Thursday, December 30, 2010
I've talked about the U Media site at the University of Minnesota Libraries in the past (although I can't remember whether or not its been mentioned in this blog). In any event, I thought I'd let you know, before the year is out, that we've started to populate this site with images of items from the Sherlock Holmes Collections.
We started out by uploading a few audio files (two featuring John Bennett Shaw and one featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). We then added a few three-dimensional items (a license plate and pipe). From there we went on to add some things we'd scanned for researchers including a few Strand Magazine covers and some features from the Vincent Starrett copy of the Beeton's Christmas Annual. Next, while we were processing some of John Bennett Shaw's materials we thought we'd scan some of the spines and covers of boxes he used to house this material. During collection processing we tend to discard boxes and slipcovers like Shaw used (in favor of archival boxes) but we didn't want to lose the charm and flavor of John's handiwork on the containers. We've lumped this under the general heading of "ephemera" although there might be another term for this type of material.
Now, just this evening, I finished uploading scans of some of the buttons from Shaw's collection. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but since I'm working at home for a few days while the University is closed over the holiday break I thought I'd put my time to good use and so scanned a bunch of buttons and pins and loaded those images on the laptop before I left the office last week. I'll work on uploading the lapel pin images over the next few days, so keep watching the site.
The other thing I finished a day or so ago was all the metadata for the 250 or so scans we did earlier of artwork from Frederic Dorr Steele. The spreadsheet with all that data was sent on to the good folks in the Digital Library Services department and is now in the que for uploading. I don't know whether or not the images and data will be up before the grand gathering of the Baker Street Irregulars in New York next week, but if not they should be up sometime in early January.
I encourage you to explore the whole U Media site (I'm also in the process of finishing metadata for some 19th century Paris postcards). There are some amazing materials here to discover. In the meantime, if you're interested in seeing all the Sherlockian material I've put up so far just click on this link or use the search box on the U Media site and enter the term "Sherlock Holmes" to get at the material.
Happy New Year from the Sherlock Holmes Collections!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Just did a little exploring on the web and noticed the MPR story we did back in April with Kerri Miller on her "Midmorning" show. Enjoy!
Saturday, December 4, 2010
The question was asked within the context of an interesting discussion we were having on digital preservation (appropriate because the class I teach at St. Catherine's MLIS program is on preservation and conservation and this was the topic of the evening). The student who asked the question said that it was a topic of conversation during her Thanksgiving dinner (which was interesting in itself, I thought; I don't remember what we talked about around our Thanksgiving table. My Thanksgiving was spent, in large part, adoring and holding my new granddaughter and keeping an eye on whatever football game was on the tube). I gave, I thought, a pretty convincing answer. (At least one of my students gave me a thumbs up when I finished, so I must have said something sensible.) But since all of that took place in an oral context, I thought I'd try to put my answer down in writing and maybe expand on it a bit (with maybe a little more data to back up my thoughts). This won't necessarily be a "deep" answer to the question, but it will at least get some of my thoughts into written form.
The simple answer to the direct question is "yes." Libraries are going to be around twenty years from now. They will look and operate differently from today's libraries, but there will still be a place where people can go to get information; receive advice, direction, and counsel on resources; and check out materials for their own use. Not everything will be available digitally. There will still be a need for people to hold or touch or smell an item in person because the thing they are interested in has something beyond informational value. It will have artifactual value or evidential value or some other type of value beyond what can be ascertained from words or symbols on a screen. It is for this reason, among others, that I work in the area of special collections and rare books. People will always have a need to see the things that I care for, that I arrange and describe, and that I place -- as a digital surrogate -- on the Web for them to see. There are just some things that don't come through or translate in a digital environment. And there are some things, too ephemeral, that will not be worth the time or effort to digitize. But people will still want to see them and for us to keep them.
The flip side of this bias I have for the rare and the special is a bias toward the generic side (or maybe the "dark" side) of libraryland. More and more libraries will look more and more like each other in terms of the general types of materials they have available to patrons in digital formats. The only limiting factor will be how much money a library has to pay for licenses or other types of subscriptions or access. Every library (and individual) will have access to things like Google Books (at the present time they have something like 15 million books in their hopper) or some basic indexes and abstracts covering general/popular literature, along with some more specialized (yet general) indexes and abstracts for scholarly materials. I'd venture to say (although here I might be on a bit of slippery ground) that there's not much difference between my working library (the University of Minnesota), my public library (Hennepin County), and my teaching library (University of St. Catherine) in terms of access to these types of materials. A comparison, for example, between the resources available in the Electronic Library for Minnesota and any of the libraries I just mentioned will probably not show much difference for general type resources. What this means, in the long run, is that libraries will lose their local color and flavor unless some part of them is engaged in collecting local materials (and in making sure that these local materials are made accessible and not hidden away in some basement room or closet). A corollary to this, found more in research libraries, is the continued development and expansion of "collections of distinction." These may, indeed, be digitized but will also act as "research magnets that attract researchers and scholars from around the world."
Finally (since we're in the last half hour of Saturday business and soon it will be time to close up shop) a couple of words about books -- paper and electronic. E-books are grabbing people's attention. Not long ago Amazon announced that it was selling more e-books that traditionally printed books. That's well and good for Amazon. But I'll stick with paper, thank you. I don't have to plug it in or recharge it. Its the original random access device. Paper books are renewable resources. It takes a coal or nuclear power plant to fuel an e-book. Last time I checked, neither of these were renewable resources. I can keep my paper book in less than ideal environments and not worry that its going to short out or explode if it gets wet. It bends. It won't crack (unless I'm really brutal in my handling). I could go on, but you get the idea. I like technology. I use technology (for this blog among other things). But when it comes to "paper" or "plastic" in the checkout line, I'll stick with paper.
Time to check in with the troops and make sure our readers get out the door. I'm sure I'll still be welcoming readers to the library well into the future.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The web site also offers a number of special features including interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. You can also check out the Twitter stream that occurred during viewing. The tag is #sherlock_pbs.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Announcing the Elmer L. Andersen Research Scholars Program
The Elmer L. Andersen Research Scholars Program supports scholarly research projects using materials from the Libraries' rare and special collections. Named for former governor and University of Minnesota regent Elmer L. Andersen, the new program honors the Governor's passion for collecting and for expanding the use of the collections. The Research Scholars program is available to scholars including faculty, graduate, postgraduate, and independent researchers using the collections in the Department of Archives and Special Collections. This program is not available to currently enrolled University of Minnesota graduate or undergraduate students.
The program will provide annual support for up to two research projects that require use of one or more of the collections. Awards range from $500 to $2,000 and provide funds for travel, housing and other research related costs. The final research product (e.g., journal article, documentary film) must acknowledge the Libraries' support and be deposited with the University Libraries.
