Brown and Duguid. The social life of information

This is the 8th book for my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

Short version: Librarians, and others in any “information industry,” should read it and ponder its critiques of “information fetishism.”

I bought this book back in May 2005 and finally got around to reading it. I am following it up with Nardi and O’Day’s Information Ecologies which I bought in May 2006. Where this book focuses on the binary rhetoric of “information,” and thus of information technology, Nardi and O’Day focus on the binary rhetoric of “technology.” Nardi & O’Day is 1-2 years older, is cited by Brown & Duguid, and I am hoping they’ll make a nice complementary pair.

Contents:

  • Preface: Looking Around
  • Introduction: Tunneling Ahead
  • 1 Limits to Information
  • 2 Agents and Angels
  • 3 Home Alone
  • 4 Practice Makes Process
  • 5 Learning—in Theory and in Practice
  • 6 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge
  • 7 Reading the Background
  • 8 Re-education
  • Afterword: Beyond Information

This book lived up to what I thought it might be after seeing so many references to it over the last 6 years. Originally released in 2000 (my ed. from 2002) I would say that it has held up quite well. Although I would love to see it updated, I truly doubt that much of the analysis would actually change. But with the changes in higher ed, and all of the mergers of massive media conglomerates over the past decade plus, it would be interesting to see if and how their take on the issues might change.

Optimism and pessimism “are both products of the same technology-centered tunnel vision. Both focus on information and individuals in splendid isolation. Once agents are set in a social context, both conclusions—sublime and despairing—seem less probable” (xi).

“This book is particularly concerned with the superficially plausible idea … that information and its technologies can unproblematically replace the nuanced relations between people. We think of this as “information fetishism”” (xvi).

“Our underlying argument in the discussion of education and the common thread that runs throughout … this book is that change is not necessarily occurring where, how, or when predicted, nor for the reasons most commonly cited. Hence, we suspect, many people have become increasingly unhappy with the binary simplicities of predictions about new technology” (xxii-xxiii).

Ch. 2 is primarily about bots, ch. 3 about telecommuting, ch. 4 business process reengineering, ch. 5 knowledge management and learning, ch. 6 knowledge as sticky and leaky, ch. 7 paper and documents, and ch. 8 higher education.

Ch. 7 “Reading the Background” provides excellent examples of what documents do, of the social roles they fill, and of the societies that they help to create. Seeing as I approached this primarily as a librarian that is the area I will focus my excerpts on.

“Among many things relegated to history’s scrap heap by relentless futurism have been, …, paper documents. Here, focus on the information they carry has distracted attention from the richer social roles that documents play—roles that may sustain paper documents despite the availability of digital ones. … …, we believe that documents, like other older technologies, probably will not be replaced (when they should be) or augmented (when they could be), if their richness and scope are underappreciated (xix-xx).

Argues that until we understand what documents do—physically and culturally—we will not understand what they are and how to replace or improve them. A narrow focus on the information that documents carry will fail to result in useful change.

“Documents not only serve to make information but also to warrant it—to give it validity. Here again, the material side of documents plays a useful part. For information has trouble, as we all do, testifying on its own behalf. Its only recourse in the face of doubt it s to add more information” (187).

“So documents do not merely carry information, they help make it, structure it, and validate it. More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help structure society, enabling social groups to form, develop, and maintain a sense of shared identity” (189).

“Documents then contribute not only to forming and stabilizing the worlds but also, …, to reforming, destabilizing, and transforming them. The presence of heretics reminds us that the “information” is not the sole contributor here. The orthodox and the heretics both form around the same information or content. They are distinguished from one another by their unique disposition toward that information” (193-4).

“The political scientist Benedict Anderson provides yet another example of the way groups form around documents. He considered networks so large, so diverse, and so spread out that individual members could not possibly know one another. They nonetheless may develop a sense of membership and belonging if they can create an image of the group as a single community with a single identity. Anderson described the communities as “imagined” and claimed that shared documents play an essential part in this imagining.

Anderson argues that such a document culture made a key contribution to the creation of independent nations” (194).

