Friday, December 19, 2008

End of the Semester

Last night was my last class of the semester for the class I teach at the College of St. Catherine, "Preservation and Conservation." If you want to get some flavor of the class you can check out the class blog. It was, I think, a fun and productive class. I'm in the process of reading the journals kept by the class (thanks to Kevin Driedger for the idea) and getting grades submitted. All of which is to say that I should be a little more active on this blog again. I've missed writing here, but really needed to keep track of what was happening with the class.

It's been a bit of a crazy fall semester, beyond the class. We have a vacant position (that won't be filled any time soon, given our "hiring pause") and another staff member was out most of the semester with medical issues (thankfully, he's now back), but it meant that I (and my students) were carrying most of the load for keeping the unit going.

On the plus side, I presented at two conferences (at the University of Regina and the Minnesota Library Association). The Canada paper should be posted online sometime in the future. I'll put in a link when that happens.

Now I getting reading to head to New York after the New Year for the annual birthday festivities of the Baker Street Irregulars and then to England in late February and March for a Sherlockian research trip.

We'll be open during the semester break, except for the holidays. Click here for the full rundown on holiday hours.

Happy Holidays to all!

A Pirate Hoax (and a good one)

There's an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about a class project that is worth some attention, especially as it relates to historiography, archives, and what you can get away with on the Web. Here's the opening of the article:

Did you know that a pirate roamed the Eastern Seaboard as late as the 1870s, and lived into the 20th century? Edward Owens haunted the lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay after the economic crash of 1873 wiped out his living as an oyster fisherman. Owens robbed but didn't kill his victims, and when the economy picked up, he gave up piracy for good. He died in 1938.

Owens's exploits might have been lost to the mists of time if not for an undergraduate student named Jane Browning, who stumbled on the story in a cafe in Gloucester County, Virginia, and tracked down the man behind the legend. You can read more about Owens in his Wikipedia entry and on Ms. Browning's blog, The Last American Pirate. On YouTube, you can watch Ms. Browning visit the site of Owens's house and interview a couple of historians about his historical status.

It's a good story. None of it is true.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Presentation at MLA

Just a quick note on our panel presentation yesterday at the Minnesota Library Association annual conference in Bloomington. I was part of a panel along with librarians from Winona Public Library (Linda), Concordia College in Moorhead (Erika), and Ramsey County Public Library (Lynn). The session was titled "23 Things: Better Than a Deep Fried Twinkie." The session blurb reads: "Do you love all the delectable attractions on a stick in Minnesota? 23 Things on a Stick: A Library Learning 2.0 Program has introduced over 1,000 participants to fascinating Web 2.0 tools. In this session, participants from a variety of libraries will share how they use the Web 2.0 tools they found while exploring and experimenting with this online-learning experience. Learn how you too can enhance your library's services using these tools. Plus a sneak preview of the next On a Stick program! The 23 Things program is sponsored by Multitype Library System Directors."

It was a fun panel that I think allowed the folks attending a number of "take aways." Tim Spalding, founder and CEO of Library Thing gave a great talk as part of the opening lunch (hosted by MINITEX). I had a chance to talk with Tim after the lunch (he also came to our panel) and its probably a good bet that I'm going to take another look at Library Thing for my own library stuff. It was great to have a day out of the office, to connect with some colleagues from around the state, and learn some new stuff. A huge thanks to Ann and Patricia for making the panel (and the 23 Things party later) a possibility!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In case you missed Les Klinger. . .

You can check out Les Klinger's interview on MPR's "Midmorning with Kerri Miller." Les's talk with Kerri will give you a sense of what he shared with us last night. It was great to have Les back in town. He's a dear friend of the Holmes Collections and it was really fun to see and hear him talk about "playing the game" with the Dracula story. As with his Annotated Sherlock Holmes, we've become the archive for all his papers related to the Annotated Dracula. We look forward to seeing him again, in New York, in January during the Baker Street Irregulars "Birthday Weekend." Les's book tour continues on to Chicago (at the Newberry tonight), Washington DC, New York, ending in Boston on Halloween. For more information about Les and other appearances he'll be making, check out his web site (and the link to the Dracula site).

We had a full house for Les's talk and book signing. It was also the occasion of the annual meeting of the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections, where we were very, very pleased to announce the receipt of a gift of $1.381 million from an anonymous donor in support of the endowed curatorship for the Holmes Collections, the E. W. McDiarmid curator. We have pledges for another $80,000 and hope to raise the balance of the funds, to make our goal of $1.5 million, by the end of the year. Stay tuned for more information about the endowed position.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leslie Klinger and The New Annotated Dracula

October 22, 2008

Appearance by Leslie S. Klinger, author of The New Annotated Dracula

New Annotated Dracula jacket BLOG.jpg

Who: Leslie S. Klinger, author of The New Annotated Dracula
What: Author appearance and book signing
Where: Elmer L. Andersen Library
When: Monday, October 27, 2008 • 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public.

World-renowned Sherlockian Leslie S. Klinger’s annotated volumes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories and novels met with delight and enthusiasm from critics and readers alike upon publication. Now, Les Klinger focuses his critical eye and keen wit on Bram Stoker’s classic novel in The New Annotated Dracula, published by W. W. Norton and to be available for sale and signing by the author.

Dracula has gripped readers since its first publication in 1897. While the book has been studied by scholars in virtually every academic discipline, none have accepted Bram Stoker’s declaration that the work was based on historical fact. For the first time, Klinger examines all of the evidence, both internal and external, including contemporary travel books, scientific texts, Victorian encyclopedias, as well as Stoker’s notes for the narrative and the original manuscript itself (privately owned by Paul Allen, Klinger is one of only two researchers to have seen it in recent years).

Attendees in costume will be entered for a chance to win a free signed copy of The New Annotated Dracula.

Waiting To Be Drawn

I've had a lot of fun with this exhibit. There's a little booklet to go along with the exhibit; just click here if you'd like to take a peak.

We had a little preview of the exhibit through our "First Fridays in Andersen Library" program in October. Jerry Fearing joined us to talk about a few cartoons selected from the thousands that make up his collection.

We're in the beginning stages of processing the collection and hope to have it available for use sometime in 2009.

New Exhibit

Waiting to Be Drawn

Waiting to be drawn.jpg

What: Exhibit: Waiting to Be Drawn: Political and Editorial Cartoons Focusing on Presidential Election Years
Where: T. R. Anderson Gallery, Wilson Library
When: Through Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Free and open to the public.

This exhibit marks this year’s Presidential campaign and election through a selection from the thousands of editorial cartoons from the collection of Jerry Fearing, long-time editorial cartoonist for the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press. This group of material is one of the newest additions to the remarkable collections of the Archives and Special Collections department of the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Haven't Forgotten

Just a quick post to anyone that cares that I haven't forgotten this blog. At the moment I'm doing more posting on a blog related to the class I teach at the College of St. Catherine MLIS program on preservation and conservation. That blog, for the moment, is private to the class, but I'm going to ask them this evening if they want to open it up so others can read it. We'll see.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The I-35W Bridge: A Year Later

Here's something I wrote a year ago. I post it here in memory of those who died, those who survived, those who responded, and for a community that came together.

Reflections on Bridge 9340 Tim Johnson, August 2, 2007

I came home shortly before 6pm, let out the dog, and turned on the news.
It’s a daily routine, suddenly broken by “breaking news.”
A bridge has collapsed, but not just any bridge.
Interstate 35W, a major north-south artery through the city, has burst.
(Why do we impute blood and flesh to concrete and steel?)