Applications should include the following:
- Cover letter that provides a detailed project description, placing the project in the context of its larger field of study and describing the anticipated result of the project (e.g. journal article, book, edited volume, etc.). The narrative should articulate the anticipated use of the University Libraries collections with reference to specific collections to be used and their relevance to the project.
- The applicant's curriculum vitae.
- Two letters of recommendation.
Application deadline: September 30, 2010
Award announcement: November 1, 2010
Research must be completed: December 30, 2011
Send application to:
Director of Archives and Special Collections
University of Minnesota Libraries
305 Elmer L. Andersen Library
222 21st Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
About the collections:
The University of Minnesota Libraries Archives and Special Collections contain diverse holdings from clay tablets to documentation of the history of information technology, from children's literature to University records, from the literary and performing arts to gay and lesbian culture. Complete description of the collecting areas at special.lib.umn.edu.
Monday, August 9, 2010
1990 marked a number of transitions in Allen’s life. By this time he had left the East Coast and his work with public radio and moved to Osseo, Minnesota. Here he found Sherlockian company and friendship through the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota. At the beginning of the year, at the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars, Allen was honored with an Irregular Shilling and the Investiture of “Sarasate.” It was at this same time that Allen began co-hosting a Morley walk around Manhattan. A later report from the BSJ gives a sense of the stroll.
Guides Mackler and Shields are masters at finding these sights, and those who join them are the beneficiaries. We were told that Morley was fond of strolling around the top of the Woolworth Building in order to find inspiration for his columns. From this perch, he could see the Brooklyn Bridge, the sun glistening off the Manhattan mountains, St. Paul’s churchyard, and Vesey Street. Therefore, we approached the lobby of the Woolworth Building with great anticipation.May found him in Chicago celebrating Christopher Morley’s one-hundredth birthday at a Morley symposium with members of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) and Hugo’s Companions. Allen spoke on Morley’s devotion to New York. By the end of the year Allen had been elected membership director of the Norwegian Explorers and was editing their newsletter, Explorations. The following February Allen presented an evening program on “Sherlock Holmes and Music” at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis.
Allen continued to edit and write for Explorations along with other Sherlockian publications. He deepened his Minnesota roots while still being an active member of the Irregulars and other societies. In 1993 Allen was part of the planning and program for the Norwegian Explorers’ conference “Sherlock Holmes’ Rogues, Rascals, and Ruffians” held in Minneapolis. Two years later he became president of the Explorers, serving for two years. At the end of his term it was reported that “[a]ll members of the Norwegian Explorers would like to thank Allen for his efforts and leadership, and we all look forward to his continued involvement.” A note in The Moriarty Principle indicates another of Allen’s endeavors at this time. “He founded the scion, ‘The Fowl Fanciers,’ in Minnesota in 1990 with the blessing of John Bennett Shaw. He is an expert on the violinist Pablo Sarasate . . . and classical music.” Food, music, Morley, and Holmes--life was good.
On the cusp of the millennium Allen continued to be active with the Irregulars. He was also a member of an exclusive group, the Sherlockians By Invitation Only Society (SBIOS). I’m not sure when he may have been invited, but it is clear from their 1999 report that Allen was in New York for the annual BSI weekend (my first time at this august gathering) and then headed to London “for the Sherlock Holmes January 16th birthday party sponsored by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London held in the distinguished House of Commons Meeting Room, Parliament.” I’m sure Allen traveled to London many times. Roger Johnson, editor of The District Messenger (the newsletter of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London) noted a final visit. “The last time we met him in England Jean and I were able to direct him to a nice gasogene for his collection.” That gasogene now sits in the sitting room adjacent to this exhibit.
In The Hound of the Baskervilles, at the first meeting of Holmes and James Mortimer, Holmes remarked “You are an enthusiast in your line of thought, I perceive…” Allen was an enthusiast and a good friend to many. Enjoy a few fruits of that enthusiasm and friendship.
Allen continued writing and reviewing. Baker Street Miscellanea seemed a favorite venue for his pen. In 1986 he appraised Robert Goldsborough’s Murder in E Minor and John Lescroart’s Son of Holmes. “In the case of the two volumes under discussion, we can almost say, as Sherlock Holmes did to Watson about the nature of his violin-playing, ‘Oh, that’s all right,’ replete with an equally merry laugh.” A year later Allen reported on the fourth Quinquennial Sherlock Holmes Alimentary Festival at the Culinary Institute of America (“the true CIA”) in “A Study in Sumptuousness.” “Holmes once said of Watson that the latter never recognized his merits as housekeeper. Be that as it may, the merits of all responsible for making this weekend what it was were well applauded.” This was followed by a brief report of quotations by the actor Jeremy Brett under the title “Is Jeremy Brett’s Interpretation of Sherlock Holmes Changing?” and a review, in 1990, of The Standard Doyle Company: Christopher Morley on Sherlock Holmes, edited by Steven Rothman. “Morley wrote about Holmes in so many different ways and contexts that even Sherlockians well up on their ‘kinspritship’ (or maybe it should be kinsprits well up on their writings about the Writings) will find many things new to them, or at any rate refreshing.” A year later Allen was back at the CIA and offered “A Reichenbach Repast.”
Over the course of the years during which I have been privileged to attend the irregular celebrations given in honor of Mr. Sherlock Holmes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, it has been a source of never ending wonder as to how each succeeding event can possibly be better than that which came before. But, happily, such is the case; and no exception to the rule can be invoked in regard to the most recent in the ongoing series, held on May 4 of this year.Allen was present on the pages of the Baker Street Journal as well. Perhaps the most interesting (and humorous) experience, reported by his co-investigator Sheldon Wesson, involved an event from “The Adventure of the Red Circle.”
The very crux of The Adventure of the Red Circle — the signaling by means of a candle waved across a window — has been subjected to the most rigorous scientific scrutiny. The results of that exercise, by Allen Mackler, scientist, and Sheldon Wesson, laboratory assistant, are described below. The starting point was the lengthy marginal note in Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. S. F. Blake is quoted therein as reporting that the full message — ATTENTA ATTENTA ATTENTA PERICOLO PERI — would require 477 waves of the candle across the window and would take about 4 3/4 minutes to deliver.Based on their close reading of the Canon, the authors concluded: “Factoring in all of these conditions yields a total elapsed time of 7 minutes and 14 seconds — which we now adopt as ‘official.’ We forebear from comment on the questions of language variations raised in Baring-Gould: i.e., the language employed in the signals, Italian, English, or Italian in the English alphabet. This consideration could affect our total elapsed time by at most a few seconds.”
Those figures have proved to be incorrect. The message requires 384 passes, not 477. We surmise that Mr. Blake may have counted two PERICOLOs, thus accounting for the difference of 93 counts, whereas the Canon describes only one. We determined, too, that sufficient pauses must be allowed between letters and words to promote comprehension: three “beats” between letters, six between words.
The Mackler — Wesson experiments (replicated in part at a meeting of the Red Circle of Washington, D.C.) showed the effects of three different speeds upon the intelligibility of the message….