This is an important work and is still highly relevant. I am going to let it simmer for a while in the back of my mind. But I do think it fits well with my slowly awakening thesis that “information” as a foundational concept for libraries and librarians is a dangerous one.

CAS Decision Made

I have decided that I will not write my thesis and thus will not finish my Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) from UIUC.

Earlier this morning I emailed my Dean, who is also my advisor, with my decision.

As some of you know, circumstances arose almost exactly 3 years ago that, at the time, I was considering a temporary derailment.  I had just finished my course work towards my degree and was registered for my 8 hours of thesis credit to be completed in the spring semester of 2008.  But I found myself unable to process the things I had learned, and unable to get them down on paper.  I was burned out after 10 years of mostly full-time education.  In consultation with my faculty, we decided I would take a break for a few months and then write the thesis.

Many things happened in the intervening months, some bad, most good. Some even extraordinary. Many have been mentioned on this blog. I now find myself up against a university imposed deadline of defending before the spring 2011 semester is over.  While I would like to finish, and have always intended to do so, I find my heart is simply not in it.

I know that many would counsel that I buckle down and “just do it.”  And while that is a strategy, it is not one that will work for me; not any longer at least.  It has been a couple of years now since I wrote anything “academic” and I am finding it more than difficult to pick up where I left off.

And, No, I did not leave this until the last minute. I have been re-reading and re-familiarizing myself with my materials and my argument for the last several months. This fall I had set myself two tasks. First, draft one, preferably two, chapters and send them to my advisor. It would have been nice to do more but I figured that if I could get that far—back into the groove, so to speak—then the remaining 3-4 chapters would come fairly easily. Second, write an article for a major journal based on my concluding chapter. In fact, if done correctly, it could then easily be retrofitted to serve as the conclusion. The article could have been simple or detailed. It certainly wasn’t a given to have been accepted for publication, but it was semi-invited.

I tried to work on these two tasks but I got nowhere. I put myself in anguish, I tortured myself, I scolded myself. I chastised myself for doing anything besides them, and I generally made myself feel miserable, all the while getting nowhere on them.

This needs to end now!

I even forewent taking any of several classes that I was seriously interested in this current term (Dec-Feb) at Briar Cliff with professors whom I want to study with. A couple of these are nearing retirement, also, so that was a tough decision.

Pros of not writing the thesis

  • Can stop causing myself so much anguish and other negative feelings, all of which have real consequences in my life.
  • Can move on with the many other interests and passions that are calling to me.
  • Will perhaps be freed up mentally and emotionally to finally write one or more papers on my topic, when I am good and ready to do so.
  • I still received—as in took—a great education at UIUC GSLIS.
  • I have the required professional degree required to be a librarian.

Cons of not writing the thesis

  • May need to get a 2nd masters. This assumes I get back in the academic librarian game, at a place with tenure and at one requiring a 2nd masters for tenure, and one which would have accepted my CAS as equivalent.

In a perfect world I would prefer to have finished this degree. While it was a struggle coming to realize what it was that I was going to do and that a decision had to be made, after a while, the decision was an easy one. Taking care of myself is what matters most.

I am still fully coming to grips with the decision but I do know that it is the proper one for me. I already feel a great sense of relief, and release, because this educational journey (the CAS) has been a huge part of my life for almost 5 years now and will take some time to fully process its end.

Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support over the last several years.  It has meant a great deal to me!  I am still highly interested in Integrationism and issues of language and communication within library and information science. So you may well see more from me on these topics.

Personal Learning

Sara and started reading this book to each other on 2 January:

I read the Preface and Chap. 1 (out loud) the first evening. As of Thursday night we are through chapter 4. We have more or less alternated reading to each other since then.

This book is on my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge list.  I began reading it last April but about 3 chapters in it got interrupted by wedding planning/prep, getting married, and moving. I still wanted to read it, and hopefully apply some of it in my life, so I added it to my 12 Books list.

The reason we are reading this book and that I mention it here are that Sara and I are trying to get a little more serious about taking our personal learning and growth into our own hands.  This, of course, also includes professional learning and growth.  Sara’s opportunities are a bit more limited here than where we were previously, and with me unemployed mine are severely more limited.