A brief panic sets in and I reach for my cell.
I dial my son, who I know sometimes travels this route.
But nothing happens. The system is overloaded. No calls go through.
Anxious, I reach for the land line and reach him on the second ring.
He is fine, but unaware of what has happened. I tell him.

A few minutes later the phone rings again. It’s my mother.
She’s calling to let me know how my aunt’s surgery went.
It went fine. I ask her, “Are you watching the news?”
She’s not, and like her grandson, doesn’t know what’s happened.
I fill her in, wish her a good night, and go back to the tube.

I am riveted. The images are rending.
For the next four hours I am glued to the screen.
Story after story rolls past, some more hysterical than others.
More phone calls come. Friends, checking to see that I’m all right.
I am. But I get choked up in their concern.

They know that I travel this route often, both on the bridge and under.
They know that I work two blocks from the bridge. They are worried.
But now they are comforted. More calls come in, from out of state.
I am all right. And touched again. And back to more news.
I’m appreciating the calmer, more balanced reporters.

By 10:30 I’m wrung out and strung out and ready for bed.
I fall asleep, like I always do, to BBC radio.
The collapse is their lead story.
I wonder how many of their listeners know where Minneapolis is.
Curiously, I sleep soundly. No earth-shattering dreams.

This morning I wake up to more news. Not much has changed.
Walking to my bus stop I wonder what sights will greet me.
I pull a book from my bag and read until I get near downtown.
My eyes scan the sky for helicopters, but none are seen.
The headline in one paper is to the point: COLLAPSE

Downtown seems the same as ever. Still no sight of helicopters.
Off the bus, I walk to my office. It seems strangely calm.
I run through my opening routines and decide to take a walk.
I want to see the bridge. It’s only two blocks away.
A little, perverse voice says “it would be a shame not to.”

Catching up with colleagues, we walk towards the bridge.
But every way is blocked.
State troopers are stationed near a neighboring bridge.
City police block the way to another bridge.
But a parking ramp at a nearby building offers a view.

It is a sobering sight. Unbelievable. Life drops from view.
The road is snapped, like a twig. Beyond is crumpled steel.
And beyond that there is nothing.
Until the other side, the East Bank, with another snapped section.
Cars and trucks, stilled, sit at odd angles, clinging to the road.

I go back to the office, and the rest of the day is filled with more reports.
The news—both audio and video—streams from my computer.
As do e-mails from friends and colleagues, wondering if we’re OK.
And I’m touched again. And send out notes saying I’m alive and well.
I lunch with a friend, but we don’t talk much about the collapse.

After lunch I try to concentrate on work, but it is impossible.
A report arrives electronically, a study of the bridge in question.
By engineers. I find out the bridge has a name: Bridge 9340.
I skim through the report and slow for the important parts.
I didn’t know pigeon poop was so corrosive.

By mid-afternoon I’m totally distracted and decide to take a walk.
I head to the East Bank, hopeful for another view of the wreck.
I join a stream of pilgrims, each headed in the same direction.
For the same reason. Young and old. Each wants to see.
The views are obstructed. Some just shake their heads in disbelief.

Along the way I overhear a conversation between a mother and daughter.
The mother is saying “It’s not because it’s exciting.
It’s just that seeing it makes it real.” I wonder what the little girl will think.
What does “real” mean to her?
I keep going, looking for a better view. But I never find one.

Along the way I notice the grass, bent and torn like the green girders of the bridge.
Both injuries are man-made, inflicted on nature, causing pain.
I return to the office, still distracted, somewhat sadder, a little more tired.
But people keep streaming toward the site. A brace here. A cluster there.
What is the fascination with a thing we took for granted?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

RBMS: Remembering "AD"

All right. Way back when (a couple of weeks ago) I promised to post some reflections on the most recent RBMS pre-conference. But there was this strange block in the way that I couldn't quite figure out or get around. It took a couple of weeks, but I finally figured it out. It might sound a bit strange (and maybe I'm just engaged in a bit of self-analysis or reflection), but underneath all the really good times that I had at the conference (the Getty, the Huntington, my colleagues, etc.) it turned out that it was actually a bit hard to come back to LA and environs, especially the UCLA campus. I haven't actually been to LA a lot of times, but for me its more wrapped up in a person (who just so happened to be connected with the place). And it was all connected with my last visit to LA, nearly ten years ago. I'm still talking in riddles here, so let me get to the point.

The last time I traveled to LA was to visit my aunt. She, maybe more than anyone else in the world, had the greatest influence on what would be my chosen career as an academic librarian. She was not a librarian, although she was, in part, an academic. And she was much more. At the time of my visit she was in the last stages of suffering from Pick's disease. I wouldn't see her again. I knew this when I saw her, which made the visit that much more poignant, and difficult. After she died, on January 10, 2001, I wrote an obituary. It was never published in full and I'd like to share it here.



LaVonne B. Bergstrom, professor emeritus of surgery at the UCLA School of Medicine and a 1957 graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, died January 10th in Los Angeles following a lengthy illness. Dr. Bergstrom began her academic career at the University, completing an undergraduate degree cum laude from the School of Journalism in 1950 and a second undergraduate degree in Medicine in 1953. As an undergraduate, she worked for the Minnesota Daily as a reporter before her career interests turned away from the media and towards medicine.

While attending medical school, she decided to spend a summer as a lab technician at Embudo Presbyterian Hospital in New Mexico. What attracted her to New Mexico was the varied experience a mission hospital offered, plus the opportunity to see a different part of the country. While working at Embudo, she was impressed with the high caliber of medicine practiced by the staff and the atmosphere of dedicated service. Following medical school, she served as an intern at Minneapolis General Hospital for one year and then was commissioned in September 1958 by the Presbyterian Church USA for continued work at Embudo.

After a three years' stint as associate physician at Embudo, Dr. Bergstrom became the medical director of the Sangre de Cristo Medical Unit at San Luis, Colorado in 1961. The medical unit, operated by the Presbyterian Board of National Missions and the Synod of Colorado, was the only medical facility in a wide swath of south-central Colorado and northern New Mexico. General practitioner Bergstrom brought up-to-date medical care to an isolated, predominantly Spanish American community located eight thousand feet above sea level in the San Luis valley. Over one quarter of the population served by the clinic was over the age of sixty and the infant mortality rate was nearly double the national average. The nearest hospitals were forty-one miles to the north in Alamosa, Colorado, and sixty-five miles south in Taos, New Mexico.

Dr. Bergstrom was the only physician in the 1,215-square miles of Costilla County and the waiting room at the clinic was frequently standing-room-only. The county, with no industrial or agricultural base, was designated as a distressed area by the Federal government. More than half the residents were receiving some kind of welfare aid. Isolated, impoverished, and with little education, the inhabitants had no sustained medical care. In addition to the typical cases encountered by a general practitioner, Bergstrom found a higher-than-usual proportion of illnesses related to malnutrition, complications of pregnancy, and old age. In many of these cases she arranged for patients' care in distant city hospitals. While at San Luis, she commented that "sometimes it seems as if we're merely putting a Band-Aid on a large wound." But at the same time the staff was achieving a breakthrough with a wide-ranging program of preventive medicine, well-baby care, home nursing, prenatal care, and immunization clinics. In one day the staff inoculated 1,300 children. In 1962 the Medical Unit reported 7,338 patient visits for a county with a population of around 4,300.

Her schedule was grueling and frequently interrupted by emergency calls. In between office hours, she drove more than a hundred miles a day to make her hospital and house visits. She learned to dictate letters as she traveled. And, as the only doctor in the county, she had three unforeseen duties: draft board examiner, deputy coroner, and ringside physician at local prize fights. Because of these omnipresent responsibilities she was able to take only one day a month for relaxation. Volunteer doctors came from Denver to relieve her at those times.

