Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turning Old Books into Art

Dictionary carving

Julia at Hokey Stokes! takes old books, carves out the covers and turns them into art, like this vintage dictionary.

See more here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Britain's Smallest Library

Britain's smallest library

From the Daily Mail:

Cunning villagers have found a novel way to cope with the shortage of libraries in their area by turning an old red phone box into a book exchange.

The former BT phone kiosk has been transformed from a telephone exchange to Britain's smallest library by cunning residents and now stocks around 100 titles.

Villagers rallied together to set up the book box after their mobile library service was cancelled.

Read more here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Dahlia Archives

The Black Dahlia Files

I recently read D. H. Wolfe's 2005 The Black Dahlia Files: The mob, the mogul, and the murder that transfixed Los Angeles. (New York: ReganBooks). I've read just about every book about Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia), but I never thought about where the files about the case are archived. The book notes:
As a rule of law, unless there is an indictment that stems from a Grand Jury investigation, the files are sealed and never made public; however, in the Black Dahlia case, some of the Grand Jury investigation material inadvertently became accessible in 2003 when the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office established its archives and opened up to researchers some of its files on notable twentieth century criminal cases. Among these files was a portion of Grand Jury investigator Frank B. Jemison’s file on the murder of Elizabeth Short. This unintentional disclosure of Grand Jury proceedings and testimony proved to be a windfall of new information that had been hidden from the public for more than half a century.

In speaking to a former file clerk who handled the assembly of the files for the archive, I learned there had originally been sixty-five file boxes of accumulated Black Dahlia investigative material, which included the files for the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department, and the District Attorney’s Office. The file clerk recalled that the sixty-five boxes were culled through in the early months of 2002 and reduced to thirty-five boxes, which remain in the LAPD warehouse. But two file boxes involving Jemison’s 1949 Grand Jury investigation into the Black Dahlia case were among those placed in the archives of historical criminal cases at the D.A.’s office (267-8).
Some of the material found in Elizabeth Short’s lost luggage by the Examiner was returned to [her mother] Phoebe Short, but many of the photos of Elizabeth ended up in the Examiner Archive, which was donated to the Special Collections Department of the University of Southern California in 1988. Most of these photos vanished from the USC Library in the early 1990s and were eventually auctioned off on eBay in 2002 (footnote 6, 86).
Some of the images of her in the book cited the Medford Historical Society because she grew up in Medford, Massachusetts; the Delmar Watson Archives, the LA-based new photographer; and UCLA Department of Special Collections/John Gilmore Collection. Gilmore has written about the Black Dahlia, and the collection has an fascinating finding aid.

I also found an article about the Black Dahlia being the most-researched topic of the USC collection.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Digital Image Banks

Historical photographic collections in archives, libraries, and museums have been influenced by the two billion dollar a year global stock photography industry. The images, used in marketing, advertising, editorials, multimedia products, and websites, are filed at an agency that negotiates licensing fees on the photographer’s behalf in exchange for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright. Pricing is determined by size of audience or readership, how long the image is to be used, country or region where the images will be used, and whether royalties are due to the image creator or owner. The images are generic and decontextualized with flat, rich color and blank backgrounds, acting as “the wallpaper of consumer culture” (Frosh 2003, 1). Image banks “distort the nature of the imagery, treating them as if photography were a kind of universal Esperanto” (Ritchen 1999, 90). Cartier-Bresson notes that an image bank “will never match the work of an author. On one side is a machine: on the other is a living and sensitive being” (Dorfman 2002, 60).