An apropos epigraph from the book:

“Learning is not a task or a problem—it is a way to be in the world. Man learns as he pursues goals and projects that have meaning for him.” – Sidney Jourard (44) [Info on who he is. I had to look him up. His sexist language is reportedly a product of his time; not his beliefs.]

Contents:

  • Peak learning: skills for today and tomorrow
  • Science confirms it: you are a superb learner!
  • Entering the flow state to overcome your learning fears
  • Building your learning confidence
  • Discovering your personal learning profile
  • Improving your learning, reading, and memory skills
  • Developing your critical and creative thinking
  • Designing your optimal learning environment
  • Peak learning in cyberspace
  • Setting up your own learning projects
  • L(earning) your living: self development for career success
  • The invisible university: learning resources from A to Z

The book is addressed to the adult learner.  It tries to show that the experiences you had in school are not applicable to learning now.  And unlike school, where you were simply told to learn, it attempts to help the learner learn not only how to learn but how they as an individual learn  best.

Some of the myths that it seeks to dispel are: Learning is a boring unenjoyable activity; learning deals only with the subjects and skills taught in schools; We must be passive and receptive to “absorb” knowledge; You must put yourself under the tutelage of a teacher; It has to be systematic, logical, and planned; and, It needs to be thorough or it’s not worth doing (47-50).

This book was last updated in 1999 and I really wish it would be updated again.  There have been big advancements made in the brain and behavioral sciences regarding learning since then.  As to the resources that are now available compared to the Internet of 1998 or so one can only respond, “Oh my!”

If you can get it from a library it might be worth a look. There seems to be an awful lot of extraneous fluff between, and supposedly in support of, the actual useful bits. I already owned a used copy so we’re making use of it.

My Topics of Interest

Some of the topics on my list are:

  • WordPress (WP, PHP, SQL, etc.)
  • HTML5, CSS3 & related web technologies
  • photography (how to use my cameras)
  • poetry
  • topics within language (rhetoric, grammar, …)
  • math
  • physics
  • philosophy (assorted topics)
  • the brain and cognitive sciences
  • Buddhism, Islam, Tao Te Ching
  • how to use our new food processor

No doubt there are many others that I have forgotten. I will leave Sara to spell out her interests in her own time and fashion, as she sees fit.

Tools

We are trying to find the tools and software that will work for us, whether it is something one or the other of us has already been using or whether we need to find something else instead.

For instance, she’s been a big user of Evernote.  Although I created an account almost 2 years ago I never took to it.  For assorted reasons we’ve been looking at DEVONthink as a replacement for Evernote and to assist in other ways. [  Mac only software ]  Somewhat sadly, it doesn’t have some features that we truly need.  Then again, not too sad as it saves us a fair bit of money.  Still, worth looking at if your needs are not the same as ours, and there is an educator/student discount of 25%.  They also have some free tools that look to be quite useful.

For now I am trying out Evernote a bit more seriously than the first time.

Resources

Here is a draft list of some of the books we are considering reading to each other as part of our individual personal learning plans (take your pick, goodreads or Open Library).  These are titles about literature, the “Great Books” and the canon.

These are all books that we already own, and there are several others that we also already own on the same subjects that could be added.  I also have plenty of books on mathematics, physics, and so on in our collection.  Some are books I have meant to read for several years now.  I just need to add them to the list(s).

We both have many interests and there is a plethora of quality resources available for free today, assuming one has an Internet connection.  Of course, libraries will also continue to serve our needs for the more tangible products and ebooks.

Without having begun a formal probe of resources, I am aware of iTunes U, free college courses & lectures from MIT and Harvard and others, the Khan Academy, and many, many other sources.  For more fully textual resources there is Hathi Trust, feedbooks, Project Gutenberg, libraries both public and academic, and other sources.

In fact, a good resource arrived in the mail this week: the spring catalog for the local community college, Western Iowa Tech Community College.  They have a lifelong learning program that has a fair few interesting looking programs, many of which are free.  And it costs all of $5/year.  Sara found things of interest too.

