FtPA: A Library Without Librarians?

There is some writing from my previous degrees with which I am sufficiently happy that I might share it in a From the Personal Archives series any month I don’t run the Revisiting series. This one comes from the same class as my essay on the universal library’s myriad problems, Dr. Richard Arias-Hernandez’s Fall 2014 course on Digital Libraries at the University of British Columbia iSchool. This time, I was to take a look at a digital library’s workflow and metadata standards and I decided to look at the Marxists Internet Archive as an exercise in connecting library practice with ideological and institutional constraints.


Source: Claremont Colleges Digital Library (not the subject of this post) at flic.kr/p/dAAHZ5

A Library without Librarians?: The Marxist Internet Archive’s Policies and Standards

The Marxist Internet Archive collects texts, and fragments of texts, from writers who have had some impact on Marxist, communist, socialist, and allied movements. Most of these texts are simple HTML documents viewed directly in a web browser; a number of them are available for download in other formats, most commonly pdf but also in prc, mobi, epub, and odt. Most, but not all, documents have a set of metadata, which the Archive presents in a standard way but which do not always contain the same fields: fields might include when the text was written, when it was first published, the source, who transcribed the text, who proofread the text, who applied HTML markup, and so on. Although the scope appears to be fairly well-defined as original texts or text fragments by Marxist, communist, socialist, or anarchist thinkers, a few scientific and feminist documents are also in the collection with little or insubstantial explanation.

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Revisiting: Comments as a New Agora?

Every third Saturday of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted old blogs or tumblogs to help readers get to know me better. This month I am posting “Comments as a New Agora?” from Learning to Read the Internet, in which I think about the technical constraints on using comments for public dialogue. Of course there are other factors involved, including issues of human psychology and of public education, but I felt somewhat capable talking about technical affordances. Biographical information mentioned in this post may be out of date.

Comments as a New Agora?

Here’s an idea: on social media, librarians could provide opportunities for conversations rather than take part in them.

The Problem with YouTube Comments

Screenshot of a Khan Academy YouTube video comments section.

Screenshot of a Khan Academy YouTube video comments section.

As I mentioned in my CV, I am studying YouTube comments as a research assistant to Eric Meyers. One thing I’ve learned is that YouTube’s comments space does not have many affordances: it lacks easy navigation, it has fewer sorting options, and so on. For this reason, it can be difficult to have a conversation in the YouTube comments. This is something Eric found in his research before I came aboard: there isn’t much discussion in the comments, and what discussion there is tends to be an entrenched argument between two participants. There aren’t many rich conversations.

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Collected Selves and Bookshelves’ Identities

In response to my “Collection as Identity” post, I received a few questions.

A woman reads in front of bookshelves, with her book mostly obscuring her face.

Source: LollyKnit at flic.kr/p/4Qb8dX

First, from a fellow graduate from SLAIS: is there any aspect to identity which cannot be imagined as a collection?

Second, from my mother: what about bookshelves or other collections that are put together by a group? Do individual circles intersect in this case? I presume she was thinking about a household or a lineage or a similar set of people here. After all, the photograph for the post was from a bookshelf in her home, with books chosen by various family members (including me).

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The Digital Library in the Ashes of Alexandria: What Good is a Universal Library?

For a course in Digital Libraries with Professor Richard Arias-Hernandez, on 6 November 2014, I submitted an essay about the dream of a universal library: a collection containing one copy of each work.

Stacks in the Library of Alexandria.

Source: Vicky Charitopoulou at flic.kr/p/7mEVg5, of the current Library of Alexandria.

That essay and its sensationalist title follow:

The Digital Library in the Ashes of Alexandria: What Good is a Universal Library?

“The idea of the Internet as a universal library contains a false promise: such a library cannot exist, or if it existed, it would be chaotic and impossible to use.”
—Miroslav Kruk

Some of the more optimistic among us have dreamt of a universal library, variously imagined as a collection of all human knowledge or a collection of all human works. The earliest library to have such an aspiration was the Library of Alexandra—or, anyway, the library Alexandria is imagined to have had—but the dream has recurred throughout history, famously in Vannevar Bush’s memex and H. G. Well’s World Brain. More recently, the Internet and digital libraries have made this dream seem possible again. Yet it is almost certainly no more than a dream; as many have argued, such a library would be impossible to create, impossible to maintain, and even more impossible to use. Even if it were possible, it might not be desirable; building and maintaining that library might violate rights to intellectual property, rights to privacy, and rights to cultural integrity. Despite these challenges, the dream itself might not be misguided, so long as it remains an aspiration in balance with other goals and principles.

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Collection as Identity

While I work on a post about self-expression, face theory, and William Blake’s mythopoesis, I’d like to share another of the posts I wrote for my library class blog. It was (by my standards, anyway) more of a stub, but I’m hoping you can make some connections on your own. The themes it covers will relate to the themes in the Blake post, but not explicitly. Again, I’m hoping you can tie them together yourself.

Identity as Collection; Collection as Identity

A photo I took of a bookshelf in the home where I grew up.

A photo I took of a bookshelf in the home where I grew up.
CC 4.0 BY-SA

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Seshat and Saint Jerome


Image of Seshat, from Son of Groucho on Flickr.

Image of Seshat, from Son of Groucho on Flickr.

Ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing, Seshat’s name means she who scrivens or she who is the scribe, and her title is Mistress of the House of Books. Her priests and priestesses oversaw the library which kept the most important knowledge of ancient Egypt; that is, they were also librarians. She also became a goddess of architecture, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, architecture, and surveying, because the practitioners of these fields all relied on her particular gift: writing. Her principal sanctuary was in Heliopolis.

Seshat has no animal’s head, which makes her less visually memorable than her successor, Thoth, or the other more iconic Egyptian deities. However, she does have a few recognizable traits: she wears a cheetah or leopard hide over a dress, or a dress patterned like a cheetah or leopard; she usually holds a palm stem in which she cuts notches to mark the passage of time, or perhaps a knotted cord used to survey land; above her head appears her seven-pointed emblem, though we do not know what this symbol represents.

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What is Accidental Shelf Browsing?

Shelf browsing is the act of finding books in a library by looking through the books on the shelves without consulting the catalogue first and without looking for any book in particular. While a person might shelf browse in an entirely undirected way, people more often shelf browse parts of the library they are familiar with or in the area around the book they had come to the library to borrow in the first place. This means that shelf browsers often rely on the library’s classification system—the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress systems are most common in North America—to ensure that the books they are looking at are roughly about the sort of things they find interesting. (The term “shelf browsing” does not ordinarily have a hyphen; I have included one because I feel intuitively like there ought to be one, but also because I did not want to imply the existence of accidental shelves. That may have been a mistake.)

Accidental shelf browsing might then be what happens when you go into a library intending to check out only the one book but somehow you leave with four. That “somehow” is accidental shelf browsing. You do not always intend to shelf browse, but the book you want is buried in the midst of other books, and, well, their spines have titles on them…

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