In 1982 Allen was writing more about food in another article for BSM entitled “Knowledge of Gastronomy - Immense,” a report on the Third Quinquennial Sherlock Holmes Alimentary Festival held at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. His account covered the full weekend, complete with side trips to local bookstores and museums, and a running commentary on the various foods encountered (and enjoyed) along the way. “The weekend was something I would not have missed for worlds, for it was definitely not one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man either to be bored or to lie. And unlike the experience of the hapless John Scott Eccles, all our meals, indeed, were well prepared and well served.”
Allen’s involvement with various Sherlockian societies continued. In early April 1984 Allen attended “the first public meeting of the Clients of Sherlock Holmes” held at the Faculty Club of the University of Pennsylvania. Here Allen’s love of classical music came to the fore. The event, reported in the BSJ, noted that “[a]fter dinner, Allan Mackler presented a comprehensive talk on music in the Canon, and played extremely rare recordings of Sarasate, Norman-Neruda, Paganini, and others, just as Holmes had heard them.” In early December 1985 Allen was again with the Red Circle of Washington, displaying both his culinary interests and knowledge of the Canon. “‘We still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on,’ was the call to table for The Red Circle’s ‘Blue Carbuncle Dinner’ at the Piccadilly Restaurant . . . The menu, carefully selected by Allen Mackler, featured mock turtle soup, shrimp in cream with lettuce, roast goose, and plum pudding with brandy sauce . . . . Sheldon Wesson’s ‘Sherlockian IQ Test’ produced four winners: Allen Mackler, Marina Stajic, Melissa Ennis, and Jim Smith.” It was one of many quizzes won by Allen.
It was a delightful weekend, full of excellent papers and good-spirited fun. Jon Lellenberg has a few observations on his blog. If you're interested in Baker Street Irregular history, I invite you to follow Jon's new initiative.
As a recap, here was the conference schedule:
Friday Aug. 6
1:30 pm “221B”; A Study in Starrett - Ray Betzner, BSI
2:30 pm The Current State of Affairs - Tim Johnson, Catherine Cooke, Neil McCaw, Peggy Perdue
3:30 pm Stranded on the Shelves: A Leaf through The Saturday Review - Steven Rothman, BSI
5 pm - Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections Meeting
Saturday Aug. 7
9:00 am Vintage and Spirited -Gideon Hill, MD, BSI
10:00 am Future Directions - Catherine Cooke, BSI, ASH; Tim Johnson; Neil McCaw and Peggy Perdue
11:00 am The Curious Case of Holmes in Silent Cinema- Russell Merritt , BSI
12 noon - Lunch
1:30 pm The Great Game: A Debate Covering the Founding of Sherlockian Scholarship - Jon Lellenberg BSI and Richard Sveum, BSI
2:30 pm Sherlock Holmes and the Spirit of Detective Fiction - Les Klinger, BSI
3:30 pm Boys and Girls Together - Evelyn Herzog, BSI , ASH
4:45 pm A Visit to the 221B’s Sitting Room—Wilson Library - Paul Martin, BSI and Jon Lellenberg, BSI
7:00 pm Banquet, Rewriting History…Again - Brad Keefauver, BSI, ASH
Sunday Aug. 8
9:30 am Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla” and the Haunting of Sherlock Holmes - Tim Reich
10:30 am Haunting Libraries in Search of a Guaranteed Medium - S. E. Dahlinger, BSI, ASH
11:30 am “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” - The Red-Throated League of the Norwegian Explorers
12:30 pm - Closing Remarks
I know there will be more reaction to the conference. I'll try to pick up some of those threads and post them here.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I'll get back to posting more on Holmes later tonight or early tomorrow, but for the moment this proud papa is still basking in the glow. Here's a picture from the weekend.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Allen, an avid member of many societies associated with Holmes, appeared in a Baker Street Journal (BSJ) report on the activities of The Red Circle of Washington D.C., which revealed yet another indication of his interests and depth of knowledge. This time it involved a quiz on "Canonical Courtship and Marriage." Allen was the winner. (Francine Morris and Wayne Swift, soon to be married, tied for second place.)
A later article from 1981 entitled "Collecting the Uncollectible" gives us a glimpse into the world of the collector, from Allen's perspective. In this case the items to be collected were phonograph records.
The impecunious collector...is always at the mercy of the factor of price, no matter what his field of interest. But in almost every field, not even a ready supply of cash will necessarily flush out a desired item, especially if it happens to be one never intended to serve as a collectible and is therefore not generally available to the public at large. Take for example the area of record collecting, in which I indulge myself in a small way. Here the affluent Sherlockian can with relative ease accumulate just about everything ever released commercially, and even perhaps lay his hands on what are referred to in the trade as "bootleg" items. But it requires considerable perseverance and no small amount of good fortune, rather than a prodigious bank account, to add to one's holdings certain legitimate recordings of more than marginal interest not likely to appear on the market under any circumstances, let alone for the delectation of avid collectors.
For Allen, it was his good fortune "to acquire for my own collection a full run of the series of Sherlock Holmes radio broadcasts featuring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson."
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The first hint of Allen that I find in the literature is from a 1975 article that appeared in Baker Street Miscellanea (BSM), "Carina: An Identification." In this piece we are pointed to another interest of Allen's -- classical music. As his obituary noted, "his first interest was in classical music. Recognizing that his talent at the piano wouldn't be adequate to achieve the goal he envisioned, he became the host of programs at Public Broadcasting Station WETA in Washington, DC focusing on the broadcast of rare recordings of classical music." Allen's article on Carina begins:
"It will be recalled in the account Watson recorded under the title of The Adventure of the Retired Colourman -- dated summer, 1898 -- that Sherlock Holmes invites the good doctor to hear Carina sing at Albert Hall. This reference has always troubled me because no mention of a singer with that name is made in Grove's Dictionary or any other musical reference work which I have consulted."
Allen goes on to solve the mystery and ends his piece with a poetic salute to musicians in the Sherlockian Canon.
The next time we see Allen, again on the pages of the BSM, is in a review of Rosenblatt and Sonnenschmidt's book Dining with Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook. Here is a different pointer to another of Allen's abiding interests: good food. He wrote:
"...when Holmes states that Mrs. Hudson's idea of breakfast is as good as a Scotchwoman's, he implies that not only will it be hearty, but that it will be sensible and maybe even utilitarian as well. All of this and much more about the gastronomic Holmes and about cooking and dining in Victorian Britain is explicated in the delightful, authoritative, and above all hunger-provoking commentary which appears before each group of recipes."
Case 1: The Great Illustrators
1. F. D. Steele illustration for The Hound of the Baskervilles, Limited Editions Club
2. F. D. Steele illustration for 1939 film, The Hound of the Baskervilles
3. S. Paget illustration for The Strand Magazine, No. 8, "all afternoon...stalls"
4. Charles Schulz cartoon strip, 12/30/93
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I'll start with the exhibit that has been open since June "The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes: Through The Eyes of an Enthusiast -- The Allen Mackler Collection." This exhibit will be open through August 29th.