This morning (Sat.) we drove over and registered as Lifelong Learning members and we signed up for some things, most free.  I signed up for 2 tours, 3 lunch programs and a lecture.  Since Sara works full-time she was only able to sign up for 2 things.

  • 2 World Cuisine and Culture lunch programs:  New Zealand, and Malaysia.
  • Art & Sandwiches lunch program on John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. A favorite of Sara’s
  • Tour of the American Pop Corn Co. (Jolly Time)
  • Tour of Central High School and Apartments (the Castle)
  • American History: The Iranian Hostage Crisis (lecture)

I am interested in the Iranian Hostage Crisis lecture as I was a young soldier in the Army when this event happened.  It was a defining event in US international relations and still haunts us to this day.  I also met one of the hostages much later in my career and was able to help him in a small way that seriously pushed the boundaries of what I knew at the time.

Future posts?

I hope to have some more posts about assorted issues related to our adventures in personal learning in the future.  Some potential topics include:

  • Some of the ways I’ve organized and used (or not used) different tools at different times
  • List of resources in general, and by assorted topics
  • Updates on how things progress

Final thoughts

Plans will be made (but not over made), resources compiled, topics probed, things learned.

What are some of the things you would like to learn?  Any suggested resources that you would recommend?

Plath. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

Short review: A few decent stories and essays, but really only for the Plath aficionado or completist.

I became interested in this book of stories, essays and excerpts from Plath’s notebooks, due to the several references I came across to the title story while looking into Plath’s background as an aid in understanding her poetry for my Madwomen Poets class last fall.

I got a copy via ILL but it was in such bad shape that the book was received rubber banded together.  Also, the pages were highly yellowed and brittle and my allergies were not excited about even attempting reading the primary story for which I ordered it.  Noticing it was quite affordable brand new from amazon I added it to my wish list and my son got it for me for Christmas.  I read it in December 2010.

My first issue with this collection comes from its ordering.  In the Introduction, Ted Hughes (her husband) writes “All items have approximate dates of composition and are roughly in reverse chronological order, insofar as that is possible” (7) [see the table of contents below].  No justification or reasoning is presented for this decision at all.  What is it with this kind of arrangement?  We have several works of collected poems by assorted single authors that are organized like this.  It seems to me that if one wants to watch the development of an author as a writer then reverse chronological order is assbackwards.  This upset me, so I resolved to read this collection in reverse order.

Thus I began with “P.S. Insights, Interviews & More …” which contains a very short biography of Plath, “Poet’s Prose” an essay by Margaret Atwood, and some marketing materials for Plath’s other works.

Atwood ends her essay with the following:

“The stories are arranged chronologically but in reverse order. This creates an archeological effect: the reader is made to dig backward in time, downward into remarkable mind, so that the last, earliest story, “Among the Bumble-bees” (a wistful story about a little girl’s worship of her father who dies mysteriously), emerges like the final gold-crowned skeleton at the bottom of the tomb—the king all those others were killed to protect. Which it is” ([11]).

While I found Atwood’s explanation overly artsy, I did decide to accept it as an explanation and read the book normally.

A perhaps larger issue is that many of these had been rejected by Plath herself (7).  Another is that, while “her reputation rests on the poems of her last six months,” most of the contents of this collection predates the poems of The Colossus which was completed 3 years before her death (9).  The only parts contemporary with Ariel are “three brief journalistic pieces, “America! America!” “Snow Blitz,” and “Ocean 1212-W”” (9).

Some of these stories serve as the material for several of the Ariel poems.  “The Bee Meeting,” “Berck Plage,” “Among the Narcissi,” and “The Moon and the Yew Tree” are all presaged or mentioned.

