerry were their monikers from the second cartoon, on). The basic premise was the one that would become familiar to audiences: “cat stalks and chases mouse in a frenzy of mayhem and slapstick violence.” Though studio executives were unimpressed, audiences loved the film, and it was nominated for an Academy Award.

Find Tom and Jerry at The Internet Archive.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 10, 2023 at 1:00 am

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