In July 1965, Bergstrom left the clinic for a residency in otolaryngology at the University of Colorado Medical Center. Following her residency, in 1969, she joined the medical faculty at the University of Colorado and served in that capacity until 1975. Deborah Hayes, chair of the Audiology department of The Children's Hospital in Denver, observed that "I enjoyed working with LaVonne, and admired her pioneering work in otolaryngology, especially her work in [the] genetics of hearing loss."

In 1975, Bergstrom joined the faculty at the UCLA School of Medicine. Cydney Fox, director of audiology services at the Tracy Family Hearing Center in Los Angeles, reflected on her association with Dr. Bergstrom. "I first met her when I did my graduate work in Audiology at the University of Denver. She spoke to one of my classes and I was terribly impressed by her. Two years later, when I was hired at the UCLA Audiology Clinic, I could not believe that both she and Garth Hemenway, from the U. of Colorado School of Medicine, had been recruited. Dr. Ward, the chief of UCLA Head and Neck, kiddingly spoke often that there was now an embargo on Colorado faculty and staff because we were close to having a majority vote." Elliot Abemayor, current vice-chief of the department at UCLA, said that he "trained at UCLA under Dr. Paul Ward and worked with Dr. B. for four years as a resident, then as a young faculty member. I remember her animation, warmth, and love of patients." In June 1979, Bergstrom was appointed full professor, Department of Surgery, Head and Neck Division, at UCLA. In a profile by a local Los Angeles television station, the reporter observed that only 1% of the full professors of surgery at the nation's medical schools were women, making Dr. Bergstrom "a rare bird, indeed."

Over the course of her career, Bergstrom was active in a number of professional organizations. She was a member of the executive board of the American Auditory Society and served as its president in 1987. Ellen Friedman of the Texas Children's Hospital and current president of the American Broncho-Esophagological Association commented that she "was greatly influenced by Dr. Bergstrom. She was a remarkable woman who made significant contributions to otolaryngology in many, many ways." Rick Chole of the American Otological Society said that he "was a resident at the University of Minnesota when I first learned of her work in temporal bone histology. She was a role model for me as I completed my residency and graduate training and was one of my Board Examiners in 1977." Some of her other organizational affiliations included the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, the American Academy of Pediatrics (where she was a Otolaryngology Special Fellow), the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology (Fellow), the American Neurotology Society (Fellow), and the American Otological Society.

Beyond her work at UCLA, Dr. Bergstrom became involved with the Hope for Hearing Foundation in Los Angeles. Christine Coleman, executive director of the foundation noted that Dr. Bergstrom "was, indeed, very much associated with the foundation. She volunteered to take care of the ears of many of the children [who] were brought up here from Mexico for hearing aids. She was a wonderful woman. My office was next door to her's and I would talk to her every day. She had a great sense of humor, and common sense….She wrote a booklet for parents of hearing impaired children and had it translated into Spanish. We truly missed her when she became ill."

Children were her great love. Cydney Fox remembers that "LaVonne put tubes into my older son's ears twice. The second time, he took his Mickey Mouse doll into surgery with him and she put tubes into Mickey's ears via lots of tape. I thought it was creative and darling. My three-year-old did not agree and was incensed that Mickey had been degraded. Kids!!"

"I belong to the craniofacial team which evaluates children with multiple syndromes, the same type of specialization that LaVonne was so interested in. There isn't a Monday that goes by, when I go to the team meeting, that I don't think of her and how grateful I am that she shared so much of her love and knowledge in this complex area."

"I worked with her until her disease made her leave her position. I thought she was one of the most brilliant doctors and women that I had met. I still, to this day, believe that. I learned so much about children and otology and hearing function from her."

Bergstrom's nephew, Tim Johnson, special collections and rare books curator for the University of Minnesota Libraries, has memories of his aunt going back to early childhood, including numerous camping trips and hikes through the western mountains. But it is his recollections while an undergraduate that are perhaps the most profound. "We would get together when she came to Chicago for some medical convention or meeting. She had an excitement about research and higher education, a natural curiosity combined with a sense of playful adventure, that was contagious. Later on, I discovered the service and devoted side of her life and realized how much she cared for people, for her patients and their families. She, more than any other person, is why I pursued a career in higher education. She was a favorite."

In 1989 Bergstrom retired from the UCLA medical faculty with the title of professor emeritus. At about the same time, she was diagnosed with Pick's Disease, a disorder involving deterioration in mental function caused by disease-related changes in brain tissue, including shrinking of the tissues of the brain and the presence of abnormal bodies (Pick's bodies) in the nerve cells of the affected areas of the brain. Pick's disease is a rare disorder similar to senile dementia/Alzheimer's type and affects about 1 out of 100,000 people. It affects both sexes, but it is more common in women than men with the onset of the disease generally occurring between the ages of 40 and 60. The onset is usually slow and insidious. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. The symptoms are similar to senile dementia/Alzheimer's type, with aphasia (loss of language abilities), agnosia (loss of ability to recognize objects or people), and apraxia (loss of skilled movement abilities).

Marion Downs, wife of Dr. Hemenway (Bergstrom's colleague in Colorado and California, who is himself suffering from Alzheimer's disease), spoke on behalf of colleagues in Colorado. "We all knew Dene as one of the most brilliant physicians and surgeons in the field, as well as a loyal and congenial friend, and we have mourned losing her to that terrible disease for all these years. Now we will mourn her final leaving [of] us."

LaVonne Bernadene Bergstrom was born in Erskine, Minnesota, on October 17, 1928, the eldest child of Clara and Harry Bergstrom. Her father managed a store in Winger, Minnesota, owned by clothier and miscellaneous wholesaler Edward Baehr of Wadena. In the summer of 1930 the family moved to Wadena and it was from there, in 1946, that she graduated from high school as class valedictorian. In the fall of that year she matriculated at the University of Minnesota. Her parents preceded her in death. She is survived by two sisters, Leticia Johnson of South Haven, Minnesota, and Sharon Freude of Richmond, Virginia; one brother, Fred Bergstrom of Plymouth, Minnesota; and numerous other relations. Memorial services in California, Colorado, and Minnesota are pending.

Early in her career, while at the clinic at San Luis, Dr. Bergstrom made an early morning visit in sub-zero temperatures to a young boy, critically ill with pneumonia. Later, the boy's mother said that the doctor "looked like an angel when [she] came through the doorway." Bergstrom, who combined a bent for precise description with a whimsical sense of humor, would not have been one to claim wings and halo. "Slipshod medicine," she said, "would weaken our mission."


That's my aunt. We called her "Auntie Dene" or "AD" for short. She lent me a lot of books, some of which I still have. I also have her bound volumes of favorite pieces from "The New Yorker." When she graduated from Minnesota with a degree in journalism, she was inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, the national honor society in journalism and mass communication. Two months ago my second son graduated from the U of M with a degree in journalism and was also inducted into KTA. I guess some things are just in the blood.

A couple of days ago I left a comment on Lynne Thomas's blog about librarianship as a contemplative profession. I'll share some thoughts on RBMS in a next post or two, but for the moment I needed to contemplate and remember someone who brought me into the profession. Requiescat in pace AD, and thanks.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Posts from RBMS

Here are some more posts from the RBMS pre-conference held in Los Angeles, June 24-28, 2008.

Historical Notes from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has an extensive report.
And from the Ephemeral Archives another post.
Karen Calhoun's presentation during one of the plenary sessions.

My own reflections to come soon. . .