Getty Images and Corbis, the two largest digital image banks, represent 70% of the images used in advertising and marketing (Frosh 2003). Getty Images was co-founded by Jonathan Klein and Mark Getty, grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Corbis is owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. In some countries, Getty’s 25% market share would be considered illegal (Machin 2004). Machin (2004) writes that stock photography companies are changing visual perceptions of “the photograph as witness, as record of reality, to one which emphasizes photography as a symbolic system and the photograph as an element of layout design, rather than as an image which can stand on its own” (319). He continues:
We should be concerned about the effect of this increasingly stylized and predictable world on audience expectations of what the visual representation of the world should look like. We should be concerned about the fact that we no longer flinch when we see a posed, processed, stylized, colour-enhanced, National Geographic image of a woman and child taken from Getty and placed on a page in The Guardian for a documentary feature on the Kashmir conflict (335).
More worrisome for information professionals is the fact that image banks have also acquired historic photographic archives. Getty contains the Eastman Kodak Image Bank, the Hulton Picture archives, and the National Geographic image collection, among others (Ramamurthy 2009). Corbis absorbed the Sigmund Freud archives and the photo archives of UPI, the defunct news wire service (Aalto 2008; Dorfman 2002). It also bought the Bettmann Archive in 1995, which contains more than 16 million photographs, one of the world’s largest private depository of images. Batchen (2001) notes that many of the images owned by Corbis are historically significant:
Remember Malcolm X pointing out over his crowd of listeners, the airship Hindenburg exploding in the New Jersey sky, that naked Vietnamese child running toward us after being burned by napalm, Churchill flashing his V-for-victory sign, Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Patty Hearst posing with her gun in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army banner, LBJ being sworn into office aboard Air Force One beside a blood-spattering Jackie? Corbis offers to lease us electronic versions of them all. It offers to sell us, in other words, the ability to reproduce our memories of our own culture, and therefore of ourselves (150).
Corbis has digitized only the previously top best-selling 225,000 images. The rest are stored in an Iron Mountain underground cold storage facility, inaccessible to researchers. Lister (2009) notes that, “In these processes of acquisition and selection a kind of digital ‘editing of history’ is at stake” (344). By neither digitizing images nor making them accessible for research, scholars are deprived from the cultural heritage of visual records.

Works Cited

Aalto, B. (2008). Industry in transition. Applied Arts 23(2), 10.

Batchen, G. (2001). Each wild idea: Writing, photography, history. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dorfman, J. (July/August 2002). Digital dangers: The new forces that threaten photojournalism. Columbia Journalism Review 60-63.

Frosh, P. (2003). The image factory: Consumer culture, photography and the visual content industry. New York: Berg.

Lister, M. (2009). Photography in the age of electronic imaging. In L. Wells (Ed.), Photography: A critical introduction. (pp. 311-344). London: Routledge.

Machin, D. (2004). Building the world’s visual language: The increasing global importance of image banks in corporate media. Visual Communication 3(3), 316-336.

Ramamurthy, A. (2009). Spectacles and illusions: Photography and commodity culture. In L. Wells (Ed.), Photography: A critical introduction. (pp. 205-256). London: Routledge.

Ritchen, F. (1999). In our own image: The coming revolution in photography. New York: Aperture.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Art of the Steal

Does a film continue to pop up in your Netflix recommendations, but you ignore it, only to find out later what you had been missing all that time? Nearing (hopefully) the end of a week long illness and bored out of my ever loving mind, I finally decided to watch The Art of the Steal. Wowza! While I've been trained in the library and archival sciences, I'm a novice to museum culture and am turned off by the elitism that exists in the art world. While the film took an obvious point of view (with many points I will research further), what struck me as an archivist was Barnes' will which had stipulations that seemed to be restrictive, unsustainable, and unrealistic. Is anti-elitism an elitism in itself? Watch the movie and decide for yourself.

Here's the film's synopsis:

An un-missable look at one of the art world's most fascinating controversies and a celebrated selection of the Toronto, New York and AFI Film Festivals, Don Argott's gripping documentary THE ART OF THE STEAL chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of art valued at more than $25 billion.

