collection development

Library Journal Review of Tastemaker

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My newest review for Library Journal’s Book Verdict has been published in their February 01, 2014 issue.

The review examines Edward White’s new biographical writing, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America, on Carl Van Vechten, NYC novelist and arts promoter.

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(please click on the above image to see the review site)

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

Library Journal Review of Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays

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My newest review has been published by Library Journal.

This one is on the writings of Erich Auerbach, romance philologist, literary critic and historian. The text was edited by James I. Porter with translations from the German by Jane O. Newman.

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(click on the image to see the 06 Dec 2013 review list please)

From the review: “Auerbach (1892–1957), German critic, literary historian, and romance philologist, promoted the idea of the national spirit in literature and ruffled some feathers by stating that all scholars in the arts and humanities are only writing history in their respective fields…”

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

I welcome comments on the book or the review here or at Twitter.

Library Journal Review of Herman and Weisenburger’s Gravity’s Rainbow Analysis

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My newest review for Library Journal has been published. This starred review looks at Luc Herman’s and Steve Weisenburger’s analysis of Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow from the point of view of theorists and ideas prevalent in the Long Sixties. Their book is called, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom, and is forthcoming from University of Georgia Press.

I am always challenged reading Thomas Pynchon, critical approaches to his work and appreciated the opportunity to review this book. Thank you Library Journal.

GRdomfreedom(Please click on book-cover thumbnail above to get the review from Library Journal)

Depths of the Phantom Library

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Depths of the Phantom Library:

Jacques Bonnet Reaches for the Unreachable.

Jacques Bonnet writes in, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, of a vast library. No, not the Borgesian library of “The Library of Babel” or “The Book of Sand,” but a personal library he has collected for his own use – some 40,000 + volumes. Massive. I am a fan generally of books describing avid readers and collectors (though I am mostly of the first type) – books such as that fabulous pair of titles by Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude.

PTBookshelves.Bonnet.cover.accesed18August2013I have been recently rereading Jacques Bonnet’s book. In my progress through that book, I also found this essay/review piece of writing by Alonzo McBride called, “Phantoms and Personal Libraries,” which made stylistic sense to me and by acknowledging the metaphor of books and libraries as phantoms, I thought it perfectly appropriate to bring to light the essay and the book again. In a previous post of mine, I mentioned a quote setting up Bonnet’s premise of the blurred line between what makes a personal library and an institutional library.

The quote is, ““…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).

 The library is a cultural heritage space as much as it is a personal heritage space. Sometimes these spaces are the same in space and sometimes they are not. The focus for Jacques Bonnet’s book is the personal library as memory collector for his own life. Even with that “narrow” focus, the book tackles nearly every issue institutional libraries must tackle except maybe ones related to archival technology such as finding aids or physical handling best practices, code such as XML and its publication on the web with CSS or anything having to do with web archiving. Bonnet certainly brings up the internet as it relates to text encoding, information searching, book buying experiences and the like. And in this humble blogger’s opinion, all the above technical services could be extrapolated to take account of Bonnet’s collection. Or…he could reissue the book with all the ways be built a homegrown OPAC for his personal use. 😉

Specifically, Bonnet discusses issues of categorization (the eternal question). He mentions the French OULIPO writer, Georges Perec, when he makes his “brave attempt at listing the possible methods of classifying one’s books: “alphabetically; by continent or country; by colour; by date of acquisition; by date of publication; by size; by genre; by literary period; by language; by frequency of consultation; by binding; by series” (37). One sees from this list how several of the categorization headings would be preferred by a person over an institution – “by date of acquisition” as the best example. Yet, even this category system applies to libraries that have a “recently arrived” or “new” section to encourage library users to catch up on what’s current. Except, even this classification does take into account the difference between newly acquired due to recent publication or newly acquired due to replacement for damage etc. Some of the other categories (which obviously fails to take into account anything like LC Classification or Universal Dewey) are well suited for research libraries – such as “by literary period” or even “binding” in a rare books special collection. The largest flaw, however, in Perec’s classification is the total lack of subject access (which has to be the single most challenging classification of them all) – though some of the other categories work with subject access.

Bonnet does bring to light one aspect of his own classification I will write as ABSTRACT vs. CONCRETE (102-103). In the first he puts subjects such as theology, religion, philosophy, literary topics and science. It is interesting he defines “science” as abstract instead of concrete. In the second category he drops in history, anthropology, biography and documents (though it is not clear to what this term applies). One can appreciate the presuppositions necessary to refer to one subject as abstract and another as concrete even though both may be examples of humans thinking and writing their words. I recommend everyone reading this also go out and take a look at the subdivisions within Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Dewey, and thesauri such as the one for art and architecture published by Getty by first examining the depth and granularity of each system within its own rules and then by looking through World Cat and Library of Congress catalog records.