Back from RBMS and the 4th of July

Its taken me a bit to get back in an office frame of mind after a great time at the RBMS conference in Los Angeles and a wonderful Independence Day at home with family. I want to share some thoughts I have from the RBMS conference, but it might take a day or two to work through my notes and get some coherent thoughts together. But, for the moment, let me point you to a few of my colleagues who've made observations about the conference. Merrilee Proffitt from RLG Programs posted some great material on hangingtogether. She's got stuff for Day One, Day Two, and Day Three of the conference. Likewise, Lynne Thomas at Northern Illinois has posted the reconstructions of her notes from RBMS. When I last checked she's got two very full posts and will probably have more.

One of the seminars I attended was on blogging. It was so popular that some folks couldn't get in. One of my colleagues was even blogging while she was attending. A blog was created for this seminar that I need to go back and visit, but wanted to at least get it mentioned here. Also, another colleague, Stephanie Horowitz from CBI, was one of the panelists for this seminar. She did a great job and posted some reflections on the CBI blog.

One of the things I picked up at the seminar was the importance of leaving comments. So I've left comments for Merrilee, Lynne, and Stephanie. As I continue to troll for more blogs on RBMS I'll leave comments there as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Podcast on MPR re Iowa Flooding

Paul Huttner, Chief Meteorologist at Minnesota Public Radio has a weekly podcast called "Jet Streaming" that is described as "an insider's look at the weather and climatology. It's everything you wanted to know about the weather, but were afraid to ask." This week's podcast (June 18) is all about the Iowa floods. It includes an interview with University of Iowa president Sally Mason.

Chronicle Article on Iowa Flooding

Here's a link to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the flooding at the University of Iowa.

Aerial Photographs of U of Iowa Flooding

The University of Iowa Flood Information blog has posted some amazing (and sobering) aerial photographs of the flooding on campus. This map may help you orient yourself to the campus and place the pictures in context. My thanks to Kevin Driedger and his blog for picking up a lot of the news and conservation/preservation concerns with the flood and sharing them with us.

Iowa Flooding: A Personal Account

Here's a personal report from Nancy Kraft, preservation librarian at the University of Iowa, taken from the Preservation Administration Discussion Group.

Some of you have voiced concern/support to us here in Iowa. I'm the Preservation Librarian at the University of Iowa and past PARS chair.

I live in Cedar Rapids on a hill. We drove our real estate agent crazy insisting that we live on a hill! Cedar Rapids is on the Cedar River. The River came up fast and ugly, going way beyond the 500 year flood plain, more than 12 feet over projected flood level, exceeding all past records. On the plus side, it is receding very rapidly allowing us to begin the recovery process.

Most of our cultural resources are along the river -- the public library, art museum, opera house, African American Museum, Czech/Slovak Museum & Library. You get the idea. The 1st floor of the public library is wiped out. Luckily it's all replaceable books. The rare material is on 2nd floor but they can't get to the library yet so we may be dealing with mold here soon.

I've been working primarily with the Czech and African American museums -- talking through the recovery process, etc. Today with the help of some local politicians we were able to get an exemption and get a recovery team and freezer truck into the Czech Museum area. The mud and guck was so thick that we weren't able to do much today except get some of the mud out. Tomorrow we plan to start packing the material out and "fight the good fight" to get the African American museum exempted so we can start packing them out, too. Gary Frost joined me today and will continue to help this week.

Travel is difficult and patience-testing, taking at least double the time to get any where. Roads have been washed out so even if the water goes down, the road isn't there anymore anyway.

The University of Iowa is on the Iowa River. It came up slow, giving us a lot of time to prepare. It, too, exceeded all previous records but did not get as high as projected. My director went along with my request to evacuate all special collections material and selected book areas out of the basement 5 foot above floor level. At the time I made the request we were being denied sandbags. Of course, once we had most materials out, the sandbags arrived after all. The help was phenomenal. At 6PM Thursday we were told we had two days to evacuate -- Friday and Saturday. Knowing that dams might break we assumed one day and got all our staff relocated, computers out and collections in the basement per my request of 5 feet out by Friday 8PM. We were told sometime on Friday that a dam of some sort did break and that we could not come back on Saturday. Actually we were told to stay home for a week. We had hundreds of volunteers. Our evacuation was phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it. We have 3 elevators and 2 stairwells to the basement. Our collections are crazy making, unfinished floor, compact shelves, narrow aisles. We used carts and elevators, human book handing chains in the stairwells, box brigades. I told everyone that I hoped my worst fears were just that and that all this evacuation was just a practice exercise. Turned out that just what it was. We only got 2" in the basement.

The Iowa River came up slow, it's going down slow. Our Art and Music Libraries are on the 2nd floor of flooded buildings. We're very concerned that we'll have lots of mold. We think we'll be ok with the collection in Main Library.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Update on U of Iowa Flooding

This from the Library Journal Academic Newswire:

University of Iowa Remains Closed, but Library Escapes Significant Flood Damage

With flood waters from the Iowa River said to have already crested, the University of Iowa (UI) library appears to have escaped major damage, but the university remains closed and classes suspended as public safety issues linger and flood relief efforts ramp up. As receding waters began to reveal the extent of the damage, President Sally Mason told reporters that while it was still too early to estimate the cost, "millions is a good way to start to think about this." According to press briefings, floodwaters hit as many as 16 campuses, ranging from just a few inches of water in the basement of the main library to "several feet" on the hard-hit Arts Campus.

The good news is that the flood waters mostly spared the main library—and excellent and early preparation by librarians, beginning June 9, mobilized a remarkable effort by library staff and students to both fill sandbags and move collections to higher ground. On Friday, June 13, after the main library was ordered evacuated, "hundreds" of volunteers began "handing books along a book brigade that snaked down hallways and up stairwells," noted the library web site. Volunteers moved "tens of thousands of books from storage, including thousands of theses of University masters and doctoral candidates," with one volunteer "estimating they passed nearly 100 books a minute." Sandbaggers, meanwhile "built a dike along the west side of the Main Library and around the loading dock entrance."

About 9 p.m. that evening, the main library was "locked and alarmed," with officials satisfied that materials were safe from floodwaters—although concerned about the additional weight added to the upper floors. As the waters receded, library officials reported about two inches of water had entered the main library basement, but that no collections were damaged. In addition, as the libraries' systems and air conditioning never went out, mold concerns were minimized. About two thirds of UI's five million volumes reside in the main library, the largest library system in Iowa. For the moment, flood relief efforts are still focused on public safety, and UI officials request that all non-essential personnel continue to stay away from flood-affected areas.

Unfortunately, not all of Iowa's libraries fared as well. Flooding in Cedar Rapids, IA, caused the Cedar Rapids Public Library (CRPL) to suffer significant water damage, as some 100 blocks of the city were submerged and 3200 homes evacuated, according to the AP. Also seriously damaged was the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library. "The staff of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library does not yet know the extent of the damage to the Museum and we will not know for some time," stated Gail Naughton, president and CEO, on the organization's web site. "We were able to remove many items from the collection to safety before flood waters came. The board and staff are holding emergency meetings to begin coordination of our plans for disaster recovery." Check the Library Journal web site for updates.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Another Blog on Iowa Library Flooding

I just came across another blog that has additional information on the flooding in Iowa and its impact on libraries. I haven't had a chance to look at all the entries yet, but it looks like there are photos and videos as well.

The University of Iowa Library website is back up and running. There's a timeline there that provides more on the flooding.

Following another link will give another angle.

A quick search on YouTube for "University of Iowa flood" provides more images.

