Conference Speaking: Walt Has a Little List

I haven’t read the rest of the current Cites & Insights yet, but Walt has made a little mashup of the conference advice that he accumulated from posts by me, Rachel and Dorothea with his own added observations and notes. Since the HTML version of C&I doesn’t have links, I’ve added links to the posts he mentions here.

when public goes private: access to US National Archives costs $

The U.S. National Archive struck a deal with The good news? Lots and lots of historic documents wil be “available” in digital format for researchers, hobbyists and nerds like you and me. The bad news? For five years you are going to have to pay to access these documents online, or travel to Washington DC to view them for free. The documents also have terms of use that are onerous, annoying or just plain bizarre. More ananlysis and links about this deal at Dan Cohen’s blog.

What I am not certain of is how users accessed these documents in the pre-footnote era? Did Archive staff photocopy them and send people copies for a small fee? I’m also not entirely clear if these documents will be OCRed and available as text, or just locked up in proprietary formats and barely keyword indexed. In any case, while I understand why the Archives sees this as a savvy move, it’s bad news for citizens and sets a bad example of shifting public documents into the private sphere because we’re too broke to do the work ourselves. [del]

re: transparency

Just a “how to do it” note at the recent departure of Chris from LibraryThing. Chris posts to his blog, a little unhappy. Tim posts to the LT blog, quite professional. Space is available at LibraryThing for leaving messages about it all. Chris, you put in a lot of hard work and your dedication and skills will be missed. Tim, way to be a classy guy about it. This is a great example of how you don’t need to send out dorky “we are really looking forward to these new opportunities” press releases when something bad happens. I welcome this aspect of transparency that comes along with our new 2.0-ish world.

tl;dr, why reference and authority matter

I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t always follow through and read their links. I appreciate it when people whose opinions I trust can summarize long things for me. Sometimes I sumarize those things for other people. Tonight I am reading the twenty-four page report More on What is Going on at the Library of Congress prepared for AFSCME 2910 by Thomas Mann. You can find it linked off of this page, if you really like reading these sorts of things.

He makes a lot of interesting points that other scholarly types have been trying to make in more clunky fashion for quite some time. In short, libraries that still exist for the purpose of furthering scholarship are having a harder time doing it, both because of the shift towards electronic reources and the “it’s all on Google” mentality but also because our own institutions (LoC I am looking in your direction) seem to want to actively dismantle some of the better tools we have for organizing and accessing knowledge. I’m just pulling out a small part of this, but really you should go read the whole thing. Some people might take umbrage, but one of my favorite things about this particular presentation of the issues is that Mann really seems to have a well-researched opinion that he wants to get across without insulting anyone, having a hissyfit, or saying that other people are losers or idiots. It’s clear that he has a take on things, one that others would disagree with, but he lets his metaphors and ideas speak for themselves, even as he’s responding to people who I assume were disagreeing with his last paper on the subject.

The Continuing Need for Reference Librarians

What catalogs and portals cannot do, however, what classified bookstacks cannot do, what Internet search engines cannot do, what federated searching cannot do–these things can be done by reference librarians who, far beyond the capacity of any “under the hood programming,” are able to provide researchers with expert guidance on the full range of options available to them for their particular topics, in an intelligent sequence of use, with the best search options and sources segregated from thousands of blind alleys, dead ends, and mountains of unwanted irrelevancies.

Reference work, in other words, is not just a nice “add on” optional service; in its dual function of providing point-of-use instruction and overview classes it is integral to the efficient use of research libraries and to the promotion of scholarship in general. It cannot be replaced by “under the hood” programming improvements in library catalogs or portals, especially when such programming dumbs down multiple complex systems to a lowest common denominator of keyword searching–and also fails to search the vast arrays of resources that are not digitized at all.