Seeing as I don’t have a lot to say about most of these, I think I’ll just add my comments behind each entry in the TOC and maybe a few slightly longer excerpts at the end.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Ted Hughes
  • Mothers (Story, 1962) – highly autobiographical.
  • Ocean 1212-W (Essay, 1962) – her grandmother’s phone number, autobiographical.
  • Snow blitz (Essay, 1963) – Jeebus! The last few months of her life; some of her last written words. The ending is terrifyingly ironic considering how she killed herself.
  • The Smiths: George, Marjorie (50), Claire (16) (From Notebooks, Spring 1962)
  • America! America! (Essay, 1963)
  • Charlie Pollard and the beekeepers (From Notebooks, June 1962) – Bees are one of Sylvia’s major thematic images.
  • A comparison (Essay, 1962) – compares novels to poems; mentions the yew tree of “The Moon and the Yew Tree.”
  • “Context” (Essay, 1962) – about the context for her poems. Mentions the yew tree again, and other poems by image.
  • Rose and Percy B. (From Notebooks, 1961/62)
  • Day of success (Story, 1960)
  • The fifteen-dollar eagle (Story, November 1959)
  • The fifty-ninth bear (Story, September 1959)
  • The daughters of Blossom Street (Story, 1959)
  • Sweetie pie and the gutter men (Story, May 1959)
  • The shadow (Story, January 1959)
  • Johnny Panic and the Bible of dreams (Story, December 1958) – the poetic element of dreams; electroshock.
  • Above the oxbow (Story, 1958)
  • Stone boy with dolphin (Story, 1957/58) – the Cambridge party where Sylvia meets and bites Ted; brushing snow from the stone boy; “And asteroids innumerable, a buzz of gilded bees” (189) [drunk].
  • All the dead dears (Story, 1957/58)
  • The wishing box (Story, 1956)
  • The day Mr. Prescott died (Story, 1956)
  • Widow Mangada (From Notebooks, Summer 1956)
  • That widow Mangada (Story, Autumn 1956) – this was a bit redundant after reading the previous notebook entries on which it is based, although I preferred the ending in the story.
  • Cambridge notes (From Notebooks, February 1956) – “With masks down, I walk, talking to the moon, to the neutral impersonal force that does not hear, but merely accepts my being” (261). The moon is a major image, especially in her later poetry. The moon is declared neutral here, and the surrounding writing supports that view, but her view will shift more to the negative in her later poetry.
  • Tongues of stone (Story, 1955)
  • Superman and Paula Brown’s new snowsuit (Story, 1955)
  • In the mountains (Story, 1954)
  • Initiation (Story, July 1952)
  • Sunday at the Mintons’ (Story, Spring 1952)
  • Among the bumblebees (Story, Early 1950s)
  • P.S. Insights, Interviews & More …

Taken out of context, I love the quote about the moon from “Cambridge notes.” “With masks down,” defenseless, naked, exposed, one is implacably accepted, but not judged, by an all-seeing, but non-hearing, moon that “merely accepts my being.”

Several of these pieces were quite good and a few of the stories have twisted, yet delightful (good and bad) endings. How well any of them stand up outside of the context of Sylvia’s internally tortured life, though, is hard to say.

Armstrong. A short history of myth

Sara also read this book recently.  I think that helped me as we had already discussed it a fair bit while she was reading it, and I had the benefit of her blog post about it.

Go read Sara’s review, which is excellent; I’ll wait.  See.  Now perhaps you don’t even need to read mine.  Nonetheless, I shall press on.

The help and benefit I am referring to is in regard to some of the assumptions the author makes.  Much of this bugged Sara and is what we discussed.  My anthropological and sociological background, and my background in mythology (as a subject), is both broader and deeper than hers to some extent.  Her background in assorted specific myths is far better than mine, just like mine is in other specific myths.  But this book is about mythology as a subject as a whole, and while it discusses assorted myths it is not about any of them.

Thanks to previous discussions with my beautiful and brilliant wife, along with reading her excellent review, I was able to approach this short book with its sometimes collapsed assumptions and high level synopses in a highly positive state of mind.

All that said, I really enjoyed this book!  I hope to reread it someday in the not too distant future and to map out some of Armstrong’s analysis in outline form as I find it valuable and would like to have it better to mind for whatever uses I might deem appropriate in the future.