I met Allen Mackler for the first time in January 1998. I was about to make a public presentation, a part of the interview process for the position I eventually obtained -- Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books at the University of Minnesota. Allen was seated in the front row. He was there because of his love of nineteenth century literature and his enthusiasm for Sherlock Holmes. The presentation was a bit unnerving, in part because it was the middle of the afternoon, I had just returned from the Middle East (still suffering from jet lag), and because Allen fell asleep during my talk. (I don’t think he would mind me telling the story.) It was, I found out, part of his charm. From that time onwards our paths crossed, often at Holmesian gatherings, or else during his wanderings through the library. Occasionally, he sought my advice on a specific book repair or to point out a particular volume (or to talk about the best place to find a hamburger). More than once we traveled to New York together, to attend the annual gathering of the Baker Street Irregulars. There was always something interesting that drew Allen’s attention (and which drew our attention to Allen).
Allen’s interests in Sherlock Holmes and Victorian literature are apparent in this exhibit. We are delighted to share a bit of his life through the contents of these cases and in the replica of the sitting room from that most famous London address, 221B Baker Street, found in the adjacent room. A separate booklet describes the sitting room and its fascination with Sherlockians.
We lost Allen five years ago, on December 29, 2005. His presence lives on through his collection, the sitting room, and his generous spirit. It also lives on through his writings and past reports of his activities within the Holmesian world.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes
What: The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes
When: June 1 - August 29
Where: Wilson Library, T.R. Anderson Gallery
When: July 12 - October 15
Where: Elmer L. Andersen Library, Exhibit Gallery
Free and open to the public.
The Sherlock Holmes Collections present two exhibits in conjunction with its triennial conference. The Andersen Library exhibit will explore the many meanings of the word "spirits" and how they relate to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Victorian Era. The concurrent exhibit in the T. R. Anderson Gallery will highlight items from the collection of the late Allen Mackler, whose replica of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street is on permanent display adjacent to the exhibit gallery.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
So, two somewhat "downer" posts today about the digital world: blogs being swept away and now the need in preparing for cyberwar. I think this does need serious attention. I'm beginning to feel in my bones that our next Pearl Harbor -- 9/11 -- will be such an attack. I probably need to amass more actual data (something Sherlock Holmes would have done) before making any kind of pronouncement. But think about it for just a moment. What could you do (or not do) in the course of a day if everything was "down." What kind of disruptions would we face. I'm not losing sleep over the issue, but it causes a quiver when contemplated.
The Strib, to its great credit, makes its archives free back to May 2007. But Kersten's blog posts are no longer there, and don't appear findable from the paid archives, either. I know it takes precious staff time and a bit of server space to migrate information to a new platform, but deleting any content — especially original content that roiled the news scene — is just bad policy.
I know some Kersten foes will relish the thought that her ideas have become less available, but I think that's shortsighted. For good or ill, she's a part of the Strib's intellectual history, and that should not be sent down the memory hole. I hope some library can at least grab the full blog archives.
Something else to think about in our brave new world of digital archiving?
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Celebration of Elmer L. Andersen's 101st Birthday
What: Ten Years of Archives and Special Collections
in Elmer L. Andersen Library
When: Thursday, June 17, 2010 • 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Elmer L. Andersen Library
Free and open to the public
On the occasion of Andersen's 101st birthday, join us to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the building named in his honor. Explore "Below the Surface," a new exhibit that uncovers unexpected themes and untold stories from the rich archives and special collections held in the caverns below. Learn more about the building and how archival materials are found, processed, and made available for research.
Tim Johnson, Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, University of Minnesota Libraries, and Pat Coleman, Minnesota Historical Society, will discuss the impact of Andersen's legacy.
Friday, June 11, 2010
History does not teach lots of little lessons. Insofar as it teaches any lessons, it teaches only one big one: that nothing ever works out quite the way its managers intended or expected. History is like experience and old age: wisdom is what one learns from it. (p. 71, emphasis mine)
I'm not sure what the implications of such a statement might be for those of us in libraryland, in this 2.0 world, but I think Wood gives us something here that we need to grasp and ponder.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
First, there's the issue of wireless connectivity. The way we're set up here for Saturday operations involves, for at least one staff member, a wireless connection. On Saturdays we position one of our staff in the library atrium (at the moment that's me) to meet researchers and visitors and direct them as needed. When I set up this morning I could not log on to our regular staff wireless connection. I don't know why. The signal strength was excellent. I was using the correct user name and password. But time and again I could not get on. Not satisfied, I tried connecting through our "guest" wireless connection and got in no problem. There may be a limit on bandwidth, but at least I could get into the system. But then things continued to be "clunky."
Once connected through wireless I then logged on to our chat system. We use Meebo. This is the way that our staff communicates with each other throughout the building. Its especially important on a Saturday, when we have limited staff. Here, again, I felt like I was hitting a wall. For whatever reason (maybe the wireless connection) I was disconnected and then reconnected with the chat server. For the last 45 minutes it seems to have stabilized, but it was frustrating at the beginning.
OK, now that I was connected through chat it was time to try and get some work done. Often during these Saturday sessions I'll work on my Holmes and Doyle bibliography. I use Refworks for this work and up until the last week or so I've been happy with this arrangement. But things are getting clunky here, too. And it doesn't seem to matter whether I'm working through a wireless connection or through my regular network connection. Things have gotten very slow. Maybe its because of the size of my database (over 9,000 citations). I don't know. But what I do know is that this "cloud" arrangement is making me have second thoughts about continuing with Refworks. Some examples of my frustration:
If I want to back up my database (which I do every week or so) I am now consistently getting timed out from my connection. In the last few days I tried to backup my material, was continuously getting timed out, and finally gave up. I'm going to try again later today, hoping that network/server traffic might be lower. We'll see.
The same holds true when I try to export my data. I do this as another means of backup and because Refworks doesn't offer the ability to create subject bibliographies. So I export all of my Refworks data into an EndNote library (where I can create subject bibliographies; I have the program loaded on my laptop, so don't use the web version.) But again, I'm constantly getting timed out from my connection. After three tries the other day I was finally able to get my data from Refworks and save it as a text file to my desktop and then import it into EndNote. I'm now at the point where I'm seriously considering dumping the Refworks project and doing all my work in EndNote. (That may create some other difficulties, but at least I won't be dependent on access to the "cloud" in order to get my hands on my stuff.) I logged off from Refworks and my try it again later. But it has been really slow of late, regardless of how I'm connected.
So what am I left with on a rainy Saturday morning? A wireless system that is fritzy and won't let me log in on my regular staff account. A chat system that sputtered at the beginning but seems to have settled down. A citation manager system that doesn't perform the way I'd like it to, and now a blog post that is having trouble autosaving itself as I draft this little missive. Maybe it is a connectivity problem (although at the moment my system tells me that the wireless signal is "excellent.")
