LHS XI Day One

Thursday, 27 Oct 2005

Library History Seminar XI: Libraries in Times of War, Revolution & Social Change

This seminar honors Professor Emeritus Donald G. Davis, Jr., School of Information, University of Texas and former editor of Libraries & Culture

Libraries & Culture becoming Libraries & the Cultural Record, to be edited by David B. Gracy II.

Disclaimer:  All notes are my own and any misrepresentation of the presenter’s views is certainly unintentional.  All links are supplied by me and did not arise directly from the presentations unless explicitly noted.

Keynote address by Kathy Peiss, University of Pennsylvania, "Cultural Policy in a Time of War: The American Response to Endangered Libraries, 1939-1946."

She came to this story by discovering that her uncle, Ruben Peiss, a librarian at Harvard, had worked for the OSS and the Library of Congress European Division on a documents gathering team during and after WWII.  This work was known as the Cooperative Acquisitions Project [scroll down to "Post-War Acquisitions."].

Why was cultural protection a war aim in 1942 vs today?  Cultural protection was a major aim of Gen. Eisenhower when US forces entered Italy.

Planning began before America even entered the war.  Thoughts along this line arose with America’s intellectual elite, particularly the American Defense-Harvard Group in 1940.

This group consisted of elites from the National Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art,….  They approached President Roosevelt regarding protecting cultural heritage.  Roosevelt set up what became known as the "Roberts Commission," consisting of mostly art folks.  Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish was the sole librarian or archivist.


  • Had time to plan.  Main emphasis came with the liberation of Italy.
  • Threat to European civilization
  • Threat of cultural vulnerability arose from aerial bombing in WWI and the Spanish Civil War, and the Nazi book burnings of 1933.
  • The New Deal had created important precedents for state involvement in cultural affairs.
  • Vatican pressure

Connections between American democracy and European cultural heritage was explicitly made by journalists and the military.

Idea of librarians as heroic defenders of freedom from an article by Archibald MacLeish, "Of the Librarian’s Profession" in  Atlantic Monthly, January 1940, pp. 786-790.

The place of librarians and archivists in this was a vexed one.  Books and archives were definitely secondary to art.

Unintended consequences of other wartime intelligence gathering activities by the OSS
and Intel units of the armed services

Academic folks in Ivy League schools and top research universities did much of the analysis.

"IDC" Interdepartmental Committee for Acquisition of Foreign Publications

  • Mostly men, one woman, Adele Kyber (sp?), linguist/microphotography expert.
  • Materials microfilmed on the spot and sent to Washington and London for analysis.
  • From Nov 1942 – Jun 1943 over 82,000 publications filmed.
  • Preserved many rare/obscure publications.
  • Bounty of microfilm became a curse.  Real happenstance collection—French phone book followed by a German chemical manual followed by an Italian….

"Omnivorous collecting" with several purposes:

  • Determine Russian intentions
  • De-Nazification

A good deal of policy was made on the ground by soldiers, leaders, archivists, librarians, art scholars,….

Dewey Sturman (sp?), librarian at Santa Barbara, enlisted as a regular GI.  He collected over 100,000 items on the rise and fall of the Nazis; pamphlets, documents, etc.

Over 2.5 M items of Judaica were collected and sent to the Offenbach Storage Depot.

It was individuals who provided the ethical dimension of preserving cultural heritage despite government recognition of the need.  Government recognition based on geopolitical, cultural, intellectual, and favorable PR considerations.

OSS and IDC ends rapidly in 1945 with many of the staff going into the Library of Congress European Division.

The British were also involved in cultural heritage protection.

I met quite a few people today (Thursday).  Don Davis even introduced himself to me at the end of the evening.  I made 2 trips to the airport to pick people up. 

There are so many stars out here compared to in town, but still too many lights!  I want and need to feel small in the vastness of it all.

Postmodernist? Me?

First off, let me say that I pretty much despise Postmodernism.  For one, it only really means anything specific in architecture.  Otherwise, it is a very loose, and often conflicting, amalgamation of views that if those proffering it as a serious view were philosophically and historically educated enough would realize were all recorded over 2000 years ago.