Contents

  • What is a Myth?
  • The Paleolithic Period: The Mythology of the Hunters (c. 20000 to 8000 BCE)
  • The Neolithic Period: The Mythology of the Farmers (c. 8000 to 4000 BCE)
  • The Early Civilizations (c. 4000 to 800 BCE)
  • The Axial Age (c. 800 to 200 BCE)
  • The Post-Axial Period (c. 200 BCE to c. 1500 CE)
  • The Great Western Transformation (c. 1500 to 2000)

As an example of an assumption one must accept or move past, take the opening sentence, “Human beings have always been mythmakers” (1).  If one browses through the Wikipedia articles on Homo and on the Oldowan period you’ll see that “human beings” applies to our ancestors going back to at least 2.4 million years ago.

“Most models rely on social and communication networks to hold the band together. These social networks range from requiring no more communication than modern primates, to requiring more sophisticated sharing and teaching. At present, no evidence has been found that sharply divides these theories.” [From Oldovan]

Exactly!  We have no idea, nor will we ever have conclusive evidence, as to when humans acquired a form of language that not only makes possible, but uses, narrative structure.  Both are required for mythmaking.  Anyway, not really a critical issue to the story Armstrong tells but an example of some of the rhetoric that might get in your way.

One more short example so that you can make a better judgement as to whether this book is for you.  The opening sentence of the second chapter begins, “The period in which human beings completed their biological evolution …” (12, emphasis mine).  Excuse me!  Again, not critical to the argument at all but perhaps difficult for the discriminating reader to ignore.

Again, let me state that I think this is a good book, and that the argument that the author makes is an excellent one.

Each age changed mythos and humankind’s relationship to it until it was, at least in the developed West, fully eradicated and we no longer had a relationship to it.

“Western modernity was the child of logos” (119). … The new hero of Western society was henceforth the scientist or the inventor, who was venturing into uncharted realms for the sake of his society. He would often have to overthrow old sanctities—just as the Axial sages had done. But the heroes of Western modernity would be technological or scientific geniuses of logos, not the spiritual geniuses inspired by mythos. This meant that intuitive, mythical modes of thought would be neglected in favor of the more pragmatic, logical spirit of scientific rationality. Because many Western people did not use myth, many would lose all sense of what it was (121-22). … But logos had never been able to provide human beings with the sense of significance that they seemed to require. It had been myth that had given structure and meaning to life, but as modernization progressed and logos achieved such spectacular results, mythology was increasingly discredited. As early as the sixteenth century, we see more evidence of a numbing despair, a creeping mental paralysis, and a sense of impotence and rage as the old mythical way of thought crumbled and nothing new appeared to take its place. We are seeing a similar anomie today in developing countries that are still in the early stages of modernization” (122).

It is with this comment, “… as the old mythical way of thought crumbled and nothing new appeared to take its place …” that I want to point to W.H. McNeill’s Mythistory and Other Essays that I read last year.

While McNeill’s concept of “myth” is broader than Armstrong’s (each appropriate to their own contexts) he directly addresses this issue of the killing of all myth while offering nothing to take its place.  In the essay “The Care and Repair of Myth” he argues that public myth provides the basis for collective action:

“A people without a full quiver of relevant agreed-upon statements, accepted in advance through education or less formalized acculturation, soon finds itself in deep trouble, for, in the absence of believable myths, coherent public action becomes very difficult to improvise or sustain” (23).

In this, and the title essay, he scolds his fellow professional historians for their destruction of myth and attempts to show them why responsible mythmaking to replace those they have destroyed is an ethical and professional responsibility.   His main concern in the book is a rehabilitated view of myth, and while broader than Armstrong’s it is one that melds well with hers.  Whether one accepts Armstrong’s or McNeill’s concept of myth and the functions they respectively assign to myth, it is clear that humankind *needs* myth.

Sara, in her review [linked above] gives a good inkling of how Armstrong ends the book.  I agree with much of her analysis in the concluding sections but I fear this is at best a temporary amelioration of the problem and not an actual solution.

Sara and I were discussing this this morning and as she wisely pointed out this conclusion may have been primarily slanted toward supporting the series which this title is the lead in to, the Canongate Myth Series, which is “A bold re-telling of legendary tales — The Myths series gathers the world’s finest contemporary writers for a modern look at our most enduring myths.”