In 1922, Dr. Albert C. Barnes formed a remarkable educational institution around his priceless collection of art, located just five miles outside of Philadelphia. Now, more than 50 years after Barnes' death, a powerful group of moneyed interests have gone to court for control of the art, and intend to bring it to a new museum in Philadelphia. Standing in their way is a group of Barnes' former students and his will, which contains strict instructions stating the Foundation should always be an educational institution, and that the paintings may never be removed. Will they succeed, or will a man's will be broken and one of America's greatest cultural monuments be destroyed?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cataloging Digital Documents

A recent story on "All Things Considered" discussed how information professionals describe digital documents. According to NPR:
This week, Maya Angelou turned over a large trove of personal papers to the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The collection includes many handwritten notes, drafts and letters. Nowadays, though, so much writing is done on computers rather than on paper; correspondence is done over email rather than through the postal service. To talk about how archivists deal with this shift toward digital documents, Michele Norris talks with Richard Oram, associate director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Listen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review of The Thread that Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders

The Thread that Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders

My review of The Thread that Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders by Pamela Train Leutz (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2009).
Published in College & Research Libraries, November 2010.

In The Thread That Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders, Pamela Train Leutz interviews 21 “independent bookbinders in private practice: general bookbinders, book conservators, book restorers, book artists, designer bookbinders, edition bookbinders, and box-makers,” exploring their training and their work (1). Preeminent representatives of the field include Catherine Burkhard, Jim Croft, Tim Ely, Gabrielle Fox, Peter Geraty, Don Glaister, Karen Hanmer, Craig Jensen, Scott Kellar, Daniel Kelm, Monique Lallier, Frank Lehmann, William Minter, Tini Miura, Eleanore Ramsey, Don Rash, Sol Rebora, Jan Sobota, Priscilla Spitler, and Cris Clair Takacs, with a special interview with internationally recognized conservator and “bookbinding father figure” Don Etherington (313). Leutz, a binder, book arts teacher, and college administrator, conducted interviews from 2004 to 2008 with bookbinders across the country, as well as overseas. She writes, “Each independent bookbinder has a ‘story’—significant, fascinating and unique, that revels the path that unfolded, leading them to bookbinding and sustaining them as they continue their craft” (1).

Viewing book workers as “mechanics, engineers, designers, craftspeople [requiring] imagination, creativity, intelligence, problem solving, and passion,” the book evolved out of Leutz’s curiosity about becoming a bookbinder in private practice (321). Her focus is not on the technical aspects of their craft, but on their character and perspectives; their training, skills, career paths; and the pros and cons of business. As the author states, she “wanted to know about the people themselves and the lives they led….I also wanted to see where they worked, to get a fuller sense of their lives—and to record my images and impressions as I interacted with these people and their work” (2). The interviews begin with an introduction of the binders and their qualifications, followed by a question and answer interview format. The book includes photographs of the studios, as well as the bookbinders themselves.

A common thread throughout the interviews is how to run your own business, and the book, through an assortment of voices, offers examples of a plethora of successful methods. The binders are diverse, employing a range of cultivated skills and experience. For example, conserving historic manuscripts requires knowledge about the chemistry of leather, wood, and paper, and the ornamentation of different eras. Bookbinding “requires the synergy of painting, drawing, and other fabrication techniques as well as a lot of referencing to arcane source material,” notes Tim Ely, who creates single-copy handmade books as art objects (47). The interviewees discovered specialized facets of bookbinding to explore their interests and abilities, ranging from edition binding to artist books, design binding, restoration, book repair, teaching, and conservation. Their training includes self-education, informal and formal apprenticeships, international training, workshops, graduate school, and often a combination of all of these. Despite their disparate backgrounds, the binders share an interest in lifelong learning and a passion for working with the highest standards as possible. Leutz notes, “Bookbinders are interconnected, almost like a family tree, through their training, work, collaboration, or friendships” (322).

Not surprisingly, the economic aspect of private practice is explored thoroughly, and this is the book’s strength. As binder and conservator Don Rash reveals, “What makes a good bookbinder doesn’t necessarily make a good businessperson” (197). In the final Reflections section, Leutz writes, “The majority of [the interviewees] voiced their frustration about feeling unable to charge a fair wage for their work. Unlike a plumber who charges per hour at the end of the job, a bookbinder is usually expected to give a firm price up front. The need to do extra work is often not discovered until a book is disassembled or the unique structure of a book is begun” (321). Frank Lehmann, a San Diego-based physicist-turned-binder, states, “If you are going to make a living off of bookbinding, you have to charge a decent hourly rate….I should be making a higher hourly rate than my car mechanic (who is very good). I have a lot more training than he does, and there are a lot fewer of me than there are of him....The craft of bookbinding is hurting itself by undervaluing its work” (37-38). Catherine Burkhard, a Dallas-based binder specializing in rebinding and restoring bibles, notes, “The money part of it is the bottom line. You can’t just set up shop with a needle and thread and a bonefolder; there is bookkeeping involved” (149). Throughout the interviews, advice about how to price work is given, a vital subject if hand bookbinding is to survive in contemporary society.