I don't know, and there's no one I can ask on a Saturday morning. When I called the help line for the wireless system earlier this morning I got a voice message telling me that the office was closed. Signs of the times? Is this what the world will look like as budget restrictions cause us to cut back on services, like a Saturday help desk for IT issues? Maybe its all an infrastructure issue--budgets, staff, connectivity, the cloud?
What I'm left with is a Saturday that's proving to be less than totally productive. Maybe I'll pull out a book and do some reading. There are no infrastructure or connectivity issues there. Just the simple joy of turning pages. Maybe that's the best way to spend a rainy morning.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
As I mentioned (and promised) during my keynote, the complete text of my address, along with an audio version (for those who'd like to listen rather than read) is being posted here. This may be the longest post I've put up on my blog; I think it will be of interest. This morning I tried to stay away from my notes/outline as much as possible, with the result that it was more spontaneous than the audio file you'll hear here. But the audio file reflects the complete text (I passed over some things this morning in the interest of time), so you'll get the full (if a bit more wooden) flavor of the talk. The audio runs about 30 minutes.
I'd be interested in your feedback to this talk. Please feel free to send along comments.
Here, then, is this morning's EQS keynote address in text form. Click here if you'd like the audio version.
My charge for today is simple, based, I assume, on comments received from past EQS events: "we need to talk more about books." So I'm going to talk about books. But my charge has a little wrinkle in it, based on another comment: "we need to weave in technology into your talk." So I'm going to talk about books and technology--first books, then technology.
To do this I'm going to get personal and maybe a little politically incorrect. Please forgive me in advance if some of what I say is offensive or troublesome. Books are sometimes offensive or troublesome, so I'm going to follow their lead. What you're going to get in the next twenty minutes or so is part autobiography, part vignette, part preaching (to the choir), part questioning and pondering. Maybe by the end we'll have made it from Point A to Point B. We'll see.
I was asked if I needed any equipment (i.e. technology) for my talk. Technology is, in some ways, a crutch. It gets in the way. I need the technology of a microphone so that you all can hear me. But even here, in the old days, that wasn't the case. Folks back when had a better set of lungs and vocal cords. I could do it, but I'll spare you and rely on the mike. The only other crutch I need are a few note cards, to remember quotes and keep me on track. If I was a better storyteller I wouldn't need the cards. They get in the way. Another crutch and signs of a poor memory (or one not exercised enough).
Speaking of crutches, let us begin.
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol opens with these words: "There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate." The same holds true here. "There is no doubt that Johnson didn't like to read. He'd rather play outside then spend time with a book. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate." Its true. I didn't like to read, although I was surrounded by books. My father was a pastor; his study was lined with books. My maternal grandfather, whom I visited on summer vacations in Wadena, had a front porch with shelves lined with the evocative yellow covers of year after year of National Geographic. On a rainy day or "nap time" after lunch you might find me there. Otherwise I was across the street in the playground. I wasn't a reader; I was a nibbler.
Things didn't change much as I got older. One sports season lead to another. If there weren't sports, there was camping or fishing. I read enough in school to get by (or, rather, to get the "A" on my report card that entitled me to a free hamburger at McDonalds).
Maybe I'm not being totally fair, or honest. Books were a part of my life. But it seemed like they just hummed away in the background. My focus wasn't on the books. There was one big book that seemed to underpin everything in our family, one that included these lines: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…." And then there were those weekly trips from the classroom to the school library where I was drawn to books (with, it seems, lots of pictures) by C. B. Colby, or the Hardy Boys mysteries. Or the TAB book orders that came, like Christmas presents, just at the right time. Or the Weekly Reader magazine distributed in class. Or the ever-present National Geographic, or Life magazine. So, books and periodicals gave me pleasure (or something to do when the weather was poor). Later there were other books--the Boy Scout handbook or confirmation texts--that gave me instruction. But I really didn't want to read. It wasn't my "thing." Snapping the ball, or throwing out a runner at second base, or gliding into the corner with a fade-away jumper--those were my things.
A quick aside. There is a very significant landmark from this time. Sometime between the fourth and sixth grades--I can't remember exactly when--I was appointed a student library assistant. I have no memory of how that happened. It may have been as simple as being asked and saying yes. In any event, at the end of the year I was given two books as a thank-you gift from the school librarian: Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes; and The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. Both are still a cherished part of my library.
Things--in terms of books and reading--didn't get any better in high school. By then I was living in Colorado, so skiing and backpacking and rock climbing (along with basketball and baseball…and later, girls) occupied a lot of my time. McDonalds was still giving out free hamburgers for As on report cards. I ate my share. My grades were good. I was a member of the National Honor Society. I was on my way to college, maybe with a basketball scholarship. Who needed books?
College was, to some extent, one huge, long "whop up the side of my head." Now books took on a different meaning. They were in my face. I had to buy them. Lots of them. And I had to read them. Lots of them. I ignored them at my peril. In my first year something happened. It was a sea-change. I was playing basketball, but I found that I liked to read, too. It was quite amazing. All of a sudden I was gathering favorite authors and their works around me. I was arguing with books. I was devouring books. Books were my friends. I was making up for all that lost time as a kid and in high school. I hadn't read the "classics." I was behind the times. (I still am.) CB radios were all the rage at the time and my "handle" was "Bookworm." (Later on my family would give me a print of that famous painting by Carl Spitzweg, Der Bücherwurm (1850); it hangs on the wall in our family room today.)
Who and what caught my attention? Top of the list were the Inklings: C. S. Lewis; his brother, Warren; J.R. R. Tolkien and his son, Christopher; Charles Williams, Nevill Coghill and others; Winston Churchill; John LeCarré; Len Deighton; Annie Dillard (Her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a book I've revisited again and again, as is Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) By my third year I'd given up basketball for reading and writing. I had no regrets--I'd been playing basketball since the fourth grade; I was worn out, my knee was hurt, and it was time for something different-- although our team went on to win a national championship (the first of five) the following year. One of my prized possessions from those last two years was a gift book from an English professor of mine: How To Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler.