Nonetheless, I think there is much of value in this little book.  It is easy reading, and it is a great introduction to the riches-to-rags story, as Sara called it, that is the history of myth in human thought and action.

Jewel. a night without armor, poems

A Night Without Armor
Jewel; Harper Paperbacks 1999

This was a reread.  I am not sure when I first read it but I discovered that I bought it 10 years ago this month.  I do know that it has been several years.  It is also possible that this was the first full book of poetry that I ever read; certainly was one of the earliest.  Go ahead.  Laugh (or sneer) if you must.  But it is better to begin with some poetry than never beginning at all.

I liked Jewel’s music quite a bit back then.  I still enjoy her early CDs even if I don’t listen to them very frequently.  Her lyrics were often quite profound and I cited her in at least one philosophy paper [Who Will Save Your Soul in relation to Socrates on the life of the philosopher as practicing for death] .

Despite having no idea what to expect from poetry back then, I do remember enjoying it.  I also enjoyed it this time.

Many of her themes are timeless, just as they are relevant to today’s society.  In her poetry she displays a keen appreciation of nature, a prescient awareness of the difference between an authentic life and celebrity, concern with deep issues faced by children (divorce, siblings, …) and especially by girls and young women (self-image, awakening sexuality, …), along with a healthy and sensual insight into love, sex and desire.

The book was first published in 1998, the same year her 2nd album was released; she was all of 25 years old.  In the preface we learn that she has been writing poetry from an early age and that “poetry drives [her] songwriting today” (xv).  She also writes that:

“For me poetry allowed word to be given to the things that otherwise had no voice, and I discovered the strength and soul of poetry—through it we come to know; we are led to feel, sense, and to expand our understanding beyond words” (xv).

“… not all poetry lends itself to music—some thoughts need to be sung only against the silence. There are softer and less tangible parts of ourselves that are so essential to openheartedness, to peace, to unfolding the vision and the spiritual realm of our lives, to exposing our souls. Poetry is a passage into those parts of our being where we discover and decide who and what we will be. It makes us intimate with ourselves and others and with the human experience” (xvi).

I’d say that her poetry represents those views quite well.  Do yourself a favor and don’t write if off out of hand.

Constructing my Books Read in 2010 post

Constructing my previous post, Books Read in 2010, was far too difficult.  Still.

I keep a simple running list of books I read in VoodooPad, a personal wiki, on my laptop.  I record them by date started, author’s last name and title.  When I finish I add that date.  At some point I look them up in a library catalog—generally WorldCat nowadays—and bring them into Zotero and add them to a folder titled Books Read in 20xx.

In the past I have exported that folder from Zotero as a bibliography in HTML and pasted it into WordPress.  With some minor editing I got a decent bibliography including COinS data for every title.  But somewhere along the line over the last year or two things have gone wonky and some interaction between the COinS-formatted HTML from Zotero and WordPress have caused much of that data to be stripped out.  Last year was a real pain and seeing as this year my list was 20-some-odd percent longer I could not face all of that work simply to have much of it disappear no matter how much wrangling and struggling I did.

My next thought was that I would simply use the OpenBook plugin by John Miedema that I am using for book reviews [example post].  I was not looking forward to plugging one hundred or so ISBNs into its input form one at a time but it was in theory doable. [This was due more to how much work I had already done verifying ISBNs, "correcting" those in Zotero and pasting a copy of the ISBN into the text file created with the bibliography exported from Zotero than it was the effort to use the plugin.]

So I ran a little test trying a few “random” ISBNs from the list to see what the Open Library records looked like and/or if they had records for some of my less popular titles.  The results were horrible!  I estimated I would have to add records for at least 20 titles and fix records on 2 to 3 times that many.  I began slowly poking away at them over the course of a couple days—days when I should have been doing other things of course—and although my estimates were highly accurate I got it done.