The Thread That Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders is an excellent book for those considering entering the bookbinding field and into private practice, specifically, and serves as “a testament to the continued life of the artist/craftsman” (323). Due to its specialized subject, the book may have limited appeal to a general audience. However, the book elevates the status of those in private practice by documenting common pleasures and obstacles. The interviewees emphasized that with dedication, sacrifice, and luck, it is possible to make a living in the tentative world of private practice, “a life of hard work and perseverance [holding] the risk of uncertain finances” (1). Not surprisingly, unbounded copies of The Thread That Binds are also available; as of this writing, two exhibitions are scheduled to display innovative, one-of-a-kind bindings of the book.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Forgotten Bookmarks

Forgotten Bookmarks
The introduction for Forgotten Bookmarks states, "I work at a used and rare bookstore, and I buy books from people everday. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird thigns I find in those books." I love this site!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Joan Rivers Organizes Her Jokes

This clip from the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work displays two ways that Rivers organizes her jokes: a card catalog and binders. Imagine creating a finding aid for this joke collection--just look at the categories on the cabinets!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bookmans Does Book Dominoes

Arizona-based used bookstore Bookmans created this cheeky viral ad using used books to create a domino run!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book of Photography from the Set of Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver
TASCHEN has released a book of images from Taxi Driver, my favorite movie!

From the TASCHEN website: Taxi Driver has long been regarded as a cinematic milestone, and Robert DeNiro's portrait of a trigger-happy psychopath with a mohawk is widely believed to be one of the greatest performances ever filmed. Time magazine includes the film in its list of 100 Greatest Movies, saying: "The power of Scorsese's filmmaking grows ever more punishing with the passage of time."

Steve Schapiro—whose photographs were featured in TASCHEN's Godfather Family Album—was the special photographer on the set of Taxi Driver, capturing the film's most intense and violent moments from behind the scenes. This book—more than a film still book but a pure photo book on its own—features hundreds of unseen images selected from Schapiro's archives, painting a chilling portrait of a deranged gunman in the angry climate of the post-Vietnam era.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Of Dolls and Murder Documentary Film Trailer

From the video description: "Of Dolls and Murder explores a haunting collection of dollhouse crime scenes and our universal fascination with murder. From CSI and real-life forensics, to the Body Farm and a crime fighting granny, John Waters narrates this tiny world of big time murder."

It's a documentary about the The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which I wrote about previously here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Things Organized Neatly

Marianne Vierø — Out of Order #1. Sunbleached library books mounted on a wall.
Marianne Vierø — Out of Order #1. Sunbleached library books mounted on a wall.
I've fallen in love with the tumblr blog Things Organized Neatly.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review of Forgotten Patriots—African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources and Studies

Forgotten Patriots—African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources and Studies

My review of Forgotten Patriots—African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources and Studies. Edited by Eric G. Grundset. (Washington, DC: National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 2008).
Published in College & Research Libraries, July 2010.

Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources and Studies hopes to inspire in readers an interest in African American, American Indian, and mixed descent soldiers in the fight for Independence, as well as the work of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). DAR booklets on the subject led to the first edition in 2001. Seven years later, this 872-page tome expands the list of soldiers and sailors five-fold to 6,600 names.

The book defines the perimeters of military service from the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 to the final evacuation of the British from New York City on November 26, 1783. The Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware chapters include sections on notable minorities preceding the conflict during the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.