Do you begin to sense something here? That college--for those of us who didn't quite get it in high school--is an amazing and creative time of discovery? Here's where the power begins, where the transformation begins, where the change begins. Maybe, like water flowing over rocks, the transformation began much earlier. Maybe all those earlier days with the Weekly Reader, Tab books, the Hardy Boys, Johnny Tremain, and The Red Badge of Courage were coming to fruition. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…." This is heady stuff! And we, as staff, are in the midst of it! We can see--and be a part of--enormous, earth-shattering, mind blowing change and transformation. Do you get it? Can I get an "Amen?" Not everyone who comes to the desk asking for help is a meathead. Or to quote one of my favorite authors:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
There's not enough time to talk more about books; I need to squeeze in a little technology. But before leaving the books (we'll be back in the end), let me ask a few questions: who are the authors and what are the books that seem to gather around you? Do you have some literary traditions? (For example, every year between Thanksgiving and New Years I spend those days reading from works by the Inklings.) What book or books have changed your life? Do you identify with certain characters in certain books? (In terms of my own makeup and character I'm probably a little bit Bernard Samson [Len Deighton], a little bit George Smiley [John LeCarré], a little bit Barliman Butterbur [J. R. R. Tolkien], a little bit Elwin Ransom [C. S. Lewis], a little bit.…)
On to technology. If books, for me, have enormous transformative powers then technology represents an invitation to tinker and play and capture and unleash. And in the world that you and I inhabit, that means tinkering and playing and capturing and unleashing the power of word and image and sound and putting such things into the hands of those who need (or want) them. It means linking the power of technology with that transformative, creative tidal wave that is a college student's life.
Technology, in my experience, began with my Dad's radio, record player, and Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder. When President Kennedy was assassinated, and the television coverage was wall-to-wall, my Dad took out his Wollensak recorder, plugged in the microphone, and recorded the proceedings off-the-air. Later on, I watched my Dad put together a stereo amplifier and pre-amp. I wasn't afraid to tinker, and made my own radio and my own recordings. Family moments--sometimes with a hidden mike--made it on to a reel of tape. When my Dad had to attend a meeting, I'd record the baseball game from the radio so he could listen to it later. Later still, I had my own stereo and recorders and turntables and speakers. In high school I learned how to program in BASIC, using a telephone, an acoustic coupler, and a teletype machine that saved my program on paper tape. My final project was a program that allowed you to play eighteen holes of golf and was based on the then-popular 3M game "Thinking Man's Golf." In college I worked for three years in the "Instructional Media" department of the library. Here I had the chance to set up sound systems, run all kinds of audio/visual equipment, learn some basics about theater lighting and sound support, and studio audio recording. None of this technological tinkering and playing had anything to do with books, but it had a lot to do with history. (It also had a lot to do with time-shifting and convenience and capturing and playing and experimentation and creative thinking).
Books and technology met (or collided) in library school. We were still working with punched cards, but eight-inch floppies also made an appearance. The coolest thing was being trained to do Dialog searches. Remember all those blue pages? It was all about precision and recall. What was your search strategy? Did you work it out on paper before spending those expensive minutes online? If you were really good, and maybe had access as a library graduate assistant, you might be allowed to enter some of the other technological holy of holies, guarded as they were by their acronyms: OCLC and RLIN.
At the same time there was another holy of holies that I came in contact with during grad school, that reverential place on the fourth floor of Wilson Library on the West Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota where only the truly elect were allowed: Special Collections & Rare Books, and the James Ford Bell Library. I visited it just a few times, as part of a class. For me, it was a place of mystery and wonder, a sacred preserve. And I wasn't always sure I was welcomed there (something I've tried to change since coming back into that sacred space).
Technology continued to rumble by as I entered the professional world. I installed a computer lab in the small college library that was my place of first employment (and became "technical support" for all the questions and problems that followed). I processed ILL requests and did some (very little) cataloging on OCLC. I instructed doctors on how to do their own DIALOG searches (and ran searches for those who were too busy or too timid). Using a simple and free flat-file program (PCFile) I created databases for photo and archival collections. I migrated, in the land of competitive word-processing, from WordStar to MultiMate to WordPerfect to Word, my own literary landscape littered with now unusable versions of papers and indexes and journals and theses and bibliographies and books and journal articles. My own archive includes floppies of every size, zip disks, CDs, flash drives and every piece of hardware I've owned since my first PC clone. What am I going to do with all that stuff? All my earlier tinkering and playing and capturing and unleashing is, to some extent, held captive by obsolete technologies. Do I keep migrating to new platforms and new applications? Have I got the time and money to do that? These are the kinds of questions that technology raises for me, on a personal level. And it reflects and older, earlier time, one that was dependent on localized machines and storage.
Where do I find myself now? The short answer: in a bit of a tug of war, and in a computing cloud. On the one hand, I know, and have experienced, the power of the book, in all its glory: its art, its binding, its paper, its words, its structure, its provenance--the many stories of individual lives that are bound up with the work, as producer and reader and steward. On the other hand, I know, and have experienced, the power of technology, maybe not in all its glory (because it seems to be a moving target), but in the way it has transformed my work and being. (As I'm writing this, I'm chatting with someone in Russia about a book in our collection.) Or, another example: a researcher from Hungary can contact me about an article she read on a Walter Library web site about the architectural details of the library--in this case, printers devices found on the lintels above the many doors--and I can go over to Walter, take pictures of those architectural features with my cell phone camera, upload them to my computer, and e-mail her the pictures for use in a presentation. It is a wonder to me to be able to do such a thing. These two forces pull at me every day. And rather than pull me apart, I want to combine them in a new and amazing way. I don't know, exactly, how to do this. But I think it’s a thing that you and I wrestle with every day. I said earlier that technology is, in some ways, a crutch. It gets in the way. But it is also a powerful tool. If my leg is injured I can't walk and get around without a crutch or a cane. And I want to move around.
Now, there are a few bits of the new technology that I'm not crazy about, or don't have the time and energy to learn, and therefore don't use. It’s a matter of priorities. I don't tweet. To me, tweeting is like burping or sneezing or wheezing or breaking wind. I was taught that it was not polite to tweet in public. I'm not a part of social media sites. I'm not much into gaming. I don't do much with online image generators.
But there's actually much more of the new stuff, thanks in part to the "23 Things on a Stick" program that was offered by Minnesota's multitype library systems, that I use and enjoy. Some of these get used more than others, but here's a brief rundown:
• I have a blog, "Special & Rare On A Stick." When we're done here today, you'll find a text version of this talk on my blog.
• I use Google Reader and have RSS feeds set up for the things that matter to me.
• I've got both Flickr and Picasa accounts for uploading and sharing my photographs.
• I've put up a few of my PowerPoint presentations on Slideshare.
• I use the staff wiki and have edited entries on Wikipedia.
• Want to know what I'm reading? Look at my blog or my Shelfari site.
• I have a Meebo account and a chat window on my unit web site.
• I tag using del.icio.us.
• I'm on Facebook and Gather and LinkedIn.
• I'm on YouTube, I watch YouTube, I use YouTube in classes.
• I subscribe and listen to podcasts.
• I create and edit web pages.
• I use RefWorks and EndNote to create bibliographies.
• I use online reference sources and indexes.
• I search online book prices and dealer catalogs.
The list could go on (Audacity, UMCal, iTunes, EAD…) but I'll spare you. The point is that technology has enriched my life, made me more productive, more creative, more expressive, and put me in touch with a lot more people. So where's the rub?
I don't know, except to say that technology has yet to demonstrate the ability to overpower me in the same way as a face-to-face encounter with beautifully printed page, a medieval manuscript, or a handwritten sheet.
