On the Radio and in the Library

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On Thursday, 12 April 2012, I was on the radio (Our Digital Future) at University of California – Irvine talking about librarianship and digital aspects in the field. Very fun. I got to talk about library school and bicycle riding (and the differences in the cycling scene between the DC Metro area and Chicago (where I used to live). But I also was given the opportunity to discuss projects underway at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Some of these projects are standard preservation and patron service projects. Great stuff indeed. But the Folger is also linking data to finding aids from their Luna Insight database, in which they keep their digital objects. Folger has a huge collection of digitized objects – full books, manuscripts, letters and all kinds of other rare materials. And they have the right team of professionals as they have staff who have been on committees deciding standards for a full range of rare materials. Folger is a highly professionalized place. And right now, they have an exhibit titled: Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700 in the great Hall. 

The best resources are here to stay and somehow manage to make their presence known again and again.



A Thought on Linguistic Diversity and Classification

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I have a tendency to believe linguistic diversity is also a sign of knowledge diversity and am very frustrated with attempts to globalize knowledge into one vast pot. I point to the impact of global mass communication content and technologies, the lack of allowing the “other” to truly be and the impact of the World’s most widely used library classification system, Library of Congress Subject Headings. I am not taking a stance against The Library of Congress. I live in America and make use of their diverse resources regularly. Also, their main building is a work of architectural art. No, I question standardization of “knowledge” at the expense of diversity and questions. It seems to me that if we classify all the world’s knowledge under one system (which is not the mission statement of the Library of Congress), then we have declared globally what everything in the world is “about.” This action is accomplished by all kinds of groups around the world who write indexes to be LC compatible. But if those local knowledge resources and populations have to use another “aboutness” structure other than their own, have they not committed a kind of murder of their own knowledge system? Believe me, this is a bit scary. I am not sure that we can separate “knowledge” from “questions.” I note this point because it seems to me to state up-front what something is about has already annihilated many potential questions – and thus knowledge types. How can this tendency sit well with ongoing questioning? Somehow, I feel this happens because we are afraid of uncertainty. This is not an overshadowing fear in this context, but a fear nonetheless. Surely it is different for different people. But why should we be afraid of conflicting and disagreeable classifications in information organization?

HopStop Transportation Data Image

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The Moral: Ride your bicycle.

HopStop infographic

Kitschy Halloween

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Every year, the population of America (maybe other parts of the world), takes on the responsibility of decorating stores, houses and their bodies with all kinds of color schemes indicative of cultural and religious celebrations of “holiday” and Holy Days. I can’t run down the whole list of colours of course, but some of these are blue, white, gold, green, and red – a spectrum which takes into account something found in Christianity, Judaism and Kwanzaa. Festivus does not have a strict colour scheme. Or rather if it does, it fails to follow the rules of kitsch unless it makes fun of that kitsch (a form of cultural commentary perhaps?). But here we have only looked at colour schemes.

Other forms of kitsch are of course the burning of candles, trees, red fragile ornaments hanging on those trees and statues of all kinds. I can’t say the degree to which each person or family who uses these items in their respective celebrations does so for reasons of faith, religion (as faith and religion may not be the same thing) or other conforming societal forces. It matters not of course, but most of these celebrations have at least on their surface a veneer of joy, togetherness, family and love. I can’t think of any late-year winter celebration that does not fall into one of the categories (if not all). And there in lies the rub.

For when we look at these “holidays” (as opposed to “Holy Days,” which is really quite different methinks), we find default images on repeat yearly from the largest of retailers to the smallest of apartments. And when marketing schemes get involved, well, kitschy-ness just goes through the roof). There is a deep emotionalization attached to most of these repeated images and objects. And we have not even talked about the radio playing on repeat (almost literally) the same songs for countless hours every year. One person hugs and cries in happiness and another person feels warm & fuzzy inside for at least a few days every year. And a good thing too because this is such a hard world every other day.

But let’s not think life gets better really because not only do we have to BUY most of these objects/images yearly, but the increase of gifts and cash transactions also increases the types of crime that occurs during this most wonderful kitschy time of the year. But the point is that these images, objects and popular songs repeated yearly are safe. We like this type of sameness and I am labeling it “kitsch.”

If we step back two months in time before this approaching time of the year, we might ask ourselves if Halloween is also a time of kitsch. I mean, we hear some of the same songs in October, we search after the same kinds of movies at the same time each year and we decorate stores and apartments in the same colours (black, orange, white, and maybe red for blood) each year. Does this not encourage us to think of Halloween as a form of kitsch? Well…no! The reason is because burning candles do not suddenly jump up and scream in their user’s face while burning pumpkins chase lone travelers through covered bridges onward toward oblivion, elves do not crawl out of coffins and steal your life’s source while vampires do rip through your esophagus and drink your blood and men in red suits do not eat your flesh while zombies do look for humans to consume.

No images from this approaching “most wonderful kitschy time of the year” will cause you harm, but Halloween has lots of spirits and shadowy creatures that will, despite being repeated each year in cards and movies, shake the ground right from under your feet. There’s no way that experience is kitsch.


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Right now, there are all kinds of – ology names in America. Drinkology, Mixology, Lightology to name a few. It’s amusing. “Hauntology” is one of these. It’s good to know I am amidst a popular swell. But what is this science of hauntings? I mean to work out this “science” for my whole life. And not with a method that tracks ghosts either. My science follows the eternal return, that damnable stuff we think we can get rid of but which comes right back in the future (near or far). I can not scrutinize the abyss too close though because it would be like trying to look into an ever-burning cauldron. I am able to glance and peek. I can even see something maybe. But uncertainty reigns in the return. I glance and declare my observations. But the scary stuff is that I can’t keep my hands or eyes on the object. There is no object. It leaves me and returns anew to be seen again. Spiritual maybe. Again, I glance and grasp, but it is really me who is being held.


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Consider power-actions by committees – their strengths and limitations.

Comment and discuss here if you would like.