With that on the table, what kind of Postmodernist am I?

revisionist historian
You are a Revisionist Historian.  You are the Clark
Kent of postmodernists.  You probably want to
work in a library or in social services.  No
one suspects you of being a postmodernist…
until they read your publications!

What kind of postmodernist are you!?
brought to you by Quizilla

Yes, I do want to work in a library.  But what’s with the damn law books?  Maybe it’s because I found it at Sivacracy where Ann Bartow (lawyer) had posted it.

Back home

I’m back home from the library history conference I was attending and helping at.  It was wonderful!  I met so many incredible and warm people from all over the world, and across the entire range of their careers—other students, new librarians, mid-career librarians, a retiring professor and editor of a prestigious journal to whom the conference was dedicated, and retired professors.  I also met and talked with several librarians/professors whose books and articles I have read.  I had many wonderful discussions with these folks, and heard a plethora of great papers.  But I am also completely worn out!

I’ve caught up a tad bit, but there is still much of the biblioblogosphere to catch up with, today’s newspaper to be read, homework to be done, conference notes to be written up, laundry to be done, and so on.

As soon as I step away from this scant post, I hope to avoid the computers for the rest of the evening.  I just need to unwind and then go to bed early.

I promise updates soon.  I received a few more comments from folks who are up for the virtual journal club and a nice email from Lindsey at I Like Dust.

One of two acceptable answers

You fit in with:
HumanismYour ideals mostly resemble that of a Humanist. Although you do not have a lot of faith, you are devoted to making this world better, in the short time that you have to live. Humanists do not generally believe in an afterlife, and therefore, are committed to making the world a better place for themselves and future generations.

20% scientific.
40% reason-oriented.

Take this quiz at QuizGalaxy.com

Found via Angel

What other answer could there be when attending a library history conference on the effects of war, revolution and social change on libraries?

Library History Seminar XI here I come

I am going to be attending Library History Seminar XI over the next few days.  I will have very limited connectivity, but I will be taking my laptop nonetheless.  That said, feel free to comment here while I’m away and I’ll happily catch up when I can.

I have received some feedback on my (virtual) journal club post, so I will be moving forward with it.  Feel free to suggest topics and articles that fit within them and, of course, to commit to joining us.  This isn’t a buy 10 get 2 free deal—no real commitment of any kind—an expressed interest and willingness to give it a try is all I’m asking.

Based on Christina Pikaswonderful comment I will come up with a suggested list of topics, maybe make a suggestion
or two for articles in those areas, and then ask for article
suggestions within those.  As I said above, please feel free to make suggestions.  Also any other suggestions on the vague logistics I described in the initial post [same as above] are welcome.

I’ll be back in the loop come Sunday eve or Monday morn.  Happy blogging friends!

A (virtual) librarians journal club

There was an excellent article in C&RL News recently, entitled "A librarians journal club: A forum for sharing ideas and experiences."

Theodore Hickman and Lisa Allen. College & Research Libraries News, 66 (9), October 2005, pp. 642-644.

When I read it I immediately thought, "Yes, that is what I was talking about," when I wrote "Articles I’ve Been Reading."

The article discusses some of the issues that lead to "professional communication [often not being] as rigorous or robust as it might be, and should be, in the workplace" (642).  It then goes on to discuss "a known, successful format for organizing individuals around a topic for discussion—the "journal club"" (642).

Maybe I’m just stupid, and this can’t work in the online environment, or maybe it could work better in a different format.  Wiki?  I do, though, think it can work at some level; certainly at a level above not doing it at all.  Read the article for the proposed professional benefits, although I would hope you can come up with them on your own.

Here is what I’m envisioning, at least until I get input from others:

We "meet" once a month with one specific article as the theme.  We all write as much as we want about the article and then post it to our blogs around the "meeting" date.  For those without blogs, or perhaps some of my fellow students with sub-radar blogs, I would be happy to post what you write on mine, with full attribution, of course, if you email it to me.  Then someone—could be rotating or I’d be happy to do it—creates a carnival-like posting that points to all of the participants for that month.  That way we can all read what each other wrote and comment if we like, as can others.

Clearly, this would not be a discussion in the sense of a face-to-face discussion, yet it would still allow us to get different viewpoints on the article-of-the-month.