Let me end with a story to give you a sense of what I mean by being overpowered. It was in the Spring of 2007. I was giving a tour of the Holmes Collections to a fifteen-year-old, her grandfather and two of her friends. Haley was her name. She lived and breathed Sherlock Holmes. She knew the stories inside and out. She knew the Sherlockian world, its players and its publications. I took them first to our suite and then to the reading room, where we have the miniature replica of the 221B London flat, some Sherlockian figurines, artwork, and reference books. Haley immediately gravitated to the figurines and, camera in hand (and having asked for permission, which was quickly granted) began to take pictures. She then discovered some of the Holmes reference books and coffee table books and, paging through them, told her friends about the significance of this or that item seen on the pages. From there we moved to the 221B miniature, at which point I was becoming more and more impressed with Haley’s knowledge of the stories, and more pictures were taken. I then showed her some of the artwork we’ve scanned for the Digital Collections Unit project on Frederic Dorr Steele (she knew about him and his Collier’s covers) before moving to a cart of material that I had brought up from the collection. It was at this point that the afternoon took a poignant turn and gave me an experience that I have never had before.
One of the first items I took from the cart was one of our copies of the Beeton’s Christmas Annual, the first time a Holmes story appeared in print (1887). Haley knew about the Beeton’s, but she’d never seen one before. She was overwhelmed, but recovered enough to take a few pictures. A few moments later it happened. I took out one of our leaves from The Hound of the Baskervilles manuscript and put it in front of her on the table. She was face-to-face with Doyle’s best-known story, her favorite story, written in his own hand. She started to cry. I got choked up, too, but in my Scandinavian way kept it inside. Her friends, Rebecca and Danielle, who had been teasing her, grew a bit quiet, while asking her “why are you crying?,” and had, I think, a realization that this was something special. From that moment, they all seemed to be “into” Sherlock, even Grandpa Jim. The tour continued down in the caverns. Along the way, Haley asked me about coming back to the collection (she has a standing invitation, as does her Grandpa and friends), how she could work here (come to the U as a student), and told me that she wanted my job. I encouraged her at every turn. Ninety minutes later the tour was at an end. On the way out the door she gave me a big hug and told me I was “her newest best friend.”
I want that feeling every day. I know it can't happen, but that's what I strive for. Books make it happen, and technology, too. You are a huge part of that story. I might have been on the front line that day in May, but it couldn't have happened without you. You help make days like that possible. You keep the lights on and the doors open. You set up the rooms and keep us secure. You answer the questions. You catalog and shelve and repair the books. You file and photograph, bring the mail, push the carts, input and upload. You pay the bills. You plan and meet and process and chat and much, much more. I cannot be who I am without you. We are in this together, just as the books and the technology are in it together.
So let me say "thank you" for all that you do. I do not say it enough. I should. We all should. And let me end where I began, with Charles Dickens and my namesake, who ends A Christmas Carol with these words: "And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"
(My thanks to Eric Celeste for sharing his notes and thoughts with me from his talk at last year's EQS event, and for his encouragement as I prepared for this year's talk.)
The theme for the evening was "Sleuthing @ Your Library with Sherlock Holmes" and the event was held in Meyer Hall at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. I arrived early to set up and had the chance to meet Orrin Ausen, the library director at Bethany who was setting up items for the silent auction. Meyer Hall is one of the newest buildings on a little gem of a campus. It was hard to stay indoors on such a beautiful day, but I held myself in check and explored more of the campus. After setting up I chatted with some of the guests. Maybe the biggest delight for me that evening was to reconnect with Dayle Zelenka, executive director of the Traverse des Sioux Library System and the director of SMILE, and his wife Gena. Dayle and I overlapped our careers for a few years together on the library staff at North Park in Chicago. I'd seen an earlier reference that Dayle was being considered for the position in Minnesota and it was a cause for celebration when I heard that he'd landed the position. I have to admit that Gena through me a little bit of a curve when she walked into the room and said "is that TJ?" I hadn't heard that nickname for a bit, and I have to admit to some confusion when "is that TJ?" came my way. (I'm actually very fond of the nickname, one generally used by my close friends from back in college or high school; at work in Chicago I was often called "Keeper.")
But enough about nicknames. Back to the evening, which went from a delightful dinner to the silent auction and then to my presentation. I had a chance to talk about the foundation of the "Norwegian Explorers" and the Holmes Collections at the University. Along the way I introduced the audience to the wider Sherlockian world, the Baker Street Irregulars, some of the actors who've portrayed Holmes, etc. By all accounts the evening was a success, and I'm glad I could do my little bit to help promote libraries and National Library Week. My thanks to Dayle and Orrin for arranging the evening, and my special thanks to Leslie Peterson, assistant to the Dean of the Library at Minnesota State University. Leslie was my initial contact and extremely helpful in all the details related to the evening and my appearance. I hope our paths cross again!
Saturday, May 8, 2010
At the moment my wife is driving from the Twin Cities to Chicago to pick up two of our kids from college/grad school. She just phoned from her cell (I didn't ask her whether she was driving or had pulled over; I hope she pulled over) asking me what the weather looked like on towards Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. I was working at the computer anyway, so I quick pulled up some animated radar reports and was able to give her a sense of what the conditions would be like as she drives farther to the southeast. I could have pulled up local weather reports for those cities as well (I may still do that and text them to her), but in any event it was nice to be able to give her some real-time information on what the roads and weather looked like ahead of her. Sure beats the old days when we'd phone the state patrol to get a sense of weather/road conditions. Maybe I'll check out the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation as well and give her a heads up on any road construction she might come across.
And yet another one from MinnPost that says Agatha Christie's later novels suggest the onset of dementia (and that Christie may have been aware of that fact and placed clues to her condition within the text).
And congratulations to the Minnesota Daily being named the best college daily newspaper in America!
No more Google bashing for the moment. I use and like many of their products. I just have this sense that in some strange way we're selling our soul and losing our memory.
Which brings me back to datebooks and diaries and why I started this post in the first place. Notice the last few sentences of Heffernan's article: "But now that I’ve shelved my Filofax in favor of a calendar program that seems somehow to flatten existence, I realize that another year is passing without my building up the compact book of a year’s worth of Filofax pages that, every December, I used to wrap in a rubber band and put on a shelf, just as my new refills came in the mail. Nobody is grieving. Well, I’m grieving now, Baker. You never know what you’re going to miss." She is, in some ways, talking about an archive of her past. And what we need to realize, and confront, is that we still don't have (to my mind) a safe and secure way of archiving electronic calendars and diaries.