Friday, June 13, 2008

An upside to floods

I just finished reading a piece on the flood of 1993 and U of Iowa employee memories of that event. There were a lot of good things that happened as a part of the flood, but this one caught my eye, from Julia Golden, curator, geoscience:

“A very pleasant surprise that summer was how many geological features were revealed by the floods. The Devonian Fossil Gorge [adjacent to the Coralville Dam] has become a very valuable educational resource for the Department of Geoscience. New graduate students are taken there as an introduction to the local geology. Undergraduate students taking beginning geoscience courses also go on field trips there, and we give tours to school and community groups.”

What will be the positive things that come out of the flood of '08?

Iowa Floods: What are the backups when technology is down?

As I continue to click through the links on the U of Iowa flood info blog, and find more and more of the links inoperable, I'm wondering about backups and redundancies and mobility. I'm sure that for folks on the ground in Iowa City they have a number of contingency plans at hand and ready to execute if something goes wrong. And I'm sure that they have multiple ways to communicate the most urgent information to those that need to know, should one channel of communication fail. What we're seeing on the blogs are best attempts to keep everyone else up to speed, given the urgency of the situation and what's actually working (and what's not), and our need to know (versus what is really important, i.e. getting those sandbags down and taking care of top priority concerns). At the moment I'm sure offices and staff are relocating to other sites. Its M*A*S*H but at an institutional level, covering lots of different situations, and probably without the laugh-track of the sitcom.

What is also interesting (and very encouraging) is the comprehensive sense of planning that an outside viewer like me gets from this electronic perch. For instance, this just popped up on the U of I flood blog a few minutes ago:

"Mental health and counseling services are available on the University of Iowa campus and in the Iowa City community to assist in flood-relief efforts, and UI and community counseling professionals offer suggestions for managing the stress and anxiety caused by recent flooding."

To me, this comment provides a sense of a well thought out plan and that the folks in Iowa City have covered all (or most) of the bases. They're doing everything that they can do in the face of who knows what nature's going to throw them next. If its possible to cheer you on with words of encouragement, absent being there to help fill sandbags or move special collection materials out of the lower levels of the library, then this Gopher is yelling at the top of his lungs "Go Hawkeyes!"

More on U of Iowa Flooding

Here's another link to show what blogs are doing to help communicate in the midst of the flooding in Iowa City and preparations at the University of Iowa. This is the blog for the Iowa Memorial Union. I'm noticing that a lot of the links to regular U of I sites are not working at the moment, so am assuming that servers are being moved, etc.

Notice the Flickr images down on the right side of the page. Clicking here will take you to the Flickr site and a chance to look at more images.

More on University of Iowa Libraries, Flooding

Blogs are helping get out information on the floods and impact on the University of Iowa. The U of I flood blog notes the following:

The Main Library will be closing, Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. for an indeterminate period of time. All staff members will evacuate by Saturday, June 14 at 5 p.m. Libraries and University officials are re-locating staff to other campus locations for the duration.

Moving Special Collections out of the lower level storage area continues today. Volunteers are asked to sign-up at the South Circulation Desk and wait for an assignment.

Library IT staff will be moving servers out of the Main Library today. Servers will be shut down early this afternoon and are expected to be operational by this evening. When the servers are shut down, all the Libraries’ electronic resources will be unavailable.

Library news is also being posted at:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Emergency Preparedness in Libraries and Archives

My little rumination on the Iowa flooding prompted another thought. I have no idea how this all fits in with Web 2.0 kinds of concerns at the moment (something I might think a bit more about), but I was reminded last week, during a meeting on emergency procedures, that we live in a different world. There was a new section in our procedures notebook that gave me pause -- "Gunman in the Building." In this "active shooter scenario" there are basically two options: escape if you can or lock and hide if you can't.

None of this was part of the curriculum in library school "back in the day." But its there now, at least in the preservation and conservation class I teach as adjunct at the St. Kate's MLIS program. Its part of the disaster planning section of the coursework. I didn't have the gunman scenario in the mix, but that will be added this fall. I don't know if its exactly the kind of conversation we'd like to have, but I would be interested in hearing about other experiences from those of you who have found yourself in emergency situations. I'm thinking especially about the recent shootings at Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech. What happened to you and your staff during these events?

Our procedures are good and we review them regularly. They're part of orientation for new staff members (including student employees). They include calling lists and detailed procedures for evacuations, fire, weather, water damage, medical situations, criminal behavior, bomb threats, incident reports, suspect descriptions, and building maps. The key is to get this stuff ingrained into your head so that you can almost act on instinct. And there's one key phrase that shows up on almost every page of our emergency manual, in caps and bold type: NEVER ENDANGER YOUR PERSONAL SAFETY.

Our disaster plan is due for review and updating. I'm sure that revisions to our emergency procedures will get folded into the update. What's the status of your disaster plan?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Iowa Floods

Just a quick note on the weather and its effects on special collections operations. Yesterday morning I saw a note in an Iowa paper about state archives being moved from the lower levels of buildings to escape the oncoming flood waters. This afternoon I spotted a note in the U of Iowa blog that stated: "Some Special Collections materials stored in the Main Library’s lower level are in the process of being moved as a precaution against a rising water level. This shift in location may make some collections difficult or impossible to retrieve through the duration of the flood."

I have family in the Iowa City area and Mason City, both of which have been hit by floods (I'm wondering how the Music Man Museum is holding up in Mason City as I write this). My sister-in-law lives near the Coralville reservoir and according to the folks from the government that monitor water levels, the reservoir was at 105% of capacity as of yesterday morning, with all that water headed towards Iowa City and the university.

So this promps a general question: how many of us have stuff stored in lower levels of buildings where there's a history or potential threat of flooding? I just have too many bad memories on this front: getting caught in flood waters when the Chicago River came pouring into some of my basement space (in an earlier job), the water main break that hit the Chicago Historical Society, the North Dakota floods that hit the universities up there in the late 1990s. . . the list can go on.

So here's a shout out to Sid and the other folks at U of I libraries, archives, and special collections: hang in there! Here's hoping and praying for a little less rain and the lowering of water levels in your neck of the woods.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Red Baron Hotwheels and Accessories

I've been pondering what I posted last week and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with my conclusion. I wrote:
Maybe that's what we should do with all the cool stuff we have in special collections -- create the containers for the toys and allow our players to spill the stuff out on the floor and let them dream new things into existence.
Its the "creating containers" part of that post that's still bugging me -- what's the difference between creating a container and building a tree-house? Not much. Its creepy. So I need a different image.

But I kind of like the toy theme (special collection items as toys), so let me play around a bit. Lynne Thomas wrote in comment to my last post:
At least we have the old, cool materials to entice them . . . but I wonder if that comes across as creepy? Where is the line between friendly and creepy?
Good question and it reminds me of something related. Not to mix the toy image with television, but . . . are members of the Addams Family friendly or creepy? Remember the lyrics to the opening song?

They're creepy and they're kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They're all together ooky,
The Addams Family.

Their house is a museum
Where people come to see 'em
They really are a scream
The Addams Family.


So get a witches shawl on
A broomstick you can crawl on
We're gonna pay a call on
The Addams Family.

How about the Munsters? (Both shows debuted within a week of each other, in 1964, according to IMDB.)

Maybe the image I'm thinking of is more along the lines of an accessory. (Not the kind of accessory that Sid Phillips, that nasty kid next door, had in mind in "Toy Story" -- or maybe so -- its an interesting cross-over with Pugsley Addams (or Uncle Fester) -- but I digress. At the same time, note this little bit of trivia from the IMDB site: "Sid Phillips is said to be inspired by a former Pixar employee of the same last name who was known to disassemble toys and use the parts to build bizarre creations." Isn't that what we do with mash-ups? But back to the toys for a moment.

