Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Pietist Schoolman

Just a quick shout out and word of thanks to Chris Gehrz at The Pietist Schoolman for his very kind words following a visit during his Spring break at Bethel University.  We had a great time together talking about Sherlock Holmes, history, and much more.  The chance I had to show Chris some of the wonders of Andersen Library is something I enjoy doing for any of my visitors; with Chris is was a memorable event.  Thanks for a great three hours together (time flies when you're having fun!)  It is truly a wonderful place to work.

In his blog post following the visit Chris hit on something that is very important to me and my colleagues in Andersen Library, i.e. the role a land-grant university can play not only in higher education but as a rich resource for the citizens of the state of Minnesota, the nation, and the world.  All of us who work in Andersen have a strong commitment to make the collections we have accessible to all.  There will be a time, here and there, where we'll ask you to wear white gloves, but for the most part we try to eliminate as many hurdles and obstacles as possible and get our "stuff" into the hands, hearts, and minds of those who walk through our doors or discover us through the internet.

This is an exciting time to work in a place like the Elmer L. Andersen Library.  Technology continues to change our work in very positive ways.  Through tools like the UMedia Archive, our finding aids database, and the Digital Conservancy (to name a few) more and more material is becoming available, especially to those who may never have the chance to visit the library.  We are pushing material out to the researcher, making it discoverable through Google and other search engines as well as through our local discovery tools.

In the end, who we are and what we do in the context of a land-grant institution takes its cue, in part, from words spoken by the late Elmer L. Andersen.  During the opening events for the library in April 2000 (we're coming up on our 12th anniversary) Governor Andersen gave us these memorable words:  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?...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.

 Governor Andersen showed us the way.  We're in the business of building on a rich legacy and passing what we've found, learned, and cared for to the next generation.  We are stewards, we are teachers, we are innovators.  Like I said, it is a great time to be a curator or archivist at a land-grant research university.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

An Ark Full of Books

Saturday's New York Times had an interesting article featuring the work of Brewster Kahle and "the Physical Archive of the Internet Archive."  The opening sentence, full of its own echoes of Noah's ark, reads: "In a wooden warehouse in this industrial suburb, the 20th century is being stored in case of digital disaster...."

Something inside me said that this was going to happen sooner or later.  Other central repositories exist, some of them around for quite some time, while others are in preparation (e.g. the Center for Research Libraries, The Committee on Institutional Cooperation's [CIC] Shared Print Repository, the American Newspaper Repository (now at Duke) ).  The Times article goes on: "Every week, 20,000 new volumes arrive, many of them donations from libraries and universities thrilled to unload material that has no place in the Internet Age."

I raised the question in an earlier post, but I raise it here again: is this where we at Minnesota will someday send some of our books?  Or will they end up in another as yet to be designed by the CIC?  At least one CIC institution according to the article--Penn State--is already sending stuff to Kahle and his partners.  "At Pennsylvania State University, librarians realized that most of their 16-millimeter films were never being checked out and that there was nowhere to store them properly. So the university sent 5,411 films here, including “Introducing the Mentally Retarded” (1964), “We Have an Addict in the House” (1973) and “Ovulation and Egg Transport in the Rat” (1951)."

The comment string for Kahle's own post about the physical archive is an interesting read in itself (as some comment strings can be at times).  A number of comments relate to situating the physical archive in an earthquake zone.

In the end we'll probably have a number of these depositories scattered around the globe, much as the Internet Archive has mirror sites.  The goal for this site is 10 million books, about 10 percent of the estimated total of 100 million unique titles.