Following an introduction that provides context and explains documentation challenges, the book organizes its findings into chapters that include historical commentaries, maps, illustrations, sources, patriot names, and bibliographies. Chapters focus on Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. A chapter entitled the Old Northwest is comprised of Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio. Additional chapters cover miscellaneous naval and military records, foreign allies, and the West Indies.

Seven appendices include a map of the slave population based on the 1790 census, Documenting the Color of Participants in the American Revolution, Names as Clues to Finding Forgotten Patriots, the Numbers of Minority Participants in the Revolution, a glossary, a master list of source abbreviations, and DAR contact information.

Copies of original documents from the National Archives and Records Administration provide readers with examples of various types of papers useful in research endeavors. However, the grayscale reproductions are hard to read due to their size, condition, and handwriting. While some documents include captions, transcriptions would have also been helpful.

Forgotten Patriots notes that the list of patriot names may be open to interpretation because racial terminology and meaning has changed over time. Description information is inconsistent, even within the same document, while some states like Maryland and Virginia did not record racial data. Other states, like New York, lost records of this period after natural disasters. Often the examination of private, local, state, and federal archives, as well as census records from 1790 to 1830 helped identify race. Decisions on minority ethnic background were based on a combination of name analysis, military occupation, and rank.

Names of clear African or Native American derivation were often a clue to ethnic background. The use of classical (i.e. Roman or Greek) or literary names for enslaved people was common and distinct from the traditional English or Biblical names of those of European descent. However, using names alone as an indicator of race was problematic. For example, a source lists Africa Hamlin of Pembroke, Massachusetts as a possible African American soldier; later research revealed that he was of European descent and had siblings named Asia, Europe, and America.

The book concentrates on groups defined as African American, American Indian, or “mixed descent” with descriptors such as “mulatto” or “mustee.” Others with African, Spanish, Portuguese, Azorean, Latin American, or mixed ancestry are also included because their names are indicators of African ancestry. The book provides additional terms, such “Negro,” “free,” or “black complexion,” to illustrate how an individual was described in eighteenth-century records. American Indian nations are included when specified. The editor states that a major challenge was that “while there are copious examples where a written description suggests a possible minority patriot when in fact subsequent research proves otherwise, it is much more difficult to identify a minority patriot whose description is devoid of any mention of color and whose name suggests European decadency.…It is well documented that by 1700, individuals of African descent had a presence in virtually every European country, often with names reflective of the local populace” (iv).

This complexity is illustrated with the records of Massachusetts, the most comprehensive state in identifying African American and American Indian soldiers, due to naming conventions and the 17 volume series Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. Even with this comprehensive information, the Massachusetts chapter provides a separate section for men listed with “brown complexions” who were found to be white after further research. The editor explains, “The use of specific colors to describe an individual is usually the observation of a ‘white’ man describing another man and trying to create distinctions between individuals. Because specific and designated terms such as ‘Negro,’ ‘mulatto,’ ‘mustee,’ ‘black man,’ etc., were used to describe individuals of African descent or partial African descent, the use of terms such as ‘ruddy,’ ‘sandy,’ ‘light,’ ‘dark,’ etc. usually refers to someone of European descent in an attempt to describe better then variations in skin tone lumped together by some as ‘white’” (138).

The biggest drawback of the book is its lack of copyediting. Its formatting and spelling errors makes one wonder if the list of patriots could be filled with inaccuracies as well.

Despite this, Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources and Studies offers comprehensive information unmatched by other publications. It is recommended for libraries that serve genealogists, especially those interested in the contributions of African Americans and American Indians in the fight for Independence. The book’s low price, especially for a colossal hardcover, also allows family historians to purchase the volume for personal use and a starting point for research.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review of Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice

Archives Power

My review of Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice by Randall C. Jimerson. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2009).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(4), July 2010.

In Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice, Jimerson, past president of the Society of American Archivists and director of the Graduate Program in Archives and Records Management, Western Washington University, analyzes the influence that archives and archivists wield in contemporary society. He states that archival records “convey essential meanings about people’s lives, hopes, and aspirations, as well as the complex networks of agreements and connections that link humanity together in societal systems. This gives archives, and those who select and manage them, primal powers in society….Yet it is a power often unrecognized by most members of society, who do not see or understand the role archivists play in the contested realms of power distribution and control” (133, 140).