When my brother and I were kids we collected Hot Wheels cars. Now, Hot Wheels cars begged to be accessorized. First we had the cars (which we ran down old carpet tubes or across the floor). But then we needed to buy the special track for the cars. And the clamp and starting gate to attach the track to a table or chair (for the necessary height so that gravity could power the car down the track). And then there were the special curves that attached to the track. And then there were the double curves so you can run the cars in an oval or figure-eight. But to do that you needed something called a "supercharger" because once you closed the system, i.e. didn't have a long length of track to just run out on using gravity, you needed some way to keep the car running around and around the closed loop of track. And of course, you needed somewhere to store your cars. The accessorizing from Mattel went on and on (and on; they learned a lot from Barbie).

Anyway, to get us back to the point, maybe what we're about is accessorizing our special collections and rarities. We're expanding the field of play, or allowing our "toys" to do more than they were maybe initially designed for. We're not building new containers. We're not creeping people out with our treehouses. We're just adding tracks and curves and superchargers so we (and our players) can have more fun. We're just taking all our cool stuff "to infinity, and beyond."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Creepy Treehouses

Barbara Fister had an interesting post the other day on the ACRLog. The topic was a new tech term she'd come across--"creepy treehouse." She defined the term this way:

A creepy treehouse is a place built by scheming adults to lure in kids. Kids tend to sense there’s something creepy about that treehouse and avoid it. Hence, a new definition: “Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.”

It’s an interesting take on that vaguely unsettled response we sometimes get from students when we try to be too cool, try too hard to seem fun and playful, when we make familiar toys unpalatably “educational.” Setting up an outpost in an attractive playspace with an ulterior motive is just . . . creepy.

That got me to wondering. . . what sites have I created (along with my colleagues) that might fit the creepy treehouse model? At the same time, in the same post, Barbara also brings in the notion of play.

[W]e learn by playing, and at its best, our learning is play. . . . Maybe the library itself is a place for that form of play, once students get clued into the fact they can join the conversation. Then we won’t have to build a creepy treehouse to entice them in.

The nub of the issue, as I read Barbara's post, was kind of a combination of "where do we play?" and a "Field of Dreams" notion of "if you build it, they will come." What created the "creepy treehouse" reaction was when the built environment got pushed to the student, as in the example Barbara gave of Blackboard Sync pushing readings and assignments into Facebook space. Happily, in my quick review of web sites I'm responsible for, I didn't find any examples of content being pushed out to students, into spaces that are their own. But I'm still wondering. . .

So what's a good model, instead of the creepy treehouse? For me, I'm thinking Tinkertoys, or Legos, or Lincoln Logs, or Erector Sets--all the toys my brother and I had as kids that provided hours of fun, hours of play and creativity. (We never had a treehouse, but loved to climb in trees.) We built things (and destroyed things) and had fun doing it, all because we could open the box (or the large can), spill the pieces onto the floor, look at all the possibilities, and dream something into existence. Maybe that's what we should do with all the cool stuff we have in special collections--create the containers for the toys and allow our players to spill the stuff out on the floor and let them dream new things into existence. And maybe we shouldn't worry about the stuff getting mixed up now and then. Every once in a while my brother and I would launch pieces of Lincoln Logs into our Lego creations to see how they stood up. Maybe we should allow that same sense of playfulness--and testing--in our own spaces. We might even has some fun in the process.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Artist's Books (or Artists' Books)

Yesterday I participated in a very interesting meeting with some colleagues from the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and Carleton College. The purpose of our meeting was basically to come up with "who, what, where, when, how & why" ideas and thoughts related to planning a symposium around the themes or threads of curricular connections, book artists, and institutional collectors. We're looking for those unexpected connections between artist's books, the classroom, and the library. There were lots of ideas and thoughts flowing around the table and I've continued to ponder our discussions.

This image, by the way, is from The Book of Ruth: King James Version published by Sutton Hoo Press in 2002. "100 copies were printed from hand set Lutetia types by C.M. Oness with engravings by Ladislav Hanka." We have most, if not all, of Sutton Hoo Press books in our collection. While not an artist's book according to most (if not all) definitions (Sutton Hoo defines itself as "a literary fine press"), it is a beautiful work of the book arts (and an image that I am fond of and had readily at hand).

Another image (here at the left, also readily at hand, and probably more in line with the accepted definition), comes from Harriet Bart's work Poetry of Chance Encounters. We are delighted to have her work in our collection. One of her commissioned works, Cento, is in Walter Library on the East Bank campus of the University of Minnesota. If you ever have the chance, I would encourage a visit to view the work. It is wonderful!

One of the big questions is what do we mean by artists' books? The Wikipedia article is a start towards the answer to that question and gives a straightforward defintion: "Artists' books (also called bookworks) are works of art realized in the form of a book. They are usually published in small editions, though sometimes they are one-of-a-kind objects. Artists' books have employed a wide range of forms, including scrolls, fold-outs or loose items contained in a box. Although artists have been active in printing and book production for centuries, the artist's book is primarily a 20th century form." The full article is worth a look.

At the core of our discussions yesterday was the question "how do you use an artist's book?" It is a complex question framed, for our purposes, within the context of academic institutions. Maybe not surprisingly, the question itself came up towards the end of our meeting, after we had talked a lot about other things.

For much of the meeting, I was trying to get a sense of the landscape and the folks interacting on that landscape. For the moment, let me simply list some of the places and people that crossed my radar. I'm sure I'll be revisiting a number of these places later on and adding to my list.

One resource is Artists' Books Online. According to their web site, the mission of the site "is designed to promote critical engagement with artists books and to provide access to a digital repository of metadata, scans, and commentary. The project serves several different communities: artists, scholars and critics, librarians and curators, and interested readers. ABsOnline operates as an online collection with curatorial guidelines established by an advisory board of professionals. Founded in 2004 ABsOnline is an ongoing project hosted at the University of Virginia under the direction of Johanna Drucker and with assistance from staff and interns working with the University Library and its units in digital scholarship. Anyone interested in participating in the project should contact us directly for guidelines on submissions."

Another player on the field is The Press at Colorado College. On their site is a bit of background, including this: "The Press at Colorado College, founded by Jim Trissel in 1978, is a letterpress printshop dedicated to the art of making limited edition books and broadsides. Under Trissel’s guidance, The Press became one of the finest letterpresses in the country, producing stunningly beautiful books on a variety of subjects, from 'Color for the Letterpress' to 'Twelve Mammal Skulls,' to 'A Selection of Poems by Helen Hunt Jackson and Emily Dickinson' and 'Silence,' the latter considered one of the most beautiful books ever made. Over the years the Press has published work by some of the best writers in the English language. Since Trissel’s death, The Press has continued its work under the supervision of Brian Molanphy, Chris Forsythe, and Colin Frazer."

Someone else of interest is Ruth Rogers, Special Collections librarian at Wellesley College. In 1995 Ruth helped organize ABC: The Artists' Books Conference at Wellesley. The panels and speakers page is of particular interest (Betty Bright is part of our committee). Artists' books have also been a subject of discussion at RBMS preconferences. There were a number of other folks mentioned as possible resources or participants. Please feel free to drop me a note or make a comment if you have other people or resources that should be kept in mind.