At some point in my cataloging I noticed that Open Library had recently added a lists feature.  I thought perhaps I’ll just make a list there and point my blog readers to it; although that did strike me as rather dismal.  Of course, I noticed the list feature after I had added or re-cataloged somewhere around 30 books; which meant I had to look them all up again individually to add them to my new list.  ::sigh::

Then I discovered that you can export a list in either JSON, HTML or BibTex.  Sadly I know little to nothing about either JSON or BibTex so if they would have made my life easier—without a steep learning curve first—then I did myself a disfavor by using HTML.

Well, the HTML needed a lot of massaging to look decent once imported into WordPress.  As the native page exported by Open Library it looks OK, but WordPress treats those h3s, spans and divs much differently. [Technically not an export but a simplified page generated from your main list that you can save and/or copy from the source.]

I believe the titles are in the list in the order I entered them, or something close to that anyway.  Sadly, that order bears no relation to anything useful.  Thus, I had to cut and paste the whole list into the order I wanted.  Then I started playing with layout to see what would look decent enough in WordPress.  Once I figured it out I started changing the divs and h3s to spans and removing all the extraneous white space.  By hand.  TextEdit was of no use in the white space changing game.  As I was getting really tired of all the mousing, etc. involved I remembered that Dreamweaver might do a much better job with white space in find and replace.  With hope I fired up the long disused copy of DW and opened my file.  I highlighted a group of white space and a tag to change, hit ⌘-C to copy it, hit ⌘-F to open Find and Replace, saw that the white space was intact, put the cursor in the replace box, hit ⌘-V to paste the same in, deleted the white space I wanted removed, and hit OK.  It did what I wanted so I had it fix the rest of those and went on to the next bit needing fixed.  Thankfully Open Library had been consistent in how and where it added the white space.

After that it was rather simple to verify my data and do the odd minor correction here and there.  As for the ebooks, I pulled those out of my original list exported from Zotero and ginned them up in a text file with links to each book in feedbooks.  Yes, Open Library has ebooks but from what I could find not a single one from feedbooks.  I could have added them but I was in no mood to add another 18 books, and cataloging free ebooks that give absolutely no indication of which text they are was not something I intended to undertake.  Ebooks are great in many contexts!  Ebook metadata is in a despicable state! [That is a rant for another, and previous, occasion.]

Once I had the ebooks fully ginned up in the text file I cut and paste them into the blog post where they went in the list.  Then I wrote the text that went along with the list and waited for the end of the year a few days away.  On the 31st I made a few minor corrections to the list since I finished one of the books I had given up on and added another that I read on the 30th and 31st.  I also fixed the numbers/commentary regarding the other two books and added a bit more commentary.

Sadly, the only COinS data available is for the post itself and I doubt many of you are truly interested in adding my post to Zotero, Mendeley, or whatever.

If I had used OpenBook I could have had COinS.  But I got distracted by needing to fix so many records at Open Library and then by finding the Open Library list feature.  After spending so much time futzing and seeing what it would do for me I had given up on Open Library.  Honestly, I had no desire to copy and paste 100+ ISBNs into it one by one either.  Still, I wonder how well it would have handled the job? [John, if you are still reading, any idea how the plugin might handle 100+ titles using template 5, embedded? Certainly wouldn't want to be making all those calls to OL live.]

None of this is meant to take away from the OpenBook plugin for which I greatly thank John Miedema!

It makes me sad that it is 2011 and this task is still so darn difficult.  Much progress has been made in the sharing and linking to book data on the web but it is still so crude.  Much of the assorted quasi-FRBRization going on in places like Open Library, WorldCat, goodreads, Library Thing, etc. actually seem to make it worse.  If one only cares about pointing at a title/work then things are somewhat better.  But I cared about editions long before I became a cataloger.  In most cases if someone takes a recommendation from me I could care less which edition of the work they read or listen to in the end.  But in some cases it does matter.  And for my own purposes I want to know which manifestation(s) of the work I engaged with.

Some day the future may arrive and making a list like this in which the titles will bring their own (accurate) metadata along with them will be easy. That day simply has to arrive. Soon.

Then again, I’m still waiting on the flying car I was promised almost 50 years ago.