Saturday, May 24, 2008

Where are we going?

That's a collective "we" - what's going to happen to academic libraries - and librarians - in the next five years?

I see us becoming archivists, as the physical book loses importance. We may be the caretakers for the copy of record. And I use "the" advisedly. Will we spend the money to have two copies in the library - or even in the state? Or will distributed copies suffice?

Maybe we'll be responsible for printing a physical copy of electronic books and theses. Why even do that? Because electronic documents have two prime characteristics - they are mutable and they are fugitive. You can change them when you want: something we don't want for official documents like laws and vital records. And while paper copies can and do burn or decay, they are longer lasting than bytes, which can be gone in nanoseconds.

Perhaps we'll be teachers and not caretakers or collection builders. As more information is out there, it takes more skills to locate it and evaluate it. We are good at that, and we have two options (or at least two obvious ones): we can do it as a pro-bono service subsidized by our school, or freelance in a just-in-time pay-as-you-go system. Either way, we are information brokers and not warehouse managers, labeling and stamping books. That's been a waste of our skills for a long time.

We may also be information creators. We've done that for a long time, too. We've indexed and cataloged, in ways that are outdated now, but what about new ways? Can we not build KM systems to synthesize the sources we manage? To build recommender systems? People say that IT folks can do all that, but they can't. They're really good at the software and the hardware, but don't care about the content. We do.

This is just step one in my trying to think ahead of the curve. This week maybe I'll think about how other fields have outrun us in our own field - or what we thought was our field, and synergy with other fields.

Or maybe I'll relax and enjoy the holiday. Naw....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Getting rid of originals?

I was reading the notes of the digitization meeting at RBMS, and thought - WHO thought of the "digitize, then dispose" comment? Some very young person? The first digitization project I worked on followed the LC standards of the time - 150 dpi. What were we thinking? Well, we weren't thinking ahead, we weren't thinking in economic terms that mass production means cheaper, we weren't thinking of the future.

What if we had thought of scan&toss then? What would we make the better scans from? Other than deteriorating nitrate and acetate negatives, which can spontaneously combust or can suddenly turn to dust, what would be good enough to scan but not good enough to keep?

I was shocked that this came from RBMS people - what books would we have left if we tossed the shabby used ones? I hope this isn't an offshoot of the googlescan mindset of administrators, or maybe I hope it is and isn't from the librarians and archivists!

I know that archivists are reputed to be packrats, but are RB librarians conspicuous consumers?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Out of the box software

I've been looking at open source software lately, and I like what I'm looking at. I haven't migrated to Linux yet, but I'm replacing many of the expensive brand names with better OS software. GIMP isn't instinctive, but neither is Photoshop.
Open Office is much better than the built-in boobytraps of MS Office, and I'm in love with Google Docs - not for all purposes, but great for collaboration and easy transfers while traveling.
So now I'm looking at content management systems and thinking of wikis as documents and teaching platforms as well as "wikipedia" clones. Maybe just starting as a supplement to Blackboard, since I get paid to use that, but also as an alternative for people who are having issues with firewalls. That seems to happen once a year, at least!
I'll let you know what the results are, let me know your favorites.