There's lots more that we talked about, some of if the kind of nuts and bolts stuff you need to put together a successful event. We're looking at having this sometime in the Spring of 2009, probably late April or early May. We're trying to make sure we don't conflict with other events scheduled at MCBA or with the FABS conference planned for later in May. MCBA will be the likely venue for the event, probably a day and a half symposium starting either Thursday or Friday evening. Given the three threads of curriculum, artist and institutional collector the main audience will probably be faculty, artists, and librarians connected in some way with colleges and universities in the Midwest. One of the possible outcomes of the event that we discussed was some kind of curricular design, a recipe that could be taken home to another institution and tried out or experimented with, that actively engages artists' books and students. Another possible outcome would be to collect case studies of how artists' books are currently used in the curriculum. Yet another outcome might be a greater understanding of how and why academic institutions collect artists' books and provide access to them, through individual study, classes, exhibits, or online. In the end, there were a number of other questions that might be explored in this setting.

For the moment, however, I need to put my pondering aside and go look for Betty Bright's book No Longer Innocent : Book Art in America : 1960-1980. I've got some reading to do.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 Expo

When you're a newbie to this stuff, as I know I am, you have the sense that there's a lot of unpacking to do, or a lot of catching up with the curve, or. . . whatever. You get the gist. And so in my case, I'm spending a bit of time, here and there, tracking stuff down (kind of like I feel about my reading--I hated to read as a kid and now that I like reading, I'm constantly playing catch-up to get to to the stuff I should have read a long time ago). All of which is to say, I'm probably going to play catch-up (a lot) with some of these posts or at least track things down to the point where they make some sense to me (and maybe to you). We'll see. Feel free to skip if all of this is old news to you.

So, I see this comment on Peter Brantley's Twitter site: "clay's web 2.0 talk nice short sweet - make every librarian or publishers listen." I take that as a challenge, and so follow the link to clay's talk. First of all, I'm wondering, "who's Clay?" Turns out, its Clay Shirky. I still don't know who he is, but I've got the link and follow it. But first, before following any links, I watch the video. Here it is:

What did I take away from Clay's talk that might have some bearing on working in the world of special collections & rare books? (A question I'll probably repeat again and again as I find new stuff.) First, there was a great quote I snatched from his talk: "Media that's targeted at you, but doesn't include you, may not be worth sitting still for." We probably do a whole lot of targeting. Or maybe we just make people sick. (We "throw up" content on the web--a terrible way to describe what we do--especially if you've ever been sick with the flu). But we don't give them the chance to interact with that content, to collaborate on the content, to produce something new and useful.

That brings me to the second takeaway from Clay's talk: this concept of the cognitive surplus. Time is not an issue. How time is used, is. Gin was the response in the 19th century; the sitcom was the response in the 20th. Given the orders of magnitude Clay mentioned in his talk, there are enormous possibilities to share, produce, and consume new kinds of information or products (instead of watching another episode of CSI).

How might this play out in our own situations? For example, I have a couple of web pages that include scanned images and metadata for medieval manuscript leaves. As they're currently presented, there's no easy way for people to collaborate on those leaves, to add new content (translations, provenance, notes, etc.) except for them to send me an e-mail with their suggested content and then for me to ponder, edit, or whatever the fruits of their labors before I put it up on the web. Its a mediated situation that works, but maybe it could work better. To use another image from Clay's talk, people want to know where the mouse is. They want to be able to interact with the material, to be included in the material. Now, maybe we're nervous about a totally un-mediated situation. So, maybe we look for a middle way, something that might limit the community of participants, but still opens it up to a greater level of participation and production than is currently available.

Maybe we do something similar with photograph collections. Instead of spending a lot of time fussing around with metadata, we post the images and let people have at it. I don't know. Since I'm from the Hawkeye Pierce school of meatball surgery (as it might apply to archives and libraries), I tend to want to get the basics done at then pass the patient off to someone else who can attend to the niceties of care and recovery. (Maybe I'm just mixing too many metaphors here!)

In any event, I think Shirky's on to something here, something worth exploring in the production and sharing of things special and rare. A "lightly edited" transcript of his talk is here.

More From Peter Brantley

Just went checking through some links and stuff I've accumulated over the last week or so and came across Peter Brantley's presentation on slideshare that he gave for the U of M Libraries folks. Peter's slides sometimes work as a bit of shorthand (its not your regular presentation--keeps you on your toes), but I think folks can get most, if not all, of what he's driving at. I picked up most of the points in an earlier post, but thought this might be a helpful link as well.

I've been monitoring Pete's Twitter traffic as well and may have another link to point to (after I get done watching it.)

Signature Statements

My colleague, Lynne Thomas, special collections librarian at Northern Illinois University, had an interesting post on her blog the other day, that picks up a thread from Steven Bell's piece on the ACRLog on the question "What's Your Signature Statement." I'd like to continue that thread (also, check out the comments to Steven's post for other takes on his challenge).

Steven defines a signature statement in the same terms as a chef's signature dish, drawing his inspiration from the TV reality show "Hell's Kitchen." Steven writes:
Without going into great detail about Hell’s Kitchen just know that in the first episode each aspiring chef must prepare and present his or her signature dish - which Gordon Ramsey promptly trashes in the most humiliating fashion possible. Nearer to the end of the show the surviving two contestants usually prepare their signature dish for a panel of food experts in one of their final competitions. A chef’s signature dish, according to Ramsey, defines the chef. It sums up in a single presentation all their skills, and expresses their creativity and accumulated experience. The signature dish says “this is who I am”.
The challenge, from Steven, is this:

So my humble proposal is that academic librarians should develop their own signature statement that provides insight into the distinctive characteristics that define them as a librarian. To guide you, consider [Robert J.] Thomas’ definition: a phrase or sentiment that serves as a source of inspiration that guides both the heart and the mind.
So, what is my signature statement? Such a statement comes, I think, from two sources. The first source is from a series of exchanges between Faramir and Sam Gamgee in one of my favorite books (and movies), The Lord of the Rings. The exchange concerns "quality." Faramir, at one point in the story, is tempted to take the great ring of power from Frodo, but avoids the temptation and, instead, assists and counsels Frodo and Sam on their mission to destroy the ring. Sam, in response to Faramir's actions, says "you have shown your quality, sir - the very highest," to which Faramir responds: "The Shire must truly be a great realm, Master Gamgee, where gardeners are held in high honor."

The second source is from another of my favorite books, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. A few quotes from the book (not to minimize the lengthy and wonderful discussions of the book, but to give some flavor):

"But even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is!"

"Quality is not a thing. It is an event."

"Quality is what you see out of the corner of your eye. . ."

Those two sources argue more for a sentiment (Pirsig might argue with such a connection with Quality) as opposed to a statement. I have no statement that defines me as a librarian (or a human being). Rather, who I am and what I do is wrapped up, in some way, with Quality--something that is shown, something that is known, and yet something seen out of the corner of your eye, in a great realm, where gardeners are held in high honor. And maybe (to add another element from another of my favorite authors, with a slightly different twist) in that moment or understanding (or 'gardening'), we are surprised by joy.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Holmes and Doyle Bibliography

Here's a piece I wrote for the March issue of the "Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections" newsletter (with a few extra bits thrown in through the links).

"In summer it is a favourite resort of the people, but in winter it is desolate enough." (Valley of Fear)

The land of ten thousand lakes is in the midst of what might be characterized as a "typical" winter. The obligatory January thaw has come and gone, Alberta "clippers" have dusted the landscape, while International Falls secured its title as the nation's "icebox." In the midst of these whiteouts, sub-zero nights, and muffled waits for the morning bus the work of the Collections has continued. The winter, while desolate to some, provides its own sort of invigoration to the keeper of these collections. We, like the Post Office, have followed the creed that "neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night" stays us from our appointed rounds.