I would love to see librarians of all stripes, LIS students, and even interested folks outside the discipline participate.  Many of the topics that you think are most removed from your daily practice will impact what you do, sooner rather than later.

My main concern is how to handle picking the articles.  If we did a rotating hosting of the compilation post (carnival) then it might be fair for the person hosting for the next month to pick.  Yet, that excludes those who can’t host from having an equal amount of input.  And that disturbs me.  Suggestions?

If you are interested in participating or have suggestions, please comment here or email me at mark dot lindner at insightbb dot com.

P.S.  My off-the-cuff reasons for choosing a monthly "meeting":

  • We are all busy, and this hopefully isn’t a major imposition once a month.
  • It allows one time to get the article via ILL if need be.
  • It allows time for reading, reflection, writing, more reflection, and posting.

Exercising Zombies

Attack of the Zombie Copy by Erin Kissane at A List Apart is an excellent and humorous take on editing those sentences that don’t really mean anything.

Come on.  You’ve all seen them in business, on the web, and heaven forbid, even in our libraries and universities.  Mission statements are particularly prone to spontaneous zombie spawning.

Leveraging world class infrastructure strengths, mature quality processes and industry benchmarked people management practices…

Uwe Pörksen would call them "plastic words," but by reading the above article maybe you can be goaded into excising them where you find them.  If we can just get rid of them, then maybe knowing the theory behind them won’t be as critical.  Although, I do highly recommend Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language.  If you truly care about language you should read this book.

Here’s a previous post I did on an article by J.M. van der Laan, entitled "Plastic Words: Words Without Meaning," that was about Pörksens’s book.  Maybe it can intrigue you into reading either the article or the book.

Carnival of the Infosciences #12 and more

Carnival of the Infosciences #12 is on the midway over at Frequently Answered Questions. Rebecca Hedreen has done a wonderful job on this week’s Carnival!

Next week’s Carnival is at Tinfoil + Raccoon and submission guidelines are here.

And speaking of wonderful jobs, I have to admit that I’ve been seriously remiss in not mentioning a much longer running LIS carnival done each Monday by “Bentley” over at LISNews.com. It is called This Week in LibraryBlogland and is an amazing resource each week. It also has an RSS feed.

Betsy Vera, aka Bentley, has been driving some serious traffic my way the last couple of months and I have mentioned TWiL once, or possibly twice, before but I really have not shown the respect I should for the work she does. I have been the editor of the Carnival of the Infosciences twice now (#6 and #9) and thus I can imagine how much work it must be to do it every week.

I bow down before you in thanks Bentley! And you, dear reader, go check out her work.

Designing Jakob Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen of usability fame recently posted his comments on weblog usability.

Disclosure:  I subscribe to his Alertbox newsletter.  I used to diligently read what he put out.  Then I started reading a bit more widely and found that much of the design community and some of the usability community think he is wrong and/or a pompous ass.  [Do a little research and you can find a lot of (justified) negative comments about J. Nielsen.  The previous link is good place to start from.] 

I have long since stopped reading much of what he writes, thus, although the "Weblog Usability" article was sitting in my inbox, I had not yet read it before I started seeing it crop up all over the biblioblogosphere.  [Now there’s a word to scare off the non-locals!] 

Before I get started, I’d like to direct you to the two best posts I have seen so far.  Joy Weese Moll at Wanderings of a Student Librarian posts "State your full name."  I like Joy’s style and what she writes on Nielsen works for her and will well support her reasons for blogging.  I do not necessarily agree with her though—for my purposes and possibly others.

Angel, The Gypsy Librarian,  has an excellent response to Nielsen, entitled "Blogs and usability."  It is kind of fitting that he heard about the Nielsen article from Joy.  He also links to Pharyngula’s response, which is pretty good on most points.  I suggest you read all three of these.

Nielsen’s first mistake is his unspoken assumption that all blogs except those that "are really just private diaries" are actively trying to "reach new readers who aren’t your mother."  Underlying this assumption though is a far more insidious one; that we are all just selling a product, a corporate identity.  Along with that assumption is one of extreme danger to human beings; that we must separate the personal from the public, "corporate" identity.