This fact has raised its ugly head more than once at work. I've wanted to go back and check some past event or confirm some meeting or conversation. But I can't do it. When the University moved from Meeting Maker to UMCal all that information was lost or disappeared into some black hole. If I go back in time on my UMCal all I see are lots of empty spaces on a vacant calendar. None of the Meeting Maker information was migrated to the new system. And what will happen when we make the transition from UMCal to Google Calendar? Will they migrate all of my UMCal information to the new system? I doubt it. I doubt it very much. So if I'm going to want to keep a record of my past (as UMCal defines it), I'm going to have to print off my calendar pages for each month and file them away as a paper archive. Its the only option I've got (besides, maybe, printing a second copy electronically in pdf and parking that copy on multiple hard drives).
Are we grieving the loss? Will this continuation of the poverty of the post-modern historical record come back to haunt us or those who come after us? How many disservices are we doing to future researchers? I think we're going to present them with a huge mess that will be difficult, if not impossible, to fathom. And we'll be poorer for it.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Earlier on I was contacted by Chris Dall, who helps produce "Midmorning," wondering if I'd be interested in joining the program on April 1st to talk about Sherlock Holmes, the Collections here at the University, and anything else Sherlockian that might come our way. The main guest for this segment of the show was David Grann, a staff writer at the New Yorker, who was going to be talking about his new book "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes." I jumped at the chance.
The timing was perfect. Only two nights earlier I'd watched an interview with David on the "Charlie Rose" show. I was ready to go out and buy the book and the invitation from Chris just sealed the deal. I had to admit, however, that I was a bit nervous, for a number of reasons. First, I'd come across David's writing earlier in the New Yorker, in a piece that also features as the lead chapter of the new book entitled "Mysterious Circumstances." When "Mysterious Circumstances" first appeared it was not received well by some members of the Sherlockian community; there were mixed reviews. Glen Miranker, a friend and devoted Sherlockian, wrote a very nice letter that appeared in a later issue of the New Yorker and Otto Penzler, another friend of the Collections, also complimented David on his writing. I was of a mixed mind. I'd had the chance to meet and correspond with Richard Lancelyn Green, the subject of David's piece, and was very saddened by Richard's death. I was looking forward to a long and interesting friendship with Richard, but we never made it past the acquaintance stage. I knew others, close friends of Richard's, had denounced the article. I didn't want to put on any airs, or presume to speak for the entire Sherlockian community, so I was a bit concerned about how to strike some kind of middle ground during my time on the radio. I was certain that Richard's death would come up in the conversation, but was not sure what approach I should take. I talked to a number of friends, both local and abroad, to get their input and advice. My thanks to all of them for helping me in this portion of my "prep" for the interview.
I was also nervous because this was going to be live, on the air. There were no opportunities for edits. I've not done a lot of interviews, but its probably safe to say that I've done more then many of my colleagues here, so this wasn't totally new territory. But I was remembering a previous interview I'd given, also on radio, where I'd made a mistake in the facts. It wasn't a major thing, and most listeners probably missed it, but I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as I could be for the interview. So, in preparation, I re-read "Mysterious Circumstances" a number of times. I also re-checked other media accounts from the time of Richard's death as well as looking at old postings on various Holmes/Doyle discussion lists. I wanted to have a good sense of what people had said at the time and what, if any, reverberations were still out there.
Finally, I was a bit nervous because Minnesota Public Radio is a great radio operation. They do things at a high level of excellence and I didn't want to disappoint them. I have to admit that I was thrilled at the opportunity to see some of the behind the scenes operation, and really enjoyed the time in the control room before I went into the studio for my segment of the show.
In the end, I just had to be me. I think I come off all right in interviews, but you never quite know until you've finished. Just relax and enjoy the time. Those were the best words for me to remember as I entered the studio. Everything else would take care of itself. Good preparation can lead to a good frame of mind. You're sharp, alert, and ready to go.
I didn't have any reason to worry. It was a great time and a good conversation and Kerri put me totally at ease. It was very natural talking with her and David. The added bonus for me was the chance to talk more with Kerri after the show was over. We stayed in the studio for another ten to fifteen minutes talking more about Holmes, Doyle, and the U's collection. I hope she has the chance to come over here some time for a visit. I'd love to show her around. She may bring me back a couple of weeks before our conference for a chance to plug that event and talk more about Holmes. I'm looking forward to the chance. My thanks to Kerri, Chris, and the other folks at MPR for the invitation to talk about the Collections and about a great Sherlockian, Richard Lancelyn Green.
And don't forget to read David's book. I really do like his writing. I haven't yet read his "Lost City of Z" but will get to it shortly. At the moment I'm reading Christopher Andrew's authorized history of MI-5, "Defend the Realm."
At the moment I'm listening to Jim Lehrer (from a YouTube posting) and something he said in terms of advice to aspiring writers caught my ear: "keep bottom on chair." My bottom hasn't been on the chair for some time and its time to put it firmly in place and get back to writing. (More on Jim Lehrer later as well).
For quite some time now I've been part of a group planning our next Sherlock Holmes conference here at the University. Since 1995 (or 1998, depending on how you want to count) we've been hosting a conference every three years on a theme related to Holmes, Doyle, and/or the Victorian era. This year's conference is being built around the theme "The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes." It will be held here at Andersen Library on August 6-8. A brochure on our web site will give you more information about the conference. If you're interested, I hope you'll register and join us in August.
There will be two exhibits mounted in conjunction with the conference. The first, in Wilson Library, will focus on Allen Mackler and his collection; Allen represented a number of aspects of "the spirits" of Sherlock Holmes. Allen was a long-time member of the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota and a major supporter of the Holmes Collections. The exhibit will feature items from his collection as well as provide an opportunity for visitors to see Allen's reproduction of the 221B Baker Street sitting room that is on permanent exhibit. The second exhibit will open in mid July in Andersen Library and weave various elements from the theme of the conference into the various displays. There will be items from the Collections representing "spirit" in its alcoholic and dining guise; "spirit" in its enthusiasm of the collector; "spirit" represented through films and illustration; and "spirit" in its religious dimensions. Other "spirits" may be found there as well. Watch for more information and postings after the exhibits open.
At the conference itself I'll be concentrating on the "collaborative spirit" between libraries and collections. I'm very pleased that representatives from collections in Toronto, London, and Portsmouth will be present. I'm hoping to have representatives from Harvard and the Newberry Library as well. Together, we'll meet before the conference and having a working session over breakfast. Then, during the conference, we'll have a panel discussion. I'm hoping that both of these opportunities will prove fruitful and that stronger relationships will develop between the various collections and their staffs.
In my next posts I'll talk about Jim Lehrer and my talk next Tuesday. But the very next post will continue with Holmes and a talk I had on the radio with author David Grann and host Kerri Miller at Minnesota Public Radio.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
And, for the moment, I'm off to sign new year's cards to our Friends of the Holmes Collections. Its always important to say "thank you" to Friends for their continued support. There is a lot we could not do without their help. Our Friends of the Libraries office staff and director of development help us remember to say thanks, lest we forget our manners. (It also gives us a chance, through the design of the card, to share something special with our Friends. This year its an illustration from the Kerlan Collection.)