One of those rounds has been the rather interesting project of updating Ronald B. De Waal's Universal Sherlock Holmes bibliography, in the form of what we call, in shorthand, The Supplement. I've noted in the introduction to this work, now posted on our web site in ten volumes (in the portable document format—PDF), that this bibliography is a work in progress, does not claim to be exhaustive in content, that new works are continually discovered and added, and that readers and researchers are invited to suggest additional content. I have worked on this project for at least a year and there's still much to add. I've been aided by Peter Blau, Les Klinger, Fred Levin, Don Hobbs and many of you who have sent in suggested items for inclusion. Randall Stock and Gary Thaden offered helpful suggestions on improving the structure and form of the bibliography. It has been a joyful, collaborative effort. Thank you for the assistance you've offered!

Generally speaking, I update the bibliography every month, adding about two hundred periodical citations and another hundred monograph citations. All told, there are now about 6,100 citations covering the period 1994 to the present. The bibliography is organized both alphabetically by author and by subject headings. A gradual effort is being made to bring the bibliography into conformity with the organizational structure of De Waal's original work, using his subject structure. Also, since last August, I've posted monthly updates on the web site so that researchers and interested parties can see, at a glance, what has been added each month. As of January, these updates include both book and periodical article additions. One major difference between the original bibliography and this supplement is that I've tried to capture the "passing references" to Doyle and Holmes as well as the core materials. One might argue whether or not this is a worthy addition, but I've found it very interesting to see how the Master and the Literary Agent "pop up" in the general literature of our times. And I believe this will be of some use in future research. It provides evidence of how Holmes as a cultural icon is deeply embedded in the word and thought of modern times.

The bibliography continues to expand. At the moment, and with the help of Don Hobb's "Galactic Sherlock Holmes" bibliography of non-English translations of the Canon (and OCLC's WorldCat), more and more foreign material is being added. The Chinese material alone will probably occupy most of a coming month's addition. On top of that, I am contemplating creating another volume, with a separate listing of audio-visual material. I have already identified over a thousand entries, which are sitting in my database awaiting editing. Also, I have a large stack of materials provided by Karen Murdock on the scion societies that will occupy some of my time. And I continue to work my way through past issues of Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press to make sure I'm not missing anything. (I'm now up to 1999.) No doubt, other material will come my way in the near future that will add new depth and wrinkles to the bibliography. I'm also trying to go back and read (or skim) as much of the core material as possible, in order to provide a brief abstract of the article or book listed. This is a little more time consuming, but provides any number of pleasurable hours on the bus to and from work, or at home near the fire. I invite you to look at, and to use, this bibliographical supplement in your research and writing. And I'm always open to suggestions on how it might be improved.

When I've not been playing around with the Supplement, I've enjoyed getting out and about (or planning such gatherings in the future) and meeting with fellow travelers (or those with an interest in Holmes and the Collections). My time at the Birthday Festivities in New York, always a highlight of the year, was very enjoyable. This year seemed somewhat special, with the chance to have some longer, extended conversations with many of you, be it in the lobby of the Algonquin or over a meal. Thank you for those meaningful times, and for the joy of your company! In a few weeks I'll be speaking to one of the local Norwegian "torske" clubs about the Collections and in April I'll have the chance to address some University women about the Collections and our work. Before we know it, Spring will be here!

Finally, my continued thanks for the many gifts you continue to give to the Collections and its associated funds and endowments. Your giving brings us closer to our goal of an endowed curator's position and sustains the ongoing work of the Collections. May you find joy in the remaining clear, cold days of Winter and in the expectations of Spring.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Memories from Peter's Talk

I remembered two more things about Peter Brantley's talk as I was downtown waiting for my bus home.

The first was a very simple example involving whereby you find and buy products sold on Amazon using a mobile device. Pretty slick and pretty simple.

The second thing I remembered was another person Peter mentioned, and quoted during his presentation: Jan Chipchase (great name!). Jan's blog Future Perfect "is about the collision of people, society and technology, drawing on issues related to the design research that I conduct on behalf of my employer - Nokia." What Peter seemed to really like about Jan's work is how he travels to so many Third World places where the technology and the tools are used really hard and where its all boiled down to basics and priorities.

Peter noted that he used to be really careful citing all the web sites and blogs in his presentation, but that he doesn't do it any more. All he needs, he said, was a few pieces of the metadata, not the whole string. I think he's right. As I've poured over my memory from his talk this morning little bits and pieces keep popping up, and using those bits and pieces I've been able to reconstruct a lot of his presentation and note the significant items here. So here's another example--the one thing I couldn't remember, but really wanted to, that was driving me nuts--taken from a slide and story that I remembered Peter sharing this morning, a story from Jan. I couldn't remember the whole quotation, but I remembered some key words: Lhasa, rickshaw, Yak Hotel. I plugged those into Google, along with Jan's name, and I found the quote. Here it is:

A fortnight later and I’m huddled under the awning of a cycle rickshaw parked on the fringes of Lhasa’s Barkhor Square. The driver of the rickshaw is patiently explaining how Tibet has changed during his lifetime with a cheery demeanor that belies both his scant winter trade and his likely disposable income. It’s close to midnight and the traders selling incense, herbal remedies and prayer wheels to the devotional have left hours ago leaving the square deserted save for a light dusting of snow and a descending mist. A muffled ring tone can be heard under layers of clothes and he pulls off a glove, reaches into his coat, draws out a RAZR - his wife wants to know when he can be expected home. He drops me at the delightfully named Yak Hotel and cycles into the night.

I may remember more of Peter's talk, but I think I've squeezed out the most significant stuff. It's about people, communication, collaboration, and priorities. Now it's time to log off and go watch the last installment of "Carrier" on PBS. If you haven't had a chance to watch this, check out the web site for full episodes and clips. It's a very, very interesting documentary about life on board the U.S. carrier Nimitz.

Still Playing Around

I think the late Governor Elmer L. Andersen (for whom the library is named in which I work) would have been fascinated with Web 2.0 tools and the possibilities they present. In a couple of weeks we'll celebrate an anniversary associated with the life and work of Governor Andersen. Here's a bit from one of our web sites:

"What nobler purpose can there be for a University than to gather up the prizes of a culture--preserve them, propagate them, make them available--so that the best of what has gone before can be preserved and built on?"
-- Elmer L. Andersen

On May 14, 1999, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents unanimously voted to name the newest library facility in honor of former Governor Elmer L. Andersen. It was indeed a fitting tribute to a man who has been the most stalwart of friends to both the University and its Libraries for many years.

It is especially significant that a building housing the archives and special collections of the University Libraries be named for a man who has expressed his deep personal belief in the University's "Fourth Mission" in this way:

I've felt that the University has been a little lax in recognizing only three central missions: teaching, research and community service. They overlook a fourth mission -- an archival one. It falls to the universities in our culture -- and specifically to university libraries -- to preserve the sources of information, knowledge and culture, so they can be found and passed on.

I've been tinkering a bit with my blog and have added a few little wrinkles: links to interesting web sites and blogs, a link to my SlideShare site, and a Blogger logo. I've uploaded four presentations now to SlideShare and no doubt will add more in the future. All of which is another part of what Elmer wanted to happen--to make it possible for things to "be found and passed on."

Reminds me of a song. . .

Blogs Peter Brantley Referenced & Other Stuff

I'm scrathing my mind for some of the blogs that Peter mentioned in his talk. One was a blog by Hank Williams (not the musician) who is working on a new data and web development platform. His blog is Why Does Everything Suck.

Here's an interview with Peter on the Educause site.

Peter's SlideShare site.

Another of Peter's blogs at

Peter's Twitter site.