I understand that this is the way our Western society is currently structured.  The recent Tribble episode in academic blogging is just one example.  But this is insane.  Fragmentation is a highly dangerous force in our society.  The extreme of this is the Nazi camp guard.

Another form of discontinuity, the split between the private and the public, seems to have played the paramount role in totalitarian crimes.  Expanding the notion of the enemy to include not only the enemy soldiers but also the regime’s internal opposition, its adversaries at home, totalitarianism generalizes the state of war and with it the schism characteristic of the warrior psyche.  As John Glenn Grey notes, "Men who in private life are scrupulous about conventional justice and right are able to  destroy the lives and happiness of others in war without compunction" (172).  This separation of public and private could be found in nearly all the guards: they behaved with the utmost brutality toward the inmates while continuing to lead private lives filled with love and concern (Todorov, 144, emphasis mine).

Basically, for those with cause for self-reproach, it matters little if it is the public or the private sphere where the harm was done.  What counts is that there are two spheres and that one of them—the one they take to define their essential being—can, from their point of view above all, make up for the other (149).

The splintering apart of the world—with its corollary of professionalism and the psychological fragmentation that results—is especially characteristic of totalitarian countries; what was originally a feature of industrial production becomes the model for the functioning of society as a whole (151).

If you think the Nazi prison guard is an extreme example then try these books for insight into the issue:

Stivers, Richard. Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society.
Stivers, Richard.  Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational.
Baumgartner, M.P. The Moral Order of a Suburb.
Jackall, Robert. Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers.
Todorov, Tzvetan. Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps.

Go, read, learn.

I was almost destroyed by following this path.  I am still trying to recover from it, and many days I am not convinced that I will succeed due to the extreme opposite pressure my society exerts on me, and everyone else. [See my "Librarianship as Penance?" post for more info on my personal battles.]

I will not succumb to this path again.  I am one person; not multiple persons.  My life must remain coherent and integrated.  This is not to imply that everyone who only blogs about professional library issues is highly fragmented, just that I do not choose it as a path for me. 

One answer would be a 2nd blog, but it will be found by future bosses (#9) anyway…so why separate my life?  I may well have more to say on this, but one should start at the beginning.  Snark warning.

Nielsen states that the 3rd benefit of blogs is that they are part of an ecosystem.  "Whatever good postings exist are promoted through links from other sites. More readers/writers see this good stuff, and the very best then get linked to even more."  Huh?  I call bullshit!  Nielsen seems to be as confused as much of the rest of my society and clearly equates popular with good/best.  Certainly some of the good writing on the web follows this pattern, but I’d be willing to bet that there is far more, and better, writing that rarely gets seen or linked to.  And most of what I see highly linked, especially outside of the biblioblogosphere, is pure crap.  And most of it is not writing but links to some other media or possibly to short writings of little substance.

1. No Author Biographies. 

See Angel and Pharyngula on this.  I do have one, and it is as crappy as most.  Nielsen claims that it is a "simple matter of trust," because, oh yes, I believe every word I read.  Credentials are claimed by displaying them in action, not by listing them on an About Me page.

2. No Author Photo.

Again, see the above 2 posts.  I don’t have one only because I do not have a current picture of me that I even begin to like.  Part of Nielsen’s point here again is credibility, and again, I really do believe all those naked photos of Angelina Jolie on the net are real too.

Now as for his 2nd point here, it can be a good one.  He claims that it allows people who read you to recognize you and then introduce themselves at conferences and so forth.  It also might allow for some serious stalking.

3. Nondescript Post Titles

While there is something to be said for this for many people and purposes, Mr. Nielsen, you’ll pull my punny and only makes sense in context titles from my cold dead index (typing) fingers.

"[Y]ou should treat [your post title] as a writing project in its own right."  Amen, Brother Jakob.  But we aren’t all, nor trying to be, headline writers, nor do we want to only be about providing information.  What, Mr. Nielsen, is the point of literature in your world?  [Not to claim that I’m writing anything approaching literature here.]  I am also trying to be entertaining in the limited way that my personality allows, and to exercise my linguistic capabilities.  Search engines should find my ideas by finding my content, not my titles.  Does everyone else but me judge a book by its title?