I fully understand Bonnet’s book is personal – not designed to be an institutional best standard for understanding large collections. But even from this personal point of view, it is not without meaning (I recommend this book be on the curriculum for all ischools). Other examples of meaning come through his acknowledgment of the internet’s impact on not just information as a whole as it relates to libraries, but also the procedures by which a person or institution acquires new materials – scaled digital content in the form of periodicals searchable through aggregation technologies or the purchasing of new print items such as monographs from academic presses (though he talks about how collectors use the internet to search for titles unavailable locally).

The truth is the book is simply pleasurable to read. And it asks the same questions all libraries ask themselves: how long should a title be kept in a research collection (or a public library) if it circulates infrequently?; how does one best use space limitations (of which every library has a few struggles as such)?; and what happens in the event of the death of the collector or a fire in the library?

Bonnet includes a quote by Petite Larousse (a lexicon) of the term, “fantôme [phantom]” – a sheet or card inserted to mark the place of a book removed from a library shelf, or a document which has been removed” (110).

The remainder of what was there before… What was there before? Was it a resource that got weeded from the collection? Was it a library that became underfunded over time? Was it a trace of an object that was reformatted as a digital object available on the open web or behind a subscription pay-wall? Something is missing. For Bonnet, even if he chooses, as do so many other librarians (personal and institutional), not to lend any out any items from his collection, the fundamental missing feature among such ideas as not having time to read every book in the library, not having enough shelf space to best hold each item and not having a perfect classification system of either knowledge or objects is lack of total control of the library. The library, as the first quite implies, is made of a river of occurrences that enter and exit the way time and life itself enters and exits at varied and uncertain rates. I would say Jacques Bonnet’s fun little book for book geeks revels in, and still tries to make sense from, the powerful uncertainty in this world.

One must be willing to change as the collection itself changes.

The question arises then if anyone will be able to insert a fantôme in every changing moment life as it changes into something else so we’ll be reminded of what used to be.

Thank you for reading.
Jesse L.
Twitter: @jltaglich

Reference: Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.

Freedom to Read to Freedom to Read at #ALA2013

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My experience at the 2013 American Library Association conference & exhibition began before the official beginning by joining a Freedom to Read Foundation committee meeting and concluded with a variation on the theme via a Q & A on an important piece of rebel “science-fiction” writing.

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In between, I headed into meetings considering the value of education (whether it accomplishes its goals and its ROI), how to work out licensing for research data between research university libraries; we pondered the notion of classroom education vs project-based learning; I learned about a fantastic nonprofit created to link arts conversations to library programing (playing around with the idea of programming as collection development); I learned of public libraries dropping Dewey in their nonfiction sections for eye-readable language-based subject headings favouring the casual browser (logical within the assumption of the browser but not helpful to research-minded library patrons); and enjoyed a lively Q & A on privacy, surveillance and the NSA.

There were plenty more sessions attended by yours truly. I could write an essay on my experience. But here I will restrict my word-count to a relatively blog friendly number.

I wrote in the first paragraph my #ALA2013 experience was sandwiched by intellectual freedom themes…Well, my concluding session was a fascinating learning experience tied to an examination and appreciation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In this discussion we talked about banned books, a recent motion in a small town in Texas to remove the book from school reading lists and I learned the FBI investigated Ray Bradbury for eight years and for another six years only an expurgated version of F. 451 was in print. It was a pleasurable and engaging discourse on intellectual freedom – an abstraction Ray Bradbury referred to as “creative freedom.” Certainly, a theme of creative freedom can be found in library/learning conversations as a whole.

Don’t be afraid to bring up your own #ala2013 experiences or unifying themes. The more themes the merrier. Bring your ideas into the conversation below in the reply box or @Twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed.

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Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning

Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533

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One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.

TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.

Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.

How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.

A strength indeed.

*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.

PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.

Collecting for Library Use – A Wonder

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In terms of topic oriented collecting, where does one topic stop and another begin? Can we define this line? Is a library, public of academic, supposed to collect all publications by a popular fiction author? Or must we think of this as excessive? If we collect all of an author’s published works, do we also decide to collect monographs on said author? And what about books that might be defined as relevant to understanding context to that author’s works or writing space? And we have not even considered all formats relevant to each topic. Questions abound in library collection development

I have no answers here. The above link to Wikipedia is for dialogue purposes only. I just mean to invite conversation. Please weigh in. I welcome comments here  (moderated) or @ Twitter.

Thank you much.
There will be more in the future.