Grounded in historical and cultural theory, the book situates archivists as agents of social memory construction, rather than passive curators. The concept of archives as a location of social values emerges when studying the historical development of American archives, but his observations are universally applicable. He writes, “The American people have always had an ambivalent relationship to their history and to archives. Founded in part on the notion of escape from the shackles of European traditions and with the vision of being a ‘city on the hill’ for a utopian new world, the United States has often been future-oriented and indifferent to the past” (80).

Incorporating the published writings of literary figures and scholars in many disciplines, such as Milan Kundera, Nelson Mandela, and George Orwell, Jimerson calls for a renewed emphasis on archives as a means of securing accountability, open government, social justice, and diversity and identity. He provides a history of literacy, documents, records, record-keeping systems, and repositories and traces the development of the archival profession. Many of the current issues archivists face have been ones that they have grappled with since the 1930s: creating an archival identity, debating ethics, and promoting the profession to stakeholders and society.

Jimerson urges archivists to abandon their positivist rhetoric of neutrality and embrace the authority of records to promote social responsibility and democratic accountability. He writes, “Archives provide a forum to recognize and legitimize the role of disfranchised groups in society….By acknowledging and overcoming the tendencies toward privileging the records of powerful groups in society, archivists can provide a more balanced perspective on the past” (217, 232). The challenge is to make “the documentary record more complete than it has been, not to make it absolutely complete and flawless” by “fill[ing] in the gaps, to ensure that documentation is created where it is missing, and to address the needs of those outside the societal power structures” (298, 303).

Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice is highly recommended for information professionals who select, preserve, and ensure access to records of enduring value, as well as others interested in protecting social memory, cultural history, and the documentation of the human condition for future generations. Readers should also follow the lively discussion amongst archivists who participated in a virtual reading group of the book at

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review of Digital Images for the Information Professional

Digital Images for the Information Professional

My review of Digital Images for the Information Professional by Melissa M. Terras (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008).
Published by Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, 6(1/2) Winter/Spring 2010.

In Digital Images for the Information Professional, Melissa Terras, Senior Lecturer in Electronic Communication, University College London, surveys the history, technology, and changing information environment of digital images, providing a thorough framework for implementing, sustaining, and making accessible digitized resources for an audience of information professionals, defined as library, archives, museum, or cultural heritage institution workers who maintain and improve access to information.

Initial chapters provide a foundation for subjects addressed in succeeding chapters. Topics include the genesis and development of digital imaging and technologies, file formats, and the fundamentals of digital images, such as pixels, resolution, bit-depth, image size, and compression.

The chapter on image metadata discusses how “good, detailed, systematic and consistent descriptions of [image] contents and provenance is required” to aid access, track legal rights, and facilitate long-term preservation (163). Terras writes, “Creating and maintaining metadata [is] time-consuming and costly, and a tension exists between the two metadata functions of discovery aid and resource description: metadata creators have to provide enough information to be useful, but cannot afford to be exhaustive” (166). Folksonomies, or “unstructured, un-policied, non-hierarchical and unchecked” tagging by users, may improve image retrieval when paired with a metadata scheme and structured vocabulary, but cannot replace skilled description by information professionals (180).

The book’s ne plus ultra are the chapters “Digital Images and Memory Institutions,” which presents an overview of digitization initiatives for the information, culture, and heritage sectors with suggested guidelines and standards, and “Personal Digital Image Collections,” which discusses the use of digital imaging technologies by everyday people. At first, the latter chapter seems unrelated to the former, but the plethora of images shared online affects how they are organized and retrieved in archives, libraries, and museums. Terras advises that memory institutions “had better keep abreast of how the general public are using imaging technologies outside their own offerings to be well used,” because large scale digitization is “a self-promoting vehicle: the more that is provided, the more the resource is used, and the higher the demand for other resources of high quality” (159, 123). The author also explores the role that information professionals may have in educating the public about the future viability of their personal digital image collections.