4. Links Don’t Say Where They Go

Reasonably good advice here.  Now, I’ll admit that I sometimes use nondescript link titles, if they are taken completely out of context.  But I usually get it right because they are embedded in the context of the sentence/surrounding structure in which they reside.

Use of first names as insider shorthand is another issue for Nielsen.  Angel has some great commentary on this and I usually operate as he does on this.  [And since I am too lazy to follow the clues Angel provided I only know his first name, which could be an alias as far as I know, so that is what I use.] 

I, too, could give a damn about ego feeds.  If you only want to be mentioned here to stoke your own ego then please let me know so I can quit referencing you at all.  I could care less about your ego; I only care about what we can learn from each other.  Even if you were my best friend, while I might care about your ego, stroking it would not be my priority.  Get over yourself

5. Classic Hits are Buried

Well, since by your definition, Jakob, I am only writing for my mother, does it matter?  "Fan base?"  Whatever, dude.  I don’t want fans; I want conversation. 

There is some good advice here.  It just could have been said far more positively.  I do appreciate it, sometimes, when I hit a new blog and have read something of interest to find links to what the author considers their best work.  Of course, it may not be what interests me; I may prefer what they consider their "toss offs."  I have been thinking about doing just what he suggests, but, damn, I’d sure rephrase the why of it.

6. Categorization (not the actual bullet title)

"Be selective?"  I’m categorizing for myself, Jakob, not for others.

7. Irregular Post Frequency

"Pick a schedule."  Oh yes, this is a job for everyone.  RSS.  Ever heard of it Jakob?

"[Y]ou shouldn’t post when you have nothing to say."  OK.  "Polluting cyberspace with excess information is a sin. (Emphasis mine)"  Excuse me!

In the interest of propiety I won’t say what I want.  But I will say that that comment alone makes you a jackass.  Complete. And. Utter. Jackass.  By the way, you completely lost me when you tried to bring out some Christian mythological view of human nature and relate it to information on the web.  Because on this view every junk mailer and AOL with them damn CDs are sinners.  But damn, that can’t be right under the Protestant work ethic and Christian corporate commercialism.  Start talking to me about sin while participating in our current consumer society and you get dismissed real quick.

8. Mixing Topics

See my above comments on fragmentation.  "The more focused your content, the more focused your readers."  Who the heck said I was after focused readers?  I want people of broad interests to read and talk back to me.

See also Angel on this.  And don’t worry brother, you are influencing me.

9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss

I’m going to bite my tongue on this, hmm the taste of blood, and let Pharyngula say it for me:

This is his worst suggestion of them all: muzzle yourself now in preparation for your future corporate overlords. Screw that, bozo.

10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service

See Pharyngula on this.

So my typepad domain name screams "naïve beginner who shouldn’t be taken seriously?"  Well then, all I got to say is professional website that consists of black text on white background with a splash of two shades of yellow.

"Get your personal domain name and own your own future."  I guess one could interpret this…, nah.  Unless someone steals my identity I do own my own future Nielsen.  Having my own domain name has nothing to do with that, unless we’re back to your original crappy assumption that all blogging is to establish and sell one’s "corporate" identity.

If this was an undergraduate paper on weblog usability you, Jakob Nielsen, would get a C- at best.  And in relation to the other students papers you might well do worse.

So take what you want from Nielsen.  He actually has some good points, if taken for the right reasons.  If these are your reasons then fine.  If they are not, and there is no inherent reason as to why they should be, then feel free to break most every one of them.  This action will not make you a sinner despite what Pastor Nielsen would like you to believe.

Another voice silenced

For any of you who wonder why I get so vexed around issues of "my voice" please see this about military blogger Daniel Goetz via Sivacracy.

It is too late because Daniel has been silenced, against his will. And not only has he been silenced — he has been forced to publicly declare himself “a supporter of the administration and of her policies.”

Read his post, "Mesopotomac", at Operation Truth as Vet of the Week.

Today, I find the greatest challenge of the army is to find honor in service. I don’t ever regret having joined because I’ve learned so much about myself and about America. I have faith in both, but yearn for hope to become reality. I want to go home as badly as I want to be proud of my country again. 

This would be me if I were recalled to active duty. 

And my tears continue to flow.