The concluding chapter examines current issues in digital imaging: color, quality, copyright, sustainability, and “truth and the digital image,” or digital image manipulation. For the information professional, the concern is not so much deliberate adjustments, but alterations in the production process, such as resizing, format changes, or compression.

Digital Images for the Information Professional is not intended to elucidate the execution of a digitization project, but to supply the knowledge necessary to do so successfully. Information professionals, as well as others interested in digital images, will find it an instructive, comprehensive read, as it clarifies complex issues and contains suggestions for further reading. As Terras writes in the preface, “This is the book I wish someone else had written for me” (ix). As a visual collection professional, I am thankful that Terras penned this book—one of the best on the subject that I have encountered.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review of Information Technology in Librarianship: New Critical Approaches

Information Technology in Librarianship: New Critical Approaches

My review of Information Technology in Librarianship: New Critical Approaches by Gloria J. Leckie and John Buschman (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2009).
Published in New Library World, 111(1/2), 2010.

In Information Technology in Librarianship: New Critical Approaches, editors Gloria J. Leckie, Professor of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario, and John E. Buschman, Associate University Librarian, Georgetown University, urge librarianship to advance critical scholarship about technology. Since the first edition's publication 15 years ago, technology, critical analysis, and the understanding of the socio-cultural and economic issues of information technology have evolved considerably. This new edition remedies technology's zealous implementation, which imperils librarianship and libraries.

The book correlates germane critical approaches: capital control of technology; rationalization, control, and monitoring; the information revolution as ideology; feminist critiques of technology; technological utopianism; and technology, politics, and the public sphere. The first section, “Foundations,” imparts metalevel critical analysis of technology, written by scholars in communications, education, and related fields. The second part, “Applications,” authored by academic librarians and information science professors, examines the relationship between technology and libraries from macrolevels and microlevels.

The editors ask, “Why new critical approaches now?” (p. 2). In their introductory essay, they write, “the juggernaut of technology has in no way been halted,” and a critical approach is required “in the face of the social and economic juggernaut that IT is – both in society and in libraries” (p. 2; p. 21). Further, “the grounds for critique need renewing, the reasons for critique need reminding, and alternative perspectives on our library technological juggernauts need to be renewed” (p. 3). “Juggernaut” is an illuminating choice, derived from the Sanskrit Jagannāth, an idol of Krishna drawn on a giant cart under whose inexorable wheels devotees threw themselves.

Critical theory, in this context, is equally negative, arising from the Frankfort School, and subsequently, Habermas. In “Critical theory of technology: an overview,” Andrew Feenberg writes that “Technology is a two-sided phenomenon: on the one hand the operator, on the other the object” so that technical action is an exercise of power (p. 32). Using Marxian analysis and instrumentalization theory, the belief that technology must be analyzed at two levels: the original functional relation to reality and design and implementation, Feenberg demonstrates how technology is simplified and deworlded, yet incorporated as if it was a natural element.

Roma Harris, in “‘Their little bit of ground slowly squashed into nothing’: technology, gender, and the vanishing librarian,” believes that librarians are unrecognized for their complex work and their application of sophisticated
technologies because they are traditionally female. She writes, “In view of the heightened importance now attached to the term information, public uncertainty about the value of librarians' work seems ironic given that librarianship is the original information profession” (p. 165). She implores the reclamation of librarianship's rightful position as the leader of the information sector.

With essays ranging from open source software, information retrieval, surveillance, and digital preservation to autonomous Marxism and techno-capital, literacies and education, and library-state relations, Information Technology in Librarianship: New Critical Approaches will interest librarians, as well as those in government, industry, research, and education. Unless librarians contribute to the intellectual debate about information technology, society will be jeopardized. The question remains, will librarianship hurl itself under technology's wheels to be crushed to oblivion?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best part of the Helvetica documentary, period.

I just finished watching Helvetica, about the widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 in Switzerland, and I think I've fallen in love with graphic